"Teams like Annandale and the Potomac Kickers play as many as 60 games a year," says Arena. "They don't play basketball in the winter, baseball in the spring—just year-round soccer. They train every day; it becomes part of their culture. They will be tremendous!"
And that, it seems, is bad news for the younger brothers of the players that some American colleges have imported from Africa, the Caribbean and elsewhere. It was a sign of the times that the all-American University of Connecticut team won the NCAA title last year over Alabama A&M's Nigerians and Jamaicans. This year, Alabama A&M was trounced 4-0 by Virginia. Fifth-ranked Clemson, once reliant on imports for its domination of the ACC, now has declared that it will start going native.
But the unassailable facts on Sunday were that two entirely American teams stood first and third in the national rankings, and that the ACC, with three teams in the first five, has become the major power in college soccer. There are, says Arena, two simple reasons. The first is dollars. Virginia, he says, has a well-heeled athletic department, and thus he has a well-funded soccer program.
The ACC also is favored with all-year soccer weather, greatly to the advantage of the growing youth-club structure in the conference's area. Intra-conference rivalry has helped, too. "We all got tired of losing to Clemson so regularly," Rennie says. "I think it was North Carolina that reacted first, then Duke, then Virginia. Now it's Wake Forest as well."
But most of all, it has been the awareness of coaches like Arena and Rennie of the value of this new generation of Americans that has made the difference. "Are they uptight?" Arena was asked at Saturday's practice. "They're too young to be uptight," he replied. He has so much confidence in them that at one point against Alabama A&M he had nine freshmen on the field. Against Duke, though, Arena started only five, but it was one of them, Gaffney, who opened the scoring at 4:13, heading home a perfectly struck cross from Brian Vernon. And then, much to the delight of the big home crowd, Voga Wallace, a junior from Washington D.C. and a cult hero in these parts, entered the game.
Wallace's specialty is a prodigious throw-in from the sideline. It can travel 50 yards, but it's no ordinary over-the-head toss. First, Wallace is handed a towel and wipes his hands. Then he takes the ball, retreats five yards, runs forward and goes into a complete somersault, flinging the ball as he turns into his flip. At the moment this delivery is perfectly legal and sometimes effective: Virginia has scored three goals this season off Wallace throw-ins that he sent booming toward the goalmouth.
It didn't work this time though, and the game degenerated a little. U.S. college soccer is like Eliza Doolittle halfway through her transformation. She can behave beautifully, as in the play from Vernon to Gaffney. But she can also let a "bloody" or two slip out, as when Joe Ulrich, Duke's senior defender, a first-round draft pick of the MISL's New York Arrows, belted the ball upfield to no one in particular; or when Duke Freshman Forward Tom Kain, a member of the national youth team, got an early yellow card for a crude attempt to wrestle the ball from the Virginia goalie.
After that first goal, the Cavaliers made the familiar tactical error of trying to fall back and hold on to an early lead. Duke's Charles Guevara put an end to that by heading in an equalizer at 15:28.
In the second half, Duke, adjusting to the unfamiliar AstroTurf, pushed Virginia back in midfield, started laying serious siege to its goal and at 64:51 went ahead 2-1 when Horton, attempting to deflect a Duke free kick from 30 yards out, headed the ball into his own net.
That, it seemed, would be that. But six minutes later, the polished Eliza came on stage again. Vernon dummied—jumping over a passed ball, and letting it go across to Mark Brcic, who chipped it back to Vernon, who made the score 2-2 with a diving header. It was a perfect play: international class soccer.