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USA's absence in World Cup calls for focus on youth soccer

Posted at 7:06 PM, Jul 11, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-11 20:10:33-04

MILWAUKEE -- The FIFA World Cup has captivated the soccer universe including thousands of fans in Milwaukee despite Team U.S.A.'s absence. 

Hundreds gathered at Nomad Nacional in Walker's Point to watch Croatia and England square off for a spot in the finals. Many of them picked other countries to root for since U.S.A. didn't qualify for the tournament.

Nomad's parking lot was transformed into the ultimate fan zone with a giant screen and speakers that could be heard from blocks away. Michael Sabljak of Milwaukee was covered in Croatia gear.

"What makes me a Croatia fan? Well my last name is Croatian," Sabljack said. 

When asked if it's made a difference to Sabljack that the United State isn't represented in the World Cup, he responded, "A huge difference. It would be great to see the U.S. play and win."

Prior to this World Cup, Team U.S.A. had qualified seven consecutive times dating back to 1990. Milwaukee Wave Head Coach Guiliano Oliviero said a lack of interest is partially to blame. 

"You look at these other countries they live and breathe the game and do whatever it takes to get to the next level," he said. 

Oliviero believes there needs to be more of a focus on youth soccer.  

"In the United States we have baseball, basketball, football even hockey lacrosse," said Alvaro Garcia-Velez.  

Garcia-Velez is the executive director of the Milwaukee Kickers Soccer Club, an initiative to give hundreds of inner-city Milwaukee kids an opportunity to learn the game for free. He said many other programs are costly and require a lot of travel. 

"Soccer has priced them out of the market," said Garcia-Velez. "In a lot of cases these are great athletes, great kids who really have a knack for the game but we haven't been able to expose them as much as possible."