CARNEGIE, Oklahoma — Chris Wondolowski, the son of a Native American mother, has emerged as a football star over the past few years and made Oklahoma's tightly knit group of 12,000 Kiowa people care about a sport that never mattered to them before.
So the chatter at the Kiowa Tribal Complex was a bit unusual Monday afternoon.
Brent Bear, Keith Vasquez and Steve Quoetone went back and forth about the United States soccer team. Among the questions: Could the U.S. handle Belgium's star-studded lineup in Tuesday's World Cup knockout stage showdown? Would Jurgen Klinsmann use more of an attacking style or sit back?
Those kinds of questions, the men concluded, never would have been asked around here four years ago. But back then, the Kiowa didn't have one of their own representing them on the most grand of sports stages.
"He's become a hero to the Kiowa tribe," Vasquez, a Kiowa spokesman, said. "He has a following around the area that's gaining more and more as time goes by, and I hope that it progresses more than it has so far."
There is no downplaying Wondolowski's impact on the towns of Carnegie, Hobart, Lawton and Anadarko, in the southwest part of Oklahoma where most Kiowa live. Native American athletes rarely make it in big-time sports, and certainly not in soccer.
"I know there are a lot of kids that are willing to try the sport because there is a connection," Wondolowski's mother, Janis Hoyt, said.
Members of the tribe cheered loudly and waved American flags during a watch party as the U.S. played to a draw against Portugal during group stage action. They exploded into cheers when he subbed into the match in the 87th minute. The U.S. team eventually was knocked out of the World Cup by Belgium on Tuesday.