Mike Getchell learned his soccer in the daily drills practically required of schoolboys in the Brazilian towns where his American missionary father took him. Getchell became as fluent in the mysteries of the game as he did in Portuguese, and when he and his brother returned to the United States as teen-agers to be exposed for the first time to the average U.S. soccer coach, "We used to laugh a lot."
Getchell now is a starting forward for the UCLA team scheduled to meet American University Saturday for the NCAA soccer championship, and his upbringing raises few eyebrows in a sport full of exchange students.
What is unusual is that he is the closest thing UCLA has to a foreign player, for everybody on the team was either born in this country or arrived in infancy. The most distant hometown is Santa Rosa.
AU's Eagles, the underdogs, have much to prove in the title match at Seattle's Kingdome. The university has not won a team national championship in anything. But for UCLA, there also is the crucial question that nags all of U.S. soccer -- can players U.S.-born and -bred go all the way?
For all the pride it has in its name, American University's team actually will field a starting 11 that includes six noncitizens.
A decade ago, when UCLA lost in three straight championship games, its team also was full of noncitizens. But one player from those teams, Sigi Schmid of the class of 1976, became an accountant and then returned in 1980 to coach his alma mater. He declared he would actively recruit only native Americans, with the accent on California, which always had lagged behind the more soccer-conscious communities of the Midwest and East.
Schmid had been born in Germany, but moved to the United States when he was 4. All his training had come in this country. There was no way, he said repeatedly, his country would ever win a World Cup or Olympics if it did not give its own young men a chance to develop their skills in the most competitive environment possible.
Schmid's record is a remarkable 101-17-14, close to the 104-10-10 NCAA school record of the man who coached him, Dennis Storer.
"He's very structured and very regimented and very disciplined," said Getchell. Precise instructions on diet, bedtime, dress and deportment, particularly before games, have become routine. "A lot of people will complain," Getchell said, "but that is a lot of the reason why we have gotten as far as we have."
What often distinguishes 18-year-old soccer players in America from foreigners of the same age, Schmid said, is that they have often been deprived "of a challenging environment" on the field and "may never have had a demanding coach." He tries to make up for lost time, while remembering that in dealing with California youth "you have to allow some independence and be humane."
Also helpful for UCLA have been the aggressive instincts of a midfielder from North Torrance, one of the more anonymous of Los Angeles' expanse of anonymous suburbs, named Dale Ervine. On campus, he is a mild, slope-shouldered blond with a wispy, almost invisible mustache and a manner that draws little attention. On the field, he sweeps into view on a pair of muscular legs and betrays a fixation on winning that might have embarrassed George Allen.
During the playoffs, Ervine chastised a coach who used the hated conjunction "if" in connection with UCLA's chances. When someone shouted in the locker room, "We're going to Seattle," Ervine shouted twice as loud, "and to win." He was not going to settle simply for a free trip to Puget Sound.
Like many UCLA players, Ervine was first drawn to soccer by the burgeoning neighborhood programs of the American Youth Soccer Organization. Ervine's first season was unusual. The minimum league age was 7; Ervine was 4. "My dad was the coach, so I got in. We have movies of it, me running around with half my shirt tucked in my pants," he said.
Technically, Ervine is foreign-born. He left his parents' native Northern Ireland when he was 7 months old, but his had been a California upbringing, with the addition of a family passion for soccer that has also turned his brother Glenn, 24, into a professional, now looking for a place in the American Indoor Soccer Association.
Ervine is a strong candidate for the Hermann Award, college soccer's equivalent of football's Heisman Trophy. He leads the team in scoring with 15 goals and three assists. But he was not heavily recruited by colleges. Only Schmid gave him the full treatment, and what drew him and much of the rest of the team to UCLA had much less to do with scholarships and creature comforts than with the school's overall reputation in these parts.
UCLA dangles its variety of national championships in front of gifted high school seniors like a movie star displaying diamonds. The glitter is overwhelming, even if the reality in some sports, like soccer, is sometimes more drab. The school's athletic department allows only five full soccer scholarships, despite an NCAA maximum of 11 per school. These are divided into smaller portions so that most of the starters can get some help. Ervine's tuitions and books are paid for, but his housing allowance is only $100 a month.
This season, the Bruins are 19-1-4, having lost only to Fresno State, 2-1. They beat the No. 1-ranked team, Evansville, 3-1, on its home field in the semifinals and have an 11-game winning streak in which only four goals have been scored against them.
Asked about American University's team, the UCLA players talk of U.S.-born, British-trained forward Mike Brady's 24 goals this season and AU's careful, short-pass offense, similar to UCLA's style. To counter, UCLA has a strong defense led by all-America candidate and former U.S. national team captain Paul Caligiuri. Caligiuri is a defender who plays what is called "stopper," the man assigned to shut down the opponent's top scorer. Evansville star Rob Schoenstein failed to record a goal or assist while under Caligiuri's care.
UCLA also has the advantage of five experienced starting seniors. Besides Ervine and Getchell, there is goalkeeper Dave Vanole, with 21 career shutouts; defender Paul Krumpe, the team captain, and midfielder Doug Swanson, who fed Getchell a corner kick for the last goal against Evansville.