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World Cup is a melting pot of national loyalties


World Cup matches can cause conflict for hyphenated Americans.

Do they root for the upstart U.S., or back their ancestral roots, since the old country might actually have a chance to go far in Germany?

Those who call themselves Italian-Americans dealt with that dilemma yesterday, when their favorite soccer nations played to a 1-1 draw.

"Sure, I have mixed emotions," said Pete Caringi, the UMBC soccer coach whose grandparents were born in Italy. "I've been following the World Cup since 1966, when I was 11. I've always rooted for Italy, but since the U.S. made it in '90, I've been able to watch them grow, and support them, too. It's torture when they play each other."

Caringi watched a portion of yesterday's game at DeSantis Pizza Grill and Bar in Perry Hall. It's owned by Rich DeSantis, who teamed with Caringi, from the streets of Highlandtown to Calvert Hall to the 1975 University of Baltimore team that won an NCAA Division II title. Like Caringi, DeSantis is a second-generation American of Italian descent.

"I want to root for the U.S.," DeSantis said before yesterday's game, "but they have no shot at winning a World Cup right now."

DeSantis is among the bar and restaurant owners in the region who have used the World Cup to drum up business.

Conversely, the one place in Baltimore you would expect to be ground zero for football fever yesterday seemed to pay the World Cup little mind.

Come afternoon on the Mediterranean, shops are shuttered and people escape the heat in their own homes, and Little Italy might as well have been the real thing. Veal, pasta and soccer apparently don't mix, as Sabatino's doesn't sully its ambience with a television, and the bartender at Germano's, on the other side of High Street, thought the game was on cable, not ABC.

Twenty minutes before kickoff, the sound of a bleating Brent Musburger was also unheard at the OSIA (Order Sons of Italy in America) Lodge 2286 on Pratt Street. A peek inside found a few card games, and none of the televisions turned on.

There was plenty of passion a block south of Little Italy, however, at James Joyce, the Irish pub and restaurant on South President Street.

Young urban professionals in USA T-shirts knocked back bottles of Budweiser. Men in boutique jerseys, like the one honoring French star Zinedine Zidane, were more likely to order a Guinness. They were standing two deep at the bar and there wasn't an empty stool within view of one of the plasma screens, but Domenic Vigliarolo and Jade Brennan knew to beat that rush.

The two met last September, at James Joyce, where there's always a match on the telly. She played soccer for Goucher College in the 1990s. He's from Rhode Island, but his parents were born in Calabria, "on the toes of the boot that kick Sicily," the reason Vigliarolo wore the azure jersey emblazoned "Italia."

"I don't know if I'm going to get booed out of this seat," Vigliarolo said from a prime table. "I hate to see the U.S. and Italy play each other."

Much is made of anti-American sentiment abroad, but as Titus Warui explained, an entire continent backed the U.S. yesterday. The 32-year-old computer network engineer is from Kenya. Warui's homeland has never been to a World Cup, but he loves the game and all African teams.

"I don't like Italy, they've done a lot of bad things to African sides," said Warui, who remembers 1994, when the Italians forced overtime on Nigeria, then won in overtime on a penalty kick to reach the quarterfinals. "Italy advanced at the expense of Nigeria, only because the referee made some scandalous decisions. We'll never forget."

Warui was giddy, as Ghana dispatched the Czech Republic. He took in that match and Italy-U.S. at Padonia Station in Timonium, where WNST talk show host Bob Haynie hosted a crowd that he said was "99.1 percent pro-U.S. The other nine-tenths was indifferent."

Several hours before that kickoff, near Padonia Station, a man walked to his car with a refreshment from the Rita's Italian Ice stand. He wore a faded Italia T-shirt and said he would cheer for Italy from the quiet of his home. Does he ever root for the U.S.?

"Any other day," he said, "but today."

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