As the 2010 FIFA World Cup approaches, thousands of Americans are preparing to cheer for their national team. However, a pocket of fans in Palo Alto, CA, the home of Stanford University, will be cheering for New Zealand.
It may seem like a strange team for Californians to cheer for, but two of the better performers for the All Whites, Simon Elliott and Ryan Nelsen, played a major role in the rise of Cardinal soccer.
Elliott played two years as a midfielder for Stanford.
For his career as a Cardinal, he tallied 13 goals and 12 assists. Elliott was recruited to come to Stanford by Bobby Clark, who previously was the head coach of the New Zealand national team from 1994 to 1996.
!n 1997, Stanford had a record of 13-5-2 but lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament 2-1 to the Washington Huskies in double-overtime.
Elliott scored the goal for the Cardinal with a rifle shot that landed in the corner of the far post from 20 yards away.
In 1998, the Cardinal posted another strong record of 18-5-2. This time around, Stanford made it to the NCAA Championship game but lost 3-1 to the Indiana Hoosiers.
Similar to the Washington game the year before, the only goal for Stanford belonged to Elliott.
Elliott joined joined the Los Angeles Galaxy of the MLS in 1999 after briefly playing for the Boston Bulldogs in the A-League, which is now the USL First Division.
In 2000, he was named the team's most valuable player and helped the Galaxy capture the CONCACAF Champions' Cup. In 2002, LA won the MLS Cup.
In January 2004, Elliott was traded to the Columbus Crew for a first-round pick in the 2005 MLS SuperDraft. From 2006 to 2008, he participated in 12 games for Fulham of the English Premier League.
In 2009, Elliott returned to the MLS and played the San Jose Earthquakes. The Earthquakes released him prior to the start of this season.
Despite having no club affiliation, Elliott trained with the Galaxy and was selected by New Zealand's Coach Ricki Herbert to the All Whites' final 23-man squad.
Although Elliott will turn 36 on June 10, he is still considered the team's best midfielder.
When Clark's son Tony transferred from North Carolina to Stanford in 1996, he recommended that the Tar Heels recruit Nelsen.
However, academic issues forced Nelsen to instead play for Greensboro College, also in North Carolina. Clark promised Nelsen he would be welcomed to transfer to Stanford as long as he performed well in the classroom.
Nelsen played as a defensive midfielder for two years at Stanford. In 41 games for the Cardinal, he had eight goals and 10 assists.
As a junior, Nelsen was named the team's MVP. As a senior, he was voted the Pac-10 Player of the Year and was a National Soccer Coaches Association of America All-American.
Nelsen led the 2000 Cardinal team to a 18-3-1 record and to its highest ranking ever when Stanford was voted No. 1 two weeks in a row. That season ended in disappointment when the Cardinal lost to Southern Methodist in the NCAA Quarterfinals 2-1 after leading 1-0 at the half.
After receiving his bachelor's degree in political science, Nelsen was drafted fourth overall in the 2001 SuperDraft by D.C. United.
As a defender, he helped D.C. win a MLS title in 2004. Nelsen parlayed his success in the MLS into a contract with the Blackburn Rovers of the EPL.
He made his debut with New Zealand against Poland on June 19, 1999. Not only is Nelsen the captain of the All Whites, he is considered to be the team's best player. Nelsen is strong in the air and is comfortable with the ball on either foot.
The excitement that Stanford will have for Elliott and Nelsen may not last long as New Zealand is expected to finish last in Group F. Regardless of New Zealand's results in the World Cup, fans of the Cardinal can brag about two of its alumni participating in the world's biggest sporting event.
Photo Credit: David Gonzales/Stanford Athletics