June 10, 2010

USC and the World Cup

Brad Guzan might not step on the field during a World Cup match. The former South Carolina goalkeeper’s big moment might be when he’s introduced Saturday as a member of the U.S. national team.

But as Josh Wolff and Clint Mathis, two other former Gamecocks, can attest, being in South Africa, being on the soccer world’s biggest stage, speaks for itself.

“The atmosphere is gonna be ridiculous,” said Mathis, who played for the U.S. team in 2002 and 2006. “Obviously he’s gonna be a part of it, whether he gets in goal or not. I think he’s gonna enjoy it either way.”

“The Super Bowl doesn’t even touch what a World Cup is,” said Josh Wolff, a former Gamecock midfielder who played in the 2002 World Cup. “Each of those games at the World Cup will have that same atmosphere and more.”

The U.S. will begin play against England at 2 p.m. Saturday with a big Palmetto State flavor. Star midfielder Clint Dempsey and backup midfielder Ricardo Clarkwent attended Furman. Starting defender Oguchi Onyewu is a Clemson product, as is reserve midfielder Stuart Holden.

Tim Howard is entrenched as the starting goalie for the U.S. But if Howard falters or gets hurt, Guzan appears to be the next choice in goal.

Guzan’s presence allows the USC men’s soccer program to boast of three participants in World Cups – quite a feat for a school not exactly located in a soccer hotbed.

“I guess if you look at it in that perspective, the history of it is not that common,” Wolff said. “But it just shows you that you don’t have to come from California or New York or Texas, or one of the places that is considered a hotbed.”

Mathis and Wolff, both from the Atlanta area, were teammates at USC for two seasons. Both are successful professional soccer players.

“You knew at the time that you had two players who were exceptionally talented,” USC men’s soccer coach Mark Berson said.

Mathis was on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 2002, as part of a Cup preview issue. He played in three of the U.S.’ five games in 2002, scoring the team’s lone goal in a 1-1 tie against Korea.

He was a four-year player at USC, 1994-97, notching 53 goals and 15 assists and leading the team to the NCAA tournament each year. His best year was 1995, when he set a school record with 25 goals, which tied for the NCAA lead that year, and was named a first-team All-American.

“That was one of the best times in my life, playing soccer at South Carolina,” Mathis said. “Growing up, becoming a man, being out on my own and things of that sort.”

Wolff was on campus for a shorter time. He played three seasons at USC, 1995-97, but spent the spring semesters off-campus competing for U.S. youth teams. In the 2002 Cup, he assisted on a goal that lifted the U.S. past Mexico into the round of 16.

Guzan’s presence on this year’s U.S. team means this is the fourth straight World Cup with a Gamecock on the U.S. team. While the other 10 positions are dominated by younger legs, goalkeepers in the Cup tend to be older and more experienced.

“Hopefully this catapults him into a bigger role down the road,” Wolff said. “And that more than anything could be what he takes out of the experience.”

Guzan, a native of Illinois, played at USC, 2003-04. He left school after his sophomore year, spending two seasons with a U.S. developmental team. He spent four seasons with Chivas USA of the MLS, and moved to England in 2008.

His most high-profile match was in last year’s Confederations Cup, when he shut out Egypt, 1-0, in the final group game. The U.S. went on to a surprising appearance in that tournament’s title game, falling to Brazil.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” Wolff said. “Even though Brad may be the second- or third-string goalie, he’s still there with a chance to play. Stranger things have happened. I think he’ll be there totally prepared to play. And enjoying the moment.”

Reach Emerson at (803) 771-8676.

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