To many residence of Woodhaven, New York this past Saturday afternoon is as unremarkable as any other Saturday. Women were probably thinking about the workweek to come. Men were most likely sitting on the couch cheering for their favorite baseball team. For local soccer players, it was the day that had waited all year for.
As the sky turned from gray to black, in front of a crowed of cheering and screaming fans, Honduras beat El Salvador 5-1 in the championship match of the local version of the World Cup tournament. The game was not televised by NBC, CBS, ABC nor even ESPN and the highlights cannot be found anywhere but in the heart and minds of the 100 spectators.
“Every summer tournaments like this are played, throughout parks, sandlots, empty fields across the city without any news coverage or public fanfare,” said David Vargas, a former professional player from Honduras. With names like Hector Pena, Lester Marzon and Orlando Doblado, few people outside Central America would associate these players with world-class soccer.
Yet the players play with the same heart, enthusiasm, and passion as if they were on the world stage. During the week, the players double as janitors, bus drivers, carpenters, lawyers and accountants. On the weekend they represent their nations’ proud heritages.
Their greatest trophy is bragging rights and the envy of their peers. “We play for our countries; we play for our blood,” said Orlando Doblado. “We all dream of playing professionally here in America.”
After the United States hosted the World Cup in 1994, a new interest grew in America for the world’s most popular sport. Since 1994, men’s soccer has seen the birth of Major League Soccer (MLS) and an increase in American interest; however, many Latinos believe MLS is biased against Central and South American players. “We tryout every year but are never called back because we are too good for the American born players like Coby Jones, Brian Mcbride and Brian Wolf,” Hector Pena, a professional player from Columbia said.
Many of the players are first generation immigrants who have played professional soccer in their home countries and seek a chance to prove themselves internationally. Clyde Marson currently works as a carpenter. He played professionally in Honduras for ten years. He is in New York to play soccer and tryout with the NY Red Bulls, a MLS team based in New Jersey.
Marson said these tournament players would improve the quality of American soccer if given a chance to play in the MLS.”To us, soccer is a way of life. Players from America do not begin playing until they are 14 or 15 years old, we play soccer before we can walk,” Marson said. “It is our life.”