As World Cup begins, high school soccer is making sport popular here

Published 1:52 am Thursday, June 14, 2018

As the 2018 FIFA World Cup gets underway, local die-hard soccer fan Allen Woodard said that the sport is not just growing in the United States, but also in Covington County.

“There is a study out now that says that in the age 18 to 25 demographic soccer is more popular than baseball,” Woodard said. “And it continues to grow.”

Woodard said that the World Cup has added interest over the years.

“Four years ago, when we tied against Germany, who went on to win the World Cup, it changed how Americans viewed soccer,” Woodard said. “And especially with the Women’s National Team winning the World Cup, it is getting more and more people interested.”

There have been youth league soccer teams in the city for years, but high school soccer is relatively new for Andalusia. Woodard believes if AHS had not started a soccer team, the sport would have died in the county.

“Without the high school having a team, there would be nothing for kids to shoot for,” Woodard said. “With the team we are getting more and more parents involved as well and with the team’s success it is causing more interest in the sport,” Woodard said.

Since the high school soccer team was formed five years ago, the team has made it to the playoffs every year, and made it past the first round every year except the first in 2013. They also made it to the Final Four of the state tournament last year, and to the third round of the playoffs this year.

“We have the best 4A soccer school in the state,” Woodard said. “Last year, we were the only 4A team in the Final Four and we constantly have to beat 5A teams to keep moving forward in the playoffs.”

The U.S. Men’s National Team failed to qualify to the 2018 World Cup, so Woodard has his eyes set on a couple teams to root for instead of the Red, White and Blue.

“I can’t tell America who to root for, but all I am saying is that the story is going to be on Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, to see if they can win the one trophy that they both don’t have,” Woodard said. “I will also probably follow England because I follow the Premiere League.”

Messi is a forward for Argentina, who made it to the World Cup Final four years ago against Germany and failed to win. Ronaldo is a forward from Portugal, that has yet to make it to a World Cup Final, but won the European Cup with Portugal in 2016.

Woodard said that interest in soccer comes in spurts, and he hopes that a spurt will come in 2026 when the 2026 FIFA World Cup will be played in the United States, Canada and Mexico. The Federation Internationale de Football Association made the announcement Tuesday.

“No where else in the world has the infrastructure like our continent to hold such a huge contest,” Woodard said. “In 1994, when the U.S. hosted the World Cup for the first time, everyone was into it, everyone was excited and wanted to root for the U.S. Now hopefully we will see the same thing happen when it comes around again.”

According to FIFA, there will be two sites in the south, one in Nashville and one in Atlanta.

Russia is hosting the 2018 FIFA World Cup this year. The final tournament will involve 32 national teams – 31 determined through qualifying competitions and the automatically-qualified host team.