When it came to rooting interests in the 2018 World Cup, the Southern Oregon University men’s soccer team had plenty of them.
That’s mainly because the Raiders’ roster has so many different Latin American countries represented on it.
Of the 31 players available to SOU head coach Davie Carmichael, nearly half of them — 15 in total — are Latino, as SOU’s Latin contingent has roots in five different countries — Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Panama and Ecuador.
They, of course, are proud to represent their current school as they prepare for their first-ever home playoff game at Raider Stadium this weekend.
But, as is only natural, they are just as proud — if not more — to represent the countries where they and their families come from.
“It’s pretty unique,” said junior midfielder Luis Aguilar, who’s tied for second on the team with five assists this season. “You have people come from different continents and just finding out how their culture works and the similarities and differences is pretty unique. You don’t really get that out there in the normal world, and I think that’s an advantage that we get to have.”
Carmichael, whose Scottish accent is as noticeable as the sky being blue, said he’s coached only one other team with this much of a Latin presence — last season when he was an assistant coach at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
He’s brought an aspect of what he picked up in Southern California with him to Southern Oregon.
“What I learned down there was that our head coach was a Spanish speaker and I always found that when he spoke in Spanish to the players there was a different kind of reaction than when he spoke in English to them,” Carmichael said. “Now that I’ve picked up a little bit of Spanish here and there, I can see that reaction myself sometimes asking certain things on the field as well.”
Carmichael’s Spanish combined with his Scottish accent may make for quite the interesting combination, but his players definitely notice that their first-year head coach is making the effort to integrate a little Spanish into his repertoire.
“It could be better, but he’s open-minded to it,” junior midfielder Renee Resendez said with a grin. “You hear him yell something in Spanish and you recognize it as Spanish, but with his Scottish accent it makes you laugh even more. I feel like we’re all the same way, though — we try to pick up things he would say like slang and he does the same, too.”
When Carmichael took over as head coach following his predecessor, Biniam Afenegus, stepping down in late-February, one of the first things he noticed was the culture.
Not just that Afenegus had instilled a winning mentality in such a short period of time after SOU added the men’s soccer program in 2015, but also the fact that he had so many different players from so many different places and how much of a cohesive unit they already were.
There were no clicks or factions where countrymen hung out with fellow countrymen. It wasn’t just Mexican players hanging out with fellow Mexican players, Panamanians ignoring Colombians or Brazilians holding court over the rest of the locker room.
Carmichael has preached ever since his first day on the job that this Raider team is as tight-knit as it gets, something that made the coaching transition as relatively low-key he could have hoped for — and they haven’t done anything to say otherwise.
“It’s pretty nice that you have a lot of teammates that you can identify with on a different level — not just on the field, but also outside of it,” said forward Carlos Magana, who’s second on the team in goals this season with seven. “We have the same cultural backgrounds, the same expectations in terms of the relationships with each other — and that’s a nice thing to have. It gets you closer as a team knowing that you have that relationship with someone else who’s the same Hispanic descent or Latin descent.”
“It’s nice to have people that grew up with the same morals, the same values,” Resendez added. “Just to be able to talk Spanish to somebody, it can really mean a lot to you actually because you think about when you’re at home, you strictly speaking Spanish and then you come here and you’re only talking English to your friends. But when you have those people you can speak Spanish to, it’s a nice little bit of home.”
The Raiders’ play on the field, one that has seen them win two straight Cascade Conference regular-season titles and win 30 games (and counting) over the last two years, speaks for itself.
It doesn’t hurt that the Raiders have plenty of the classic Latin flair to go with it.
“It brings a whole ‘nother dynamic. Many of our players share different experiences and knowledge, and I feel like that contributes to our diversity and the strengths of our team,” said junior defender Gonzalo Garcia, who also has five assists in 2018. “We’re all pretty invested in each other no matter where we’re from. Everyone tries to fit, which I think is great.”
Their chemistry off the field is comparable to that between the lines.
They come from different parts of the West Coast, different parts of Central or South America, but on the field they’re playing for the same cause.
And you better believe that when their respective favorite national teams were playing, there more than just a few texts going back and forth between teammates.
“When you have teammates who also root for the same country — I’m Mexican, Renee’s Mexican — and watching Mexico play and beat Germany, you can tell that we’re all unified and have the same emotion, same passion,” Magana said. “Every time your country plays, you just feel like that’s as close as you get and you’re part of that family. Watching your team, your nation succeed, is so awesome.”
Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.