COLUMBIA - Robert Beebe watches his country play in the World Cup with the same passion and fervor as any other patriot.
Asked for a prediction when the United States plays Belgium at 4 p.m. Tuesday in the Round of 16, Beebe was blunt. Just a win. That's all Team USA needs.
"It doesn't matter how it comes," Beebe said.
But there's something clinical about how Beebe watches the World Cup. Whether it's the United States or a team from a foreign country, South Carolina's sophomore goalkeeper is analyzing every play. It's simply his nature.
Somebody scores a great goal, the goalie wants to know how.
"Every time a goal goes in, I'm always like, 'What did he (the goalie) do wrong? What could he have done better?' " Beebe said. "But I try to turn that off and enjoy it as best as I can. It's easier when there's two teams where I'm not as invested."
The United States National Team is the dream destination for college soccer players with American roots. Beebe could be excused if he looks around the Gamecocks' locker room this fall and wonders who's next.
South Carolina is a hotbed for world-class soccer talent. In each of the past four World Cups, a former Gamecocks player has made the U.S. roster.
Clint Mathis started the tradition in 1998, just one year after his final season with the Gamecocks. He was a starting forward on the 2002 team and scored one of the more memorable goals in the nation's World Cup history against South Korea.
Josh Wolff, Mathis' teammate at South Carolina, played for the United States on the 2002 and 2006 World Cup teams. Brad Guzan has been the United States' backup goalkeeper on the 2010 and 2014 World Cup teams.
Naturally, the question of "who's next?' is constantly on South Carolina coach Mark Berson's mind.
"It's really exciting for our players to come here and know that in these lockers were guys before them who went to the World Cup," Berson said. "That's how we recruit here. Our mission is to get the next one."
The Palmetto State's influence on the United States Men's National Team stretches beyond the Gamecocks. Former Clemson players Ogechi Onyewu and Stuart Holden played for the United States in the 2010 World Cup. Onyewu also played on the 2006 squad.
Clint Dempsey, the United States' premier goal scorer, played at Furman from 2001-03. Berson remembers him well.
"I'll tell you, when Clint was running around up in Furman, we were mostly trying to catch him," Berson said. "Because he was a really tough competitor, and really, you know, he was going to be a handful. So there was never any question he was going to go onto the next level."
Berson sees soccer going to the next level in America. The sport lags behind higher-profile leagues like the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball. But slowly, with the help of more exposure from cable television, Berson said soccer is picking up steam.
Nobody has to talk Beebe into enjoying the game. he grew up with it, fell in love at an early age and went on to play at Pinewood Prep in Summerville. Now, Beebe sees others sharing his passion.
He points to the difference four short years have made.
"It's exploded as I've grown up," Beebe said. "So it's been something that's really cool. You see pictures in other countries of viewing parties, everyone's watching the game. Well, you see those here in the U.S. now. The U.S. is getting ready to play, and I get so many texts from all my friends, 'Hey, where are you going to watch the game? Where are we going? What are we doing?'
"Just the group atmosphere, and everyone is yelling and really invested in the game together, it's something that's really fun to watch."
Brad Guzan (left), a backup goalkeeper on the U.S. World Cup team, is a former University of South Carolina player.×
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