International Perspectives From a LES Soccer Club

We thought all soccer enthusiasts huddled around a big-screen TV during the World Cup, but the soccer club at Manhattan Comprehensive, an international high school, played right through the games today at Roosevelt Park on the Lower East Side.

One student from Burkina Faso in West Africa said that he'd recorded the games so he could watch them when he finished playing. (Spoiler alert: South Africa and Mexico ended in a 1-1 draw.) The one Mexican player was in class during today's opening game, but on the field after school, he was both kicking the ball and getting his balls busted. "Everyone's just telling him how shit Mexico is," said John O'Connor, the soccer club coach and high school history teacher.

Students on the club soccer team come from a variety of soccer-loving countries, including Ghana, Malia, Mexico, Guinea, Cameroon, Senegal, and Egypt. Less than 20 people showed up to play today; according to O'Connor, "There's usually two to three times as many people here at this time." LES locals and workers often join in, but he assumes they opted to watch the pros today.

Having lived in this cultural mutt of a city for about 15 years, O'Connor, who's from Ireland, has seen "the football cultures manifest themselves without a doubt" -- he said he sees clear differences in style between different nationalities. For instance, Africans tend to be very strong and skilled, Latinos have "flair," Caribbean players throw 'bows on the field, and Asians are very technical and fast. But no one's stereotyping ... well, not exactly, even though players often call each other by the name of their country's best player, like "Blanco" for Mexico or "Henry" for France.

After being in the States for so long, "I go back and forth between 'football' and 'soccer,'" O'Connor said. But whatever people call it, he's excited to see New York getting hooked on his sport. "It's definitely getting bigger and bigger," he said. "I like to think it's just because it's the most awesome game."


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