Opinion: Soccer is on the rise globally and UNF students should take notice on a local scale

Raleigh Harbin

US Men's Soccer trained at UNF's Hodges Stadium earlier this month to prepare for their exhibition match against Nigeria. Photo courtesy Facebook
US men’s national team trained at UNF’s Hodges Stadium earlier this month to prepare for their exhibition match against Nigeria.
Photo courtesy Facebook

The 2014 FIFA World Cup has seen global attention, so why can’t the UNF soccer team do the same at a local level? If you’ve been keeping up with the World Cup, it’s easy to see the entertainment value of soccer (or football to everyone else in the world).

Just yesterday, we witnessed two matches that showcased every ounce of athletic prowess, showmanship, and tension as Mexico was eliminated by the Netherlands as a result of a 2-1 defeat.

Then, two unlikely opponents to make it to the round of 16 were involved in one of the tournament’s best games. Costa Rica defeated Greece in a match that ended in a 1-1 tie with Costa Rica eventually prevailing on penalty kicks and making it to the quarterfinals.

These elite athletes and intense matches demonstrate why soccer is the world’s sport and have roused American fans.

Kyle Beckerman juggles the ball during practice. Photo by Josh Brangenberg
USMNT Midfielder Kyle Beckerman juggles the ball during practice.
Photo by Josh Brangenberg

As the gritty American team sets to take on Belgium on Tuesday, the progress of soccer in the United States is encouraging. Clint Dempsey and the rest of the guys from the red, white, and blue squad weren’t even supposed to make it out of their own group, and now they have a chance to advance even further with a victory over the athletic and flashy Belgians.

This brings to light another soccer team from America, the North Florida Ospreys. Much like the United States Men’s National team, the UNF men’s soccer team has a knowledgeable, confident, and more than capable coach in Derek Marinatos, a guy who knows what it takes to win in soccer’s college ranks.

Marinatos and his team are finally free of recruiting sanctions and can now seek out the type of players to help get them back to the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship game, just as the team did in 2013 for the first time in program history.

With all of the rising interest in soccer and the support for the USMNT, UNF students should be excited about the North Florida soccer program. Having covered a full season’s worth of games in the fall of 2012, I saw firsthand the energy and hard work involved in these matches over at Hodges Stadium.

Despite the 2012 season being a down year for the Ospreys, the games were still intriguing and the potential of the program was obvious and notable. Now, the progress of the program has risen considerably, and Marinatos would be the first to convey his excitement for the future.

“Before I got here, we didn’t have any history,” Marinatos said. “That’s what we’re trying to build here, history.”

And why not witness history?

Fan support for the Ospreys has already grown, as the UNF men’s soccer team was sixth last season in attendance, averaging 333 fans per game. This number is actually down from the 2012 season in which the average attendance was 539 per game, and this number came during the 2012 season when the team carried just a 4-13 record.

While it’s true that the team lost its reliable goalkeeper Brad Sienkiewicz, the Ospreys should be getting back striker Teddy Mulamba as he recovers from an ACL reconstructive surgery. Mulamba provides a veteran presence and play-making ability to the team. Plus, Marinatos signed five new recruits bringing even more promise for the team’s future.

North Florida Ospreys huddle during match. Photo by Sideline Sports/UNF Athletics
North Florida Ospreys huddle during match.
Photo courtesy Sideline Sports/UNF Athletics

With all of these positive changes surrounding the men’s soccer program at UNF, there’s no reason not to show support for the school that you attend. Most importantly, university teams are always playing during their season, and fans do not have to wait every four years to see the Ospreys compete.

Likewise, soccer fans shouldn’t wait until 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup to support women’s soccer. The women’s soccer team at UNF is in a transition stage, but the Ospreys posted a 4-2-2 home record  in  2013, meaning they thrive on hometown support. So providing new head coach Robin Confer with fan support in her maiden voyage as the UNF women’s soccer coach could only help the program and school’s soccer spirit overall in 2014.

Perhaps one day, an Osprey player could end up on the US national team, and you’ll have cheered on an international athlete in a hometown collegiate setting. That idea, coupled with the promise of the United States Men’s National Team, in addition to the UNF Soccer team, provide more than enough reason to be excited about soccer in America, and at UNF.