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Member of 1953 U.S. team reflects on soccer's growth

Thursday, June 24, 2010 | 10:51 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Tom Schultz could not believe the news Thursday morning. Favorite and defending champion Italy had lost 3-2 to Slovakia at the World Cup in South Africa. He was shocked by the outcome, but just as surprised by the decisions Italy made with the ball.

“Italy overhandled the ball in instead of shooting. They tend to walk it in instead of taking some longer shots," Schultz said. "The game has really changed."

Schultz, 76, a part time development officer in the MU alumni office, graduated from the university's journalism school in 1956. He has not competed in soccer recently, but he knows first hand how the game has changed throughout the years at the elite level. He grew up playing soccer competitively and competed as a member of the U.S. national team in 1953 when the Americans faced England at Yankee Stadium, a game England won 6-3.

While the game of soccer has changed in a number of ways, according to Schultz, the most notable is the game's increased popularity.

“You start a lot earlier now,” Schultz said.  “The level of competition is so close now.”

An important result of the increased interest and increased competition in soccer is the number of goals scored in matches. In 1959, England beat the U.S. 8-1 and in 1964 it won 10-0, according to the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame website. However, today it is rare to see a single team exceed three goals at the highest level of competition.

Schultz said the increase in attendance at soccer matches is also a testament to the increased popularity of the game worldwide.  The recorded attendance at the World Cup match between the United States and England was 38,646 according to ESPN.com. In 1953, attendance, according to the USSHF website, was 7,271, though wet weather had postponed the match by a day.

“There is more enthusiasm because more people understand the game,” Schultz said.

Schultz also said the basic elements of soccer have changed.

“The equipment, the surface that you play on is much better, the ball is much better,” Schultz said.

Regardless of the ways soccer has changed since he played, Schultz said he is excited about the prospects of the U.S. team in the 2010 World Cup.

“They have the wherewithal to advance further – because of their training,” Schultz said.

Schultz, also member of the St. Louis Soccer Hall of Fame, began playing soccer as a youth and continued playing competitively into his late teens. He was an alternate for the U.S. soccer national team in 1952 and was selected as a member for the 1953 match against England at age 18.

“I was very lucky to be chosen,” Schultz said.  “Having the opportunity to play for the United States, that in itself is an awe.”


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