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The Butler Did It: The origins of my soccer love affair

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That is until now. It was officially announced July 14 that Mike Windischmann has been elected into the Soccer Hall of Fame. He will join former World Cup teammates Eric Wynalda and Paul Caligiuri as well as women’s soccer standout Michelle Akers at the Oct. 11 induction ceremony in upstate Oneonta.

I met Windischmann about five years ago, when he was coaching the Forest Hills boys’ soccer team. I was in absolute awe at the time. Here was the captain of the 1990 World Cup team coaching in the PSAL!

The funny thing is that I knew of Windischmann before, kind of how I know Bench, Winfield and Carter.

Italia ’90, as it was called, was the first World Cup I watched religiously. My infatuation with the sport started a couple years earlier when I watched goaltending great Walter Zenga and Inter Milan play on Sunday mornings in Italy’s Serie A.

But I fell in love with the game during the 1990 World Cup.

I remember the first game I saw that year was England playing Ireland in the first round. Being of Irish heritage and being that Ireland was making its first appearance in the World Cup, I was immediately sucked in.

A few days later the United States played mighty Italy in Rome. In addition to being the host nation, Italy was also a favorite to win the World Cup while the United States, making its first World Cup appearance in 40 years, was trounced by the Czechs, 5-1, in its first game.

I was a sophomore at St. Francis Prep and no one I knew who was interested in the World Cup was rooting for the U.S. Everyone was going with their heritage. My Italian friends and my favorite teacher, Joe Licata, were hoping for a big Italian win.

Even I was a bit torn, with Zenga in net for the Azzurri.

I think it was Regents week, although I couldn’t tell you what test I took that morning, but I rushed home in time to watch the game on television.

Much to my surprise, the United States didn’t get killed. In fact, this group of collegiate players actually hung in against the Italians, dropping a 1-0 decision.

The United States didn’t win a game in 1990. In fact, it only scored two goals. But that team, Windischmann, Tony Meola, Tab Ramos, John Harkes and others, became the pioneers for future World Cup teams. They are as much a reason the United States is ranked No. 7 in the world right now as Eddie Pope, Claudio Reyna and Chris Armas are today.

A day after Windischmann was elected into the Hall of Fame, I found a tape of that game. It was in the trunk of my car, between my cooler and laundry detergent. I went home and popped it in the VCR and strolled down memory lane.

I didn’t remember them wearing their shorts that high back then and didn’t realize how popular the mullet hairdo was. I don’t remember how horrible the announcers were (one guy who didn’t know a corner kick from a penalty kick and the other guy was an NFL kicker) or that the network actually took commercial breaks DURING THE GAME!

But I do remember what a tremendous accomplishment it was that the United States was able to hang with Italy for 90 minutes and how much I was looking forward to the 1994 World Cup in the United States. I remember how I fell in love with soccer and I have, at least partially, Mike Windischmann to thank for that.

Reach Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.

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