You love goalie Tim Howard, a man you may or may not have known much about one week ago.

Your heart skipped a beat when Clint Dempsey’s shot from 25 yards magically, crazily, managed to cross the goal line last Saturday in the 40th minute.

The U.S. drew even with mighty England in a World Cup opener, and now you are believing in the Yanks, long the underdogs of international play, just a little bit.

Some of you still scoff at the beautiful game. What’s so beautiful about a nil-nil draw? 1-1?

You napped three times during the match.

But the rest of you. You packed pubs around Portland. Filled living rooms with friends. Choked back emotion more than a few times.

You will spring from bed this morning. Set up the DVR. Take a long coffee break. You are hooked. You believe. On the eve of the Americans’ second game in pool play — where they are, gasp, favored against Slovenia — we caught up with some local soccer fanatics to get their thoughts on what will go down at 9:30 a.m. today: U.S. vs. Slovenia. Ellis Park. Johannesburg, South Africa.

• Chris Sedenka, WJAB sports talk radio host

A self-described soccer nut, Sedenka watched the first half of last week’s game at the hotel bar in the Eastland Hotel in Portland.

At halftime he crossed the street to get married.

“We had the gamecast going in the church before the ceremony. It was pretty funny,” he said.

By game’s end, Chris and Abby Sedenka were man and wife. The Americans had a tie. It was, he said, a beautiful day.

Today, Sedenka will watch at a local bar with friends. He got hooked on the game in college, playing goalie for his indoor intramural team. He’s been known to wear an American flag like a cape.

Today he has high hopes for the Yanks.

“My hope is that they play like they should. Meaning, win,” said Sedenka. “The U.S., realistically, should be able to win most of their next games if they play at their level. The problem is they haven’t played to their potential for years. They’re usually the underdog. It’s a new kind of situation for them. These players need to take this opportunity.

“I think this Cup can get U.S. soccer to the next level. This is a squad that has a tremendous opportunity.”

• Mike Hagerty, Yarmouth High soccer coach

Hagerty was coaching his son’s Little League baseball game Saturday when he got a text from his sister-in-law that read: Four minutes in. Down 1-0.

Ugh.

He made it to a television in time to watch the second half.

There he was encouraged by the quality chances created by the Americans.

“I was fired up about how quickly we counterattacked,” said Hagerty. “There were quality chances. Good team speed. We defended well. If we can stay compact and look to counter-attack, we should do well.”

Hagerty plans to gather with friends and family to watch today’s match. He hopes Howard’s ribs are OK after taking a cleat-first drive from English striker Emile Heskey.

He has faith veteran Landon Donovan will have an impact.

“I think Donovan will have a little breakout game,” said Hagerty.

n Colin Minte, former All-State player at NYA, premier coach with Seacoast United, assistant at Bates College

Nearly 70 people packed into the Minte house in Yarmouth last Saturday. Red, white and blue was everywhere.

They are a soccer family of three boys, now grown. Mr. Minte has done work for FIFA, the sport’s governing body.

They live for the World Cup. And this is a special one.

“It’s a time where as an American, we are all on the same team,” said Minte, 25.

Minte read an article on the ESPN website before the game. It said even England’s bench players would start for the U.S. and striker Wayne Rooney would be unstoppable.

Not so.

“Being able to tame Wayne Rooney was unbelievable,” said Minte.

“From an organizational and tactical standpoint, we were superb. Going forward I feel very confident as a team. I don’t see any reason why we can’t compete with anyone. We’ve got one of the best goalkeepers in the world, a solid back line. We’re going to need to find a way to score.

“But I think we have a good chance to advance quite far.”

On Slovenia: “They’re a good side,” said Minte. “There’s no walkover games. Anybody who’s made it this far is legit.”

• Hailey Blackburn, former York standout, University of Maine, and head coach of WPSL’s Maine Tide

The Maine Tide play in the Women’s Professional Soccer League, and lost their first three games. This weekend they will play the home opener.

But before they get to that, they will draw inspiration from the U.S. men today.

Players, some wearing U.S. jerseys, will gather at a teammate’s house, cover the floor and couch, and root for a win.

“We have high hopes,” said Blackburn. “They made a few careless mistakes against England. But the goalie is coming back and we really have high hopes they will do well. It will be fun to watch as a team.”

• Wally Caldwell, Wells High girls’ soccer coach

7:30 a.m. today, Caldwell will arrive at York High to get some work done in the special education room. The kids are gone for the summer. The hallways will be quiet.

9:30 he will break, and the sound of soccer will find its way out of a television, where he and a handful of coaches will crowd around for 90 minutes.

“I know the U.S. doesn’t get involved in the World Cup as much as other countries,” said Caldwell, who coached York to a state championship last fall. “But the soccer people certainly do. They’re all wrapped up into this.”

Caldwell also is wrapped up.

He likes the Americans’ performance against England but isn’t overconfident.

“They’ve got to be careful. Switzerland beat Spain. Brazil squeaked by North Korea. Anything is possible in this game,” said Caldwell. “I’m a little bit wary. They’ve got to get a little more punch through the midfield and up front.”

 

Staff Writer Jenn Menendez can be contacted at 791-6426 or at:

[email protected]