South African native Sias Reyneke has seen the shift in excitement surrounding soccer in the United States, since arriving in the country before playing for Cleveland High School and Lee University.
He and the rest of the Chattanooga Football Club hope some of the latest "World Cup Fever" shifts over to their level of soccer tonight.
The team has a match against the New Orleans Jesters at 7:30 at Finley Stadium. With a win, Chattanooga FC (6-2-2, 5-1-2) will clinch the top seed in the National Premier Soccer League Southeast Division standings, with one week remaining before the playoffs begin on July 11 at Finley.
Reyneke, who scored two goals in CFC's 6-1 win over Georgia Revolution last week, has been pleasantly surprised by the increased attention to the sport.
"There are so many people in the United States getting into World Cup matches on social media," Reyneke said Friday. "Four years ago, there weren't this many. Four years before that, there weren't nearly as much."
Reyneke and CFC teammate Thomas Halsell worked a camp at Lee this past week with other members of the university squad. The youth participants were split into teams labeled for nations that played in the World Cup. Reyneke coached Argentina while Halsell -- a Manchester, England native -- was assigned to the English team and guided it to a 4-0 record during the week.
The different nations represented by the kids compare somewhat with the CFC roster, which has 10 nationalities represented. England has 10 players on the CFC roster, followed by the United States with eight. There are three players from France, two each from Brazil and Kenya and one apiece from Germany, Canada, Mexico, Ireland and South Africa.
Halsall said the CFC players watched the matches together as a group, and he said it was tough to watch England not qualify for the elimination round -- especially since the United States did qualify and will face Belgium on Tuesday at 4 p.m.
"It was very exciting seeing shots like that," the CFC goalkeeper said. "It makes you realize that anything can happen; just because some teams have great world-class players, if they don't jell, it won't work. We've jelled well -- how we've played is proof of that -- and it would be good to secure first place, because winning would be good for this group."
The Jesters rallied for a 3-2 win over Chattanooga on May 31 in New Orleans, and the CFC organization has been using the importance of the rematch, along with the hype surrounding the World Cup, to promote and attract extra fans to this evening's match.
"We would love to have a lot of people there, because the atmosphere helps us a lot," Reyneke said. "It's different from playing for a high school or a college: It's like you're playing for the city, and it's nice seeing people pay to come out. And seeing the excitement on the faces of the fans and the Chattahooligans when you do something well is a good feeling."
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.