It's just like the World Cup
"It's just like the World Cup," says 6-year old Justin who is wearing his Pitt Meadows soccer uniform. Justin is watching the Vancouver Whitecaps play AC St. Louis at Swanguard Stadium in Burnaby B.C. He's focused on the game but appears to be a little tired from the excitement he experienced earlier on the field.
Justin and his teammate Adam walked out hand in hand with the St.Louis players and played a mini-soccer game on the field at half-time. For Justin, whose eyes were opened big and bright, this is a pretty big deal. His Dad explains that it's just like what Justin sees on TV, when the kids walk out with the players and the start of each World Cup game.
I can't help but smile as it hits me again how much impact the World Cup is having on young soccer players.
"It was a pretty proud moment watching him walk out there. I played when I was his age," says Justin's Dad, Jason Osborne.
Adam's Dad Jason Kirby echoed the same sentiment as he wraps his arm around his son. "To have him walk out with players of this calibre, unbelievable feeling. I'm proud of him."
Just then, the Whitecaps evened it up 1-1 and both Justin and Adam leapt with to their feet cheering.
In the stands just beside Jason and Kirby another young group of soccer players all dressed black jerseys were jumping up and down as well. One of their players, Ryan had just caught the soccer ball that was kicked in to the stands by Winger, the Whitecaps mascot. Ryan was holding on to the ball as if it was an original Jabulani ball from South Africa. There is no doubt that he will remember this moment for a long time to come.
World Cup effect
With the game tied 1-1 and one minute remaining, Ryan who is still holding his soccer ball tightly, turns to his Dad and says, "I want a penalty kick shootout." His Dad smiles and says, "Not here, that is in the World Cup."
It may have felt like World Cup soccer to Ryan, with all of the South African inspired vuvuzelas being blown by kids all over the stands.
After the final buzzer sounded, I really wanted to talk to these future soccer stars but I have to be honest, they just wanted to be somewhere else. One of players, Kieran stands up and is anxious to be the first one down for autographs from the Whitecaps and AC St.Louis players.
I know when I'm out of my league. I get it, I'd feel the exact same way if I could meet Spain's David Villa or Uruguay's Diego Forlan. Go get 'em kids!
But before they bolted off, I was able to engage their attention as they weighed in on their World Cup favourites. It was a split decision; half of them yelled Spain and the other half the Netherlands.
Now, I must go where the action is, on the field.
Another group of soccer players, slightly older than the group in the stands were all standing in a roped off area anxiously waiting for something. While they I took the opportunity to ask them about the World Cup, and again, an explosion of energy as one side yelled the Netherlands and the other Spain.
I'm happy to report that the World cup us having an impact on our future soccer stars.
This group of soccer players were the honorary ball retrievers and flag bearers for today's Whitecaps game. As a reward for their hard work they get to be a part of a VIP autograph session with the players.
Meet their heros
"They get to meet their heroes," says Pierce Lang, a member of the Whitecaps events team. "They'll wait out her for every last player, they'll be here until Martin Nash is finished his interviews at the end of the game." He takes a moment and finishes, "They love it, it means the whole world to them." Pierce also mentions that they get to an up close and personal seat to watch the warm-ups and see how the actual professionals train.
I watch and see the smiles of joy as the players come over and sign their shirts.
"I was a ball boy a few times, I've come through the ranks," says Whitecaps player, South African born Luca Bellisomo. "It's meaningful for them, it's meaningful for me. They are the future of soccer in the country and it's great to see them excited about the sport."
The Whitecaps may have drawn on the field against St. Louis, but they definitely won with the kids today.
It's a beautful thing to see how both the World Cup and the Vancouver Whitecaps are leaving lasting impressions on soccer's future stars.
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About the Author
Coreena Robertson (Vancouver)
Coreena Robertson is a seasoned sports producer and experienced sports broadcaster who loves to cover sports at both the community and professional level. She has interviewed high profile celebrities and sports stars such as LeBron James and the late Paul Newman, but also loves hanging out at the local pitch.