NATAL, Brazil - Former Mets catcher Mike Piazza is a big soccer fan, so big that he is attending the World Cup.

Piazza attended the curtain-raiser between Brazil and Croatia in Sao Paulo Thursday and he was on his way to Manaus to watch Italy tussle with England Saturday. He also is rooting for the U.S., which plays Ghana Monday.

"I'm not a front-runner," he said Saturday while waiting for his flight at a Sao Paulo airport. "I am pulling for the U.S. If they are eliminated, I'm rooting for the Italians."

Piazza, 45, is attending his first World Cup. While growing up in Philadelphia, Piazza played soccer when he was nine years old. He was a central defender.

"I got some skills," he said. "I can handle the ball."

He remembered watching the Philadelphia Fury play the Cosmos, "but Pele didn't play," he said.

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He enjoyed playing the sport, but received some sage advice from his father at the time. "Soccer back then in the seventies was kind of a novelty," he said. "My dad said, 'You can't make any money playing soccer.'"

Piazza switched to baseball and became a star, and made a bunch of money.

Piazza's favorite club team is Palermo, which recently earned promotion to Italy's Serie A from the second division. "I'm not a front-runner," he said, while wearing Palmero sweats. "I've been following them for years."