Washington Editorial Office
Washington Editorial Office
Locker room doors open at the University of Pittsburgh Sports Complex. “It’s cold, isn’t it?” said Joe van der Sar as he walked out with the other keepers. “Sometimes it’s so cold that the ice breaks when you step onto the pitch with your studs.”
The goalkeeper begins one of the last exercises before Saturday’s all-important game. Not the USA vs. Netherlands game, but the College Football Playoff quarter-finals.
The son of Edwin van der Sar ended up at university in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, via Ajax youth, ADO Den Haag and RKC last year. In addition to his bachelor’s degree in economics, he is the first starting goaltender for the university’s football team, the Pittsburgh Panthers.
With the eighth final between the Netherlands and the United States at the World Cup in Qatar, it was a special week for van der Sar. “My teammates are already driving me a little crazy,” he says. “I just hope Holland wins or else I’ll be stuck with a few pesky Americans for the next few weeks.”
He was not surprised that the USA ended up in the last 16 in Qatar. “The team looks very fresh and sharp.”
The United States has excelled in women’s soccer for years, but men’s soccer has also developed strongly in recent years. At the university level, significant investments are being made in football courses and this is paying off. “You can see it’s growing,” says van der Sar. “Four and a half years ago, for example, there was no interest in football at this university, and now it is much more lively.”
What helps is that many American football players play in Europe. “The national team will perform well in the World Cup.” There is also a greater interest in diversity within the national team.
Jay Vidovic, the coach of the college team, also sees American football as getting more attention. He says the sport is gaining popularity across the country. “There are sometimes 70,000 fans in the stadiums. So there will be many more than that the current So it’s part of the culture.”
American winner mentality
Vidović himself is a big fan of Dutch football. According to van der Sar, he uses Dutch examples in his tactical discussions. So the coach thinks it’s great for the USA to play against a “big team” like the Orange on Saturday.
He believes that Americans are not without opportunity. “There’s always the American winner’s mentality. They’re willing to give their all. It’s going to be a big challenge for both teams.”
However, the World Cup match is not a priority for coach Vidovic. He hopes to reach the semi-finals with his college team by defeating the University of Portland on Saturday. “This is my world championship.”
According to Van der Sar, the competition for the university teams can be compared to the U23 competition in the Netherlands. It is the way of professionalism in the United States. But there is also a big difference: “In the Netherlands they may be more advanced in football, but two thousand people don’t come there on Monday evening to watch ‘two promising teams’.”
Van der Sar hopes to break into American football. “The more football here grows, the more money is released,” he says. He says there are many opportunities to become a professional. A former teammate from my university is now a regular in America’s highest level, Major League Soccer. That’s a nice move.”
Its match will begin on Saturday, after the Dutch national team match. He hopes to get something out of fencing in Qatar. “We’ve all watched the last games. The coach wants to keep us on our toes, so I hope he doesn’t get in the way this time.”
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