HAMBURG, Germany — When “The Star-Spangled Banner” plays Monday afternoon inside the stadium in Gelsenkirchen, there will be more at stake than just a game.

National honor also will be on the line, win or lose, at least for those down on the field.

“I never served in the military; I’m probably more liberal than conservative,” said Bruce Arena, manager of the U.S. men’s soccer team. “I support our troops dearly, and love being in position to represent the United States.”

The U.S. team opens its World Cup on Monday against the Czech Republic, and the coaches and players say that wearing the red, white and blue will make them pause and think about the things for which their country stands.

“It’s the biggest honor you could possibly have,” said goaltender Tim Howard of North Brunswick, N.J. “But even more so when talking about the military, because we’re playing for the colors and they’re fighting for the colors.

“To hear the national anthem before the game, to me that’s the most awe-inspiring thing ever.”

“When you go out and hear the national anthem being played, there’s rarely a time I don’t get the chills,” said forward Brian McBride of Arlington Heights, Ill.

“I’m getting the chills now just thinking about it.”

Forward Josh Wolff of Stone Mountain, Ga., said that during the anthem he thinks about what the U.S. represents and the good the nation is trying to do in the world.

For an expatriate such as goaltender Kasey Keller, who has been playing professionally in Europe for 17 years, playing for the U.S. in the World Cup is a chance to re-Americanize.

“This is my opportunity to stay in touch with the American fans and the American people,” Keller said. “And with the growth of the sport over that period in time.”

Keller, of Olympia, Wash., noted that he still speaks with an American accent despite playing for 12 seasons in England.

Teams play many international exhibition games, called “friendlies,” between World Cups, which are held every four years. But there’s a big difference when putting on the colors for real, said defender Eddie Lewis of Cerrito, Calif.

“In certain friendlies, it becomes more one soccer team versus another. But in these types of events, there’s much more of a patriotic sense about it,” said Lewis, who assisted on one of the most fabled goals in U.S. history, crossing the ball for Landon Donovan’s header during a 2-0 win over Mexico in 2002.

“I think the players feel they’re representing not just the U.S. team but the U.S. in general.”

“In certain games, there’s definitely a political situation,” said John O’Brien, a midfielder from Playa Del Ray, Calif.

“During the last World Cup, it was (the game against) Mexico. There are moments when it’s heightened because there’s an emotional attachment to those countries.”

Several players cited the U.S. military during pre-tournament interviews. In late February, before a “friendly” against Poland in Kaiserslautern, some of them visited Landstuhl Regional Medical Center where wounded troops are treated.

The players know soccer is not the sport of choice for most Americans. But they sounded heartened that maybe a successful World Cup will boost their spirits.

“I’m sure there are soldiers who [normally] couldn’t care less,” said Jimmy Conrad, a defender from Temple Hills, Calif.

“But now that this event is going on, and now that our team is playing, obviously there’s a little more weight on how we do and our success.

“If we do well, maybe it provides hope and excitement for guys who are not necessarily in a good situation at the moment. And that goes for everybody, not just soldiers.”

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