Originally created 06/28/99

Fans from many nations watch Americans play



FOXBORO, Mass. -- Erica Stoloff bit into the hamburger in the back seat of the Jeep Grand Cherokee with the U.S. flag flying from the driver's window.

Behind the car, her father tended the portable grill in the parking lot on a hot Sunday afternoon a week before the Fourth of July.

An American scene for an American team playing in Foxboro Stadium.

"The reason why I'm here is right there," said Bob Stoloff of nearby Canton, pointing to his 16-year-old daughter. "She's a big soccer nut."

Just then, three hours before the United States faced North Korea in the women's World Cup, the black-haired girl with silver braces bounded out of the vehicle.

"I'm definitely going to go crazy," she said.

A raucous group of middle-aged Italians seemed well on their way to that destination a short distance away. Four of them each held a corner of an unfurled American flag, while the most vocal had an Italian flag draped around his neck.

It was a double treat: Italy played Mexico in the first game before the United States took the field.

"We love Italy, but we're rooting for the U.S. since Italy is out of contention," said Ralph Parziale, a stocky 52-year-old with a thick gray mustache. Later, he had reason to smile as Italy won 2-0.

He wore a blue Italian soccer shirt, then lifted it to reveal a white T-shirt with the letters U-S-A and an American flag printed on it.

"For the second game," he said, "we pull the Italian shirts off."

Then Parziale, who emigrated from Italy to the United States in 1961, and his friends continued their parade through the parking lot, blowing a whistle and clanging a cow bell.

Australia also was represented in the crowd

"This is a fantastic opportunity for women to demonstrate their skills at a world level," said Steve Vuletic, 28, of Sydney.

Then there was a Jamaican who kicked a yellow-and-white soccer ball around with his daughters Teja, 11, and Alexia, 7.

"The World Cup is good for the sport," said Everett Hay, 37, who played soccer in his native country. "It's going to get the women involved, and that's good, because there are a lot of countries where women don't play soccer."

He's an assistant coach on his oldest daughter's soccer team in Randolph. The head coach, Mark Jacobs, also was there with his daughter, Leah, 11, who confessed to a hatred of baseball.

"When she grows up and her husband says, `Let's go to the ballgame,' she'll say, `You mean the soccer match?"' Jacobs said.

Forty minutes before the U.S. match began, fans stood and cheered as the Americans came out for warmups. The fans did the same 20 minutes later when the players returned to the locker room.

And 10 minutes later when the U.S. team ran back on the field, there was another loud ovation.

After the anthems of North Korea and the United States were played, the Americans took off their yellow caps, went to the edge of the stands and tossed them in.

"Throw them up here," said Zach Dewhirst, sitting in the upper level of the 58,868-seat stadium. Dewhirst, 21, of Sharon and a four-year soccer starter at Tufts University, wore a T-shirt with the message: "I wish I was Property of the U.S. Women's National Team."

Across the field, a group of about 600 fans was split into three vertical sections of about 200 each -- the one on the left wore red T-shirts, in the center white T-shirts and on the right blue T-shirts.

And one young fan had his face painted in similar vertical stripes with the letters U-S-A on his forehead.

Then the game began and the crowd roared when Mia Hamm unleashed a 25-yard shot that bounced off Korean goalkeeper Kye Yong Sun's chest and over the end line for a corner kick -- a solid play by both.

"This tournament demonstrates that women can play at the international level," said Carrie Taylor, 26, a former University of Michigan soccer player who lives in Cincinnati. "I'm hoping this will translate to a women's professional league."

Another fan, 16-year-old Alyssa Eaton, had sprayed blue color in her hair and was wearing a white jersey with Hamm's No. 9 on it.

She and her family moved to Springfield from South Dakota in 1991, the year the first women's World Cup was held in China. The Americans won.

"Where we come from, there wasn't much soccer then," Alyssa said.

"I'm sure," said her mother Lynn, "there is now."