Local pair prep for U-17 worlds

Published September 16, 2005

Soccer players are noted for fancy footwork, but this couldn't have been what the under-17 national team had in mind.

"The most memorable moment so far was probably playing in the ballroom," Tampa's Blake Wagner said. "It was quite fun actually."

Thousands of miles from home, Wagner and fellow Tampa native Jeremy Hall traded a soccer field for a dance floor in preparation for Saturday's opening match against North Korea at the FIFA World Championships in Peru.

Thanks to an extended delay before catching a connecting flight to Chiclayo, former USF and current national team coach John Hackworth turned a hotel ballroom into a practice facility. Players worked on tight passing drills in the 50-by-20-foot space as hotel workers set up a lunch buffet nearby.

The team ended up conducting the impromptu workout after a 31-hour trip that should have taken about half the time. Travel, traffic and layovers - including an unexpected 13-hour delay in Lima - bogged down the schedule.

"The layover (in Lima) was pretty tiring but I think we're all good now and ready for our first (match)," Wagner said.

Wagner and Hall are two of the 20 players representing the United States at the World Championships. Both played club soccer for HC United and Hall said the experience was vital in his selection to the national team.

"There was a big transition but I think playing with (HC United) prepared me enough to handle (the jump)," Hall said.

Hackworth will use the speedy Hall off the bench during the 16-team tournament. Hall, who can play either midfield or forward, said he expects to be "the 12th man."

"Whenever the game is looking kind of slow, (Hackworth) brings me in to bring a spark," Hall said.

Wagner, however, figures to play a more prominent role. Central defender Eric Lichaj inured his knee last month, giving Wagner an opportunity to crack the starting lineup.

Wagner said he expects big crowds in Peru, but since the United States won't be playing any South American teams in their group, he isn't sure whose side the fans will be on.

"I don't know if the crowd will be for or against us," he said. "But either way we can feed off them."