Gig Harbor native Danny Waltman is officially a World Cup champion.
No, not the FIFA World Cup, but the Arena Soccer World Cup. Late last month, the U.S. national team defeated Mexico in the finals, 5-3, to win the title in Chicago in the first ever Arena World Cup.
Waltman, 33, graduated from Tacoma’s Bellarmine Preparatory School in 2000 and played goalie for the University of Washington. He was named the tournament’s MVP.
"It’s an honor to be recognized (as MVP)," Waltman said. "It’s kind of a team award. If your goalie gets MVP, it means the team was doing a lot of things well to make him look good on both sides of the ball. I can remember so many times where I was beat, but I had three guys coming to bail me out."
Waltman said he felt like a "ball magnet" in the title game.
"I thought there were some goals that were going in for sure, but they’d hit me and stay out," Waltman said. "I knew it was one of those games. I was confident we were going to win. I’m happy we won it for our country and for our sport."
Waltman is a keeper for the Missouri Comets, a Major Arena Soccer League franchise near Kansas City. Arena soccer is played five-on-five, plus a goalie, typically in arenas designed for hockey games. The sport itself is a sort of a hybrid between hockey and soccer. The field is much smaller than a normal soccer field; the action is faster and different. The walls are fair game and inbounds, and players given penalties sit two minutes in a penalty box, creating a power play for the other team, just like hockey.
"It seems to be the sport that appeals to everybody," Waltman said. "It has the ability to really transcend. I’m biased; I grew up watching it and playing it. But it’s one of the most exciting sports around."
The American Outlaws, the support group for the United States national soccer teams, showed up to support the U.S. arena team.
"They had their faces painted, drums, scares waving," Waltman said. "It was really incredible to see. They brought some amazing energy."
One of the biggest challenges for the national arena team is developing chemistry and camaraderie in a short period of time. The team had only a few days to practice together before competing in the World Cup.
"We don’t know each other too well," Waltman said. "It’s a credit to the coaching staff to really just get everybody on the same page right away. Even the new guys felt like they’ve always been there and been part of the team. It showed in our games."
Waltman will switch gears a bit now, currently practicing with Sporting Kansas City, the local Major League Soccer team. While Waltman has grown to love arena soccer, he’s still hoping to land an MLS contract.
"I’m still trying to get an outdoor gig — I haven’t been able to really give it up," Waltman said. "Hopefully, I’ll get a look."
Waltman said he’s excited to see soccer continue growing in popularity in the United States. He pointed to the Seattle Sounders FC as a prime example.
"The Sounders — that’s a tough place to get into," Waltman said. "It’s a long list of high-level pros. They’re the coolest thing around, as far as MLS goes. Everybody in the world, no joke, is trying to play there … they’re approaching some of the biggest names. They’re up there with Manchester United as far as support and recognition."