Soccer at the United Nations
If only the United Nations could play this nicely.
In New York, the United States, Great Britain, France and Germany can’t get anything settled on Iraq.
Meanwhile, in Eagle-Vail, the United States, Mexico, Honduras, Great Britain, Turkey, and even Kentucky – we’ll explain later – get along just fine.
Welcome to Battle Mountain soccer, where a passport seems to be a requirement. The Huskies’ 11 is a melting pot of languages, cultures and soccer styles and it seems to work. The Huskies are 5-3 in league, and bidding for a state berth, going into Saturday night’s big showdown with Rifle at 7.
“I think it’s a great thing. I think it’s emblematic of our country,” Huskies coach David Cope, originally from Great Britain, said. “That’s one of the things I preach in class everyday, and also on the soccer field. This is a country that’s open to you. You can be from Thailand, Turkey or Texas, and people will judge you on your accomplishments. That’s what we focus on during our training sessions – not who are you, but what have you done.”
Yes, soccer is making inroads in the United States, but what the rest of the world calls The Beautiful Game lags well behind America’s big four of football, baseball, basketball and hockey.
“In a sense, it’s kind of a lifestyle in Turkey,” Huskies goalie Muzi Gazioglu said. “It’s become very popular. It’s just how popular football, basketball and baseball are popular in America. Soccer’s that popular. I guess, that goes for the rest of the world, not just Turkey.”
Another difference with soccer between America and the rest of the world is the developmental system. Just ask Huskies striker Antonio Aparacio, of Honduras.
“We grew up playing with older guys,” he said. “Here, we play with kids our age. In Honduras, I played with bigger guys – 20, 25 year olds.”
When you’re playing against guys in their 20s, that will bring your game up to speed quickly. And, growing up in different countries leads to different styles of play. Take the Huskies’ Mexican contingent.
“The Mexican style is that we go hard into every tackle,” Juan Barragan said. “In Mexico, they play hard. Everyone has passion for the game. Everyone wants to play. Nobody doesn’t want to play.”
“There’s more dribbling and better thinking ability,” Julio Garcia said “It’s more pretty with the playing patterns and all that.”
Naturally, there’s a lot of national pride on this team, especially after the 2002 World Cup, when the United States made an unprecedented run into the quarterfinals, by defeating Mexico.
“When they beat out Mexico, that was exciting,” American Andy Banner said. “That’s an inner-team rivalry there. Bragging rights. That’s good.”
Garcia’s response to that game was a telling, “No comment.”
“As well as the U.S. did, Turkey made the semifinals,” Cope said. “(Muzi) will definitely remind us every time we might forget.”
Speaking of Turkey, the Turks take on Cope’s Great Britain in a big Euro qualifier on Oct. 11. Cope joked that he might bench Gazioglu, if Turkey wins.
All joking aside, there are serious issues to be addressed with this multi-national team. The first, of course, is language. Cope has what he describes as “passable, soccer Spanish.” He’s also taught sheltered, Spanish-only classes at the high school, and can teach skiing in Spanish to visitors when school’s out.
“I do know a little (Spanish),” Banner said. “I’m taking it in school. But, mainly, it’s English and basic communication – “Come on. Come on.” Everyone understands that.”
There are also culture gaps, which sometimes need a little mending.
“The Spanish-speaking guys seem to be harder on each other,” Cope said. “So, sometimes, one of the English-speaking kids might get a little offended by something that is said. That’s just cultural.
“Soccer’s one of the few activities that’s truly integrated. That’s a great thing. The kids get something from each other, and they learn about each other’s cultures. It’s funny. There’s definitely disputes on the bus over music.”
Of course, merging cultures is a slow process. Cope was born in Britain, but moved to the United States when he was 5. Though he will certainly continue to root for Manchester United and England in the World Cup, he considers himself a product of the American soccer system.
Believe it or not, if it came to choosing who’d he want to win the World Cup in 2006, he’d pick the Americans over his homeland.
“I hope for a lot of these kids that they can develop that dual loyalty where they love the Mexican team, but when the U.S. team plays anyone else, I hope they think, “The U.S. will do well.'”
As for Kentucky, junior Chris Gavin, a native of the Blue Grass State, is under the impression that his home state is an independent county. And, knowing Kentucky, who’s to argue?
So, welcome to the United Nations, Chris. The more nationalities on board, the merrier.
Chris Freud is the sports editor for the Vail Daily. Contact him at (970) 949-0555, ext. 614 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.