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World Cup: Defenseman Pablo Mastroeni Plays Major Role on US Team - 2002-06-19

The man considered the last player selected to the United States 2002 World Cup soccer team has ended up playing a major role in the squad's advancement to the quarterfinals.

Pablo Mastroeni, 25, was born in Mendoza, Argentina, and moved to the United States at the age of four. His father, Frank, said the family moved to find a better life. They settled in Phoenix, Arizona, where Frank sells cars.

Frank, a former professional player, knew he wanted to get son Pablo involved in soccer. "I used to play in the second division in Argentina, but you have to be real, real good to play and to make it, and I never had that quality," he said. "And I was hoping all the time that one of my sons would one day have the quality that I never had."

Frank told VOA Sports that Pablo started playing soccer at age four, shortly after moving to the USA. He was playing club soccer by age 11, played for his high school in Phoenix and then played in college for North Carolina State.

The 1.78 m. tall defender turned professional in 1998, joining Major League Soccer's Miami Fusion. There he established himself as one of the U.S. league's top players.

Last season he made the All-Star team and was named to the MLS best 11. When the Miami club folded at the end of last season, he was selected first in the allocation draft by the Colorado Rapids.

Pablo Mastroeni did not officially become a U.S. citizen until May of last year. He is the only player on the USA's roster who did not play in World Cup qualifying. But early this year he had a number of stellar performances for the USA at the Gold Cup tournament in the United States. He ended up getting the call to join the national team for its trip to South Korea.

Father Frank said he was more concerned about a possible World Cup position for his son than Pablo was. "We spoke with him a couple days before the selection of the team, and I asked him how he was feeling about it," he said. "And he said to me, 'Dad, I am working on the garden [at home].' And I said, 'Son, I know, but my question to you is, how you feel about it?' He said, 'That is really not up to me, Dad. What I have to do, as a player, I have done it. What I have to show on the field, I did. So for me to worry about it is not going to do any good. So I have my time, I will spend it with my gardening, my guitar and my dogs and my wife. And I shut the rest of the world off because it is not for me to worry. The coach has a decision."

After Pablo Mastroeni was named to the U.S. World Cup squad, it was not certain what role he might play. Then suddenly he found himself in the starting line-up in the Americans' opening game against Portugal, a 3-2 upset victory that was key to the U.S. team reaching the second round. "It is tremendous, you know," he said. "It has been like a dream, a surreal experience. I have waited patiently, and it is something that I was just taking this World Cup in for an experience more so than anything else, and getting thrown into the fire and having to perform has been something that I have only dreamed about, you know. So I just wait and be patient, and whenever I get the opportunity try to make the best of it. But for me this is beyond a dream."

And father Frank Mastroeni has relished watching his son play in the World Cup. "Really, there are no words to express it, I think," said Frank Mastroeni. "He is where he is because of the work he has done, and for us we are all very, very proud of where he is. And I think he feels, and like we feel, that we are blessed in many, many ways. But having the opportunity to get on the national team I think is wonderful, and it is just an unbelievable experience altogether. "

Defender Pablo Mastroeni got high praise for his play in the Americans' 2-0 shutout against Mexico that put them into the quarterfinals. "I like to think I have [proved myself]" he said. "And we are not done yet, you know. We will see. We have even a bigger opponent, both literally and figuratively here, in Germany. The best way to judge yourself is against the best, and we will see what happens."

Pablo Mastroeni and the U.S. Soccer team face Germany on Friday to see which will reach the World Cup semifinals.