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Movie recreates 1950 American soccer triumph

Category: The Game of Their Lives News
Article Date: August 20, 2003 | Publication: Associated Press | Author: Betsy Taylor
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The pair who made the inspirational sports films "Hoosiers" and "Rudy" are at it again.

Director David Anspaugh and writer-producer Angelo Pizzo are making "The Game of Their Lives," about the 1950 U.S. World Cup team, which upset England 1-0.

That tournament in Brazil turned out to be the last World Cup appearance for the Americans until 1990. The win still is considered by many to be the greatest in the history of U.S. soccer.

The movie, slated for release next year, focuses heavily on five players in the starting lineup from St. Louis, among them Harry Keough, Frank Borghi and Gino Pariani - who recently sat on the edge of the movie set reminiscing while in a soccer field behind them actors perspired to recreate their history.

It was a time when soccer in the United States had little of the cachet it carries today. Serious soccer players in America, even the best of them, usually had to practice in their spare time - the goal against England was scored by Joe Gaetjens, a Haitian immigrant who had been working as a dishwasher in New York City.

Soccer already had a strong grip on those in the St. Louis area.

"It was a way of life. In September, you played soccer. In the spring, you'd play fast-pitch softball," said Keough, 75.

He's portrayed by Zachery Ty Bryan - best known for his role as son Brad Taylor on the sitcom "Home Improvement" - who said the movie has given him a greater appreciation for what athletes had to do in 1950 to reach World Cup play.

"The game wasn't (at the time) part of our culture like it was in other countries," Bryan said.

"It was a poor kid's game," recalled Pariani, 75. "All you needed was a ball. With baseball, you needed bats and gloves."

Before filming, actors trained in soccer camp but discovered that playing soccer in St. Louis' summertime heat provided a level of conditioning all its own. Frequent stops and starts to shoot scenes took a toll. An on-set massager looked like he was working hardest of all, trying to keep actors limber between takes.

On a hot field decorated with a scoreboard that reads "Home of the Knights, Buy War Bonds," cast and crew waited for a car to drive by. They waited for a plane to pass overhead. Then they even waited on a cloud as they tried to get the sound and lighting exactly right.

The players were dressed in short leather boots - the soccer cleats of the time - and long-sleeved jerseys that tie across the front and must be changed frequently in the heat.

"Let's roll," yells out the assistant director.

"Rolling!" is echoed back at him.

They run through a scene where a player questioned the coach about why they still don't have uniforms, and the team heard plans to travel overseas to compete.

"We're feeling the movie," said Louis Mandylor, who plays Pariani and costarred in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." "That's what we need to do."

They're also feeling the pressures of portraying well-known people from a close-knit neighborhood - The Hill, the city's famed Italian neighborhood.

Gerard Butler, who is in "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider - The Cradle of Life" and plays goaltender Borghi in the soccer film, said he enjoyed spending time with the real-life Borghi, now 78, and recalled going out for a meal on The Hill with Borghi and Borghi's family and friends.

"I must have had a hundred people come to me and say, 'You're playing Frank? I know Frank," Butler said. "You realize what an amazing accomplishment it is, what these guys went through?"

The original players and their families hope the movie will help others realize just what it was like for the U.S. World Cup players, playing international soccer just before the start of the Korean War and establishing a name for the American team.

As Borghi's 47-year-old daughter, Bette, noted: "These guys came home to no fanfare 50 years ago. And who would have thought this would happen 50 years later? It's kind of like divine justice."

 


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