Walcoff: Soccer an afterthought in US despite Cup buzz 

I discovered “the beautiful game” by chance. During a junior high gym class, my Israel-born P.E. teacher needed a volunteer goalkeeper.

When a hard shot somehow found its way into my mid-section, I had the thrill of making my first save.

Following a senior-season recruiting phone call from Hall of Fame coach Joe Morrone, I played two unspectacular seasons for him at the University of Connecticut. Talk about intense and committed.

Morrone’s campus home featured a mini-soccer field complete with matching goal posts on his front lawn. To the surprise of no one, he raised three All-Americans: Joe Jr., the 1981 North American Soccer League Rookie of the Year, Bill, a 1981 NCAA champ at UConn, and daughter Missy, who also played for the Huskies.

The coach’s two sons were also ball boys for their dad during my playing days. Why the stroll down memory lane? To illustrate the point that soccer in the U.S. takes a back seat to so many other sports because we don’t have enough Morrones. While the rest of the planet treats the World Cup like the love child of the Super Bowl and World Series, we crash the party with a bunch of players who usually have to leave the country to hone their craft.

Nineteen of the 23 members of Team USA were playing in Europe before heading to South Africa. Sure, Tim Howard, Landon Donovan, Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey can all match skills with the game’s best players, but here’s a scary thought. If, as expected, America finishes second in Group C play, they are likely staring at a win-or-go-home showdown with mighty Germany in the round of 16. Can you say, “Auf Wiedersehen”?

Kobe raises his game

Kobe Bryant may have had his doubters after shooting only 35 percent in losing the 2003 NBA title to the Detroit Pistons and struggling against the Boston Celtics in the 2008 finals, but he has quieted all critics with a surefire MVP performance in this year’s rematch with Boston.

Not only has Bryant averaged almost 30 points per game against the most stifling defense in the league, his sheer force of will has carried the otherwise streaky Los Angeles Lakers. Barring a Willis Reed-like return of hobbled center Kendrick Perkins for tonight’s

Game 7, the Celtics will be hard-pressed to deny Kobe his fifth championship, which would tie Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul Jabbar for most in franchise history.

Realignment madness

Let’s see if I have this right. The Big 10 is adding Nebraska to become a 12-team conference.

The Big 12 loses the Cornhuskers and Colorado, so they are now down to 10 schools. While the Pac-10 adds the Buffaloes and possibly Utah to likely be a 12-team league. Now I know why the NCAA doesn’t want a playoff system in college football.

They’re afraid five teams will show up for the Final Four.

KGO (810 AM) Sports Director Rich Walcoff can be heard weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. on the KGO morning news. He can be reached at RichWalcoff@gmail.com.

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