The noise of the crowd seemed unbelievable. Ninety thousand people were waving arms and flags at Workers' Stadium in Peking. Curtis Pride of Silver Spring remembers it well.
His U.S. team of soccer players 16 years and younger had lost to Guinea in the first match of the inaugural Kodak/FISA Cup and was close to elimination in its second match, losing to Boliva, 1-0, at halftime.
The Bolivian team had not lost in five months. It was pouring rain, unfavorable conditions for a player with the speed of Pride, a forward. At halftime, U.S. Coach Angus McAlpine scolded the players. Pride, who is almost totally deaf, reflected, "I took off my hearing aid because of the rain, and I could still hear the fans."
In the second half, the team responded, particularly Pride. Early on, fullback Joey Valenti crossed a free kick to Pride, 20 yards from the goal. Pride headed the ball back to forward Larry McPhail, who kicked in a hard shot to tie.
After that, "we kept getting stronger and stronger," said Pride.
In the 67th minute, one of Pride's teammates, Brian Benedict, was dribbling toward the goal but was unable to get off a shot. He passed back to Pride, who dribbled, stopped, and let off a high shot that went over the goalkeeper's head and into the goal.
The U.S. team, which had practiced together for only a few months and was playing against an experienced opponent, had won, 2-1, and Pride was the hero.
The euphoria lasted only a couple of days, however, as the U.S. team lost to China, 3-1, a week ago Sunday; Pride scored the team's only goal. The Chinese led, 3-0, after the first five minutes.
"They have a great defense and were playing physically," said Pride, who will be a senior at Kennedy High School this fall. "They were excellent at slide tackling. It was unbelievable."
Pride, who has led Montgomery County in scoring the last two seasons, was the unlikely scorer for the 18-member U.S. team, following the tryouts in Colorado Springs in May. "In the eyes of the other coaches, he did not impress," said McAlpine.
But McAlpine remembered Pride -- and his tremendous strength and speed -- from earlier tryouts. During the Colorado Springs tryouts, McAlpine thought Pride had played too much with his back to the goal. He knew Pride was best at moving up on the ball.
At first, McAlpine didn't know how the other players would adjust to Pride's hearing disability.
"It was almost like a gut feeling," McAlpine said. "I sensed that this deafness could turn into a plus. At first I thought, 'Here is a guy who is totally deaf.' But his hearing problem has given him another dimension: the capacity to anticipate and understand how to react on the field. A built-in radar. He has a sixth sense to know where to be."
At 13, Pride was playing varsity soccer, and varsity baseball and basketball at 14. He has made all-county in all three sports and wants to continue basketball in college. Soccer could be relegated to intramurals unless he decides to play two sports. "Basketball is probably the most exciting sport," he said.
The same day he got back from his plane trip, Pride played in a baseball game in the Montgomery County senior division, one of two baseball teams he is playing for this summer.
Pride stood out during the China trip because of his composure, McAlpine said. "He had no problem with the pressure. He has the temperament to play big-time soccer."
However, Pride had a somewhat difficult time adjusting to international soccer's physical play. He was astonished that the officials didn't give out a red or yellow card in any of the matches he played in.
In the Guinea match, Pride had a chance to score at the beginning of the second half with his team behind, 1-0. He had an open shot 10 feet from the goal when he was tripped, but the referee continued play.
"They were tripping us and making illegal moves," he said. "It was a very physical game. One time, I got kicked in the mouth.