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Menace players react to World Cup

(From left to right, top to bottom) Bradford, Lawal, Schmoker, Okai
WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – June 29, 2010 – The Menace fields players from all over the world, including seven nations represented in the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Those players hail from the United States, England, Ghana, Nigeria, Japan, South Africa and Brazil. Today, we profile players from the first four aforementioned countries. Next week, we spotlight the latter three.
Jacob Schmoker: United States

World Cup Recap:
USA 1, England 1
USA 2, Slovenia 2
USA 1, Algeria 0
USA 1, Ghana 2 – Knockout Stage
After the United States’ exit from the World Cup after a 2-1 loss to Ghana on Saturday, Schmoker said that although the tournament cannot be considered a success for the team, it was definitely not a failure.
            “A success would have been making the semifinals,” he said. “It seemed like we got unlucky with calls the whole tournament. At least we went out fighting.”
            The growth of the game in the U.S. over the last decade has been remarkable, and Schmoker is proud to say that he has been part of that movement. But with the game continually growing, he believes the next generation of players will be significantly better. He doesn’t have to look too far for proof.
            “I have two twin brothers who are 17, only six years younger than me, but the difference (in talent) is huge,” Schmoker said. “The coaches brought (to the U.S.) are the biggest difference; they are unbelievable.”
            Schmoker is one of 15 Americans on the Menace. He graduated from Fort Lewis College in Colorado in the fall of 2009 and comes from Catoosa, Okla. He is one of two Menace players from Oklahoma, along with defender Kalen Ryden. Overall, Menace players represent seven states.
            Schmoker doesn’t believe that the country is close to winning a World Cup just yet, but thinks that soccer is moving in the right direction. Luck, he believes, is a vital part in determining who takes home the coveted FIFA World Cup Trophy.
            “The best team doesn’t always win,” he said. “There are so many different factors. But that’s why we play soccer.”
World Cup final prediction: Argentina over Netherlands
Clark Bradford: England

World Cup Recap:
England 1, USA 1
England 0, Algeria 0
England 1, Slovenia 0
England 1, Germany 4 – Knockout stage
The Menace captain grew up in Blackburn, England, and was kicking a ball as soon as he could walk. “Football” is the sport that everybody plays in England, and he knows the entire country is extremely upset in the team’s World Cup performance, one that brutally ended with a 4-1 loss to Germany on Sunday. Bradford said he feared the team would not make it as far as his fellow countrymen expected.
            “They were really very disappointing in all the games,” he said. “There were high expectations, and they definitely did not live up to them.”
            Bradford attended Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tenn., last year, but will transfer. He said that nothing in the U.S. compares to the atmosphere of a soccer game in England.
            “It’s hard to explain; you go and see it and can’t believe it,” he said. “It’s pretty amazing.”
            Bradford said his father, David, taught him everything he knew about the game. Ironically, David Bradford played for Menace head coach Laurie Calloway in 1983 as a member of the Seattle Sounders. Clark Bradford said that he began playing club soccer at the age of five, but said one of the biggest differences in England is the amount of games he has watched in his lifetime.
            “We play it, but we also watch it, which is part of learning the game,” he said. “We pick up little things from the professionals.”
            Bradford watched the highly anticipated U.S. vs. England game on June 12 at Johnny’s Hall of Fame bar in downtown Des Moines for a Menace watch party. Schmoker was also there, joining the many American’s cheering against England.
            Bradford’s Menace teammates, Jack Pearson and Sam Morris, also come from England. Morris assisted on Bradford’s team-leading fifth goal of the season in Des Moines’ 3-0 win over Springfield last Saturday.
World Cup final prediction: Brazil over Spain
Stephen Okai: Ghana

World Cup Recap:
Ghana 1, Serbia 0
Ghana 1, Australia 1
Ghana 0, Germany 1
Ghana 2, USA 1 – Knockout stage
Ghana vs. Uruguay – Quarterfinals (July 2, 1:30 CST, ESPN)
            Perhaps the happiest person on the Menace during the World Cup so far is the man who comes from the country which knocked the U.S. out of consecutive World Cups: Ghana.
Ghana has jumped onto the international scene as a world soccer power in the last five years. It won the U20 FIFA World Cup in 2009, and Okai said that some players on that team are now contributing to the World Cup success this year. After advancing past group stage in the country’s first World Cup appearance in 2006, Ghana has taken the next step into the quarterfinals this year.
            “It’s so amazing; Ghana was shaking (with excitement) in 2006,” said Okai, who was a member of the 2007 U17 national team which placed second in Africa. “This year is even bigger because everyone thought the U.S. would win.”
            Okai said if Ghana were to win the entire tournament, then the celebration would be like a host country winning the World Cup. The entire continent is backing Africa’s lone remaining team. Okai is confident the team is not finished with its run yet, and believes the team will make quick work of Uruguay in the quarterfinals.
            “Of course we will win,” the University of Mobile junior said. “It’s like, as soon as we made the (final) eight, now we’re going all out.”
World Cup final prediction: “I don’t know who they will play, but Ghana will beat Brazil to make the final and win the whole thing.”
Jubril Lawal: Nigeria

World Cup Recap:
Argentina 1, Nigeria 0
Greece 2, Nigeria 1
South Korea 2, Nigeria 2
Nigeria made its fourth appearance in the last five World Cups, and this was supposed to be the year the team made a deep run in the tournament. Unfortunately, things didn’t go according to plan, as Nigeria finished last in Group B with only one point.
            “I’m very disappointed, but that’s soccer,” Lawal said.
            Lawal is only 16 and will begin his college soccer career as a freshman at the University of Mobile in the fall. He graduated high school at only 14. Although that may seem like a major burden to carry for most Americans, Lawal said it is normal for aspiring players to leave the country at a young age to pursue their dreams. He started playing the game when he was just six.
            “Soccer is the first sport (one learns) and you start playing as soon as you are able,” Lawal said. “You make a ball out of rubber or whatever you can find.”
            Because of Nigeria’s soccer growth on the international scene, it has become a popular pipeline for talent. He said that players will travel nearly anywhere in the world to play the game.
            “We have good talent,” he said. “A lot of Nigerian players even play in Europe.”
World Cup final prediction: Brazil over Argentina
NEXT WEEK: Luis Piffer, Brazil; Yuki Kariya, Japan; Lebogang Moloto, South Africa

Menace intern Matt Moran, a junior at Drake University, wrote this story

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