Raphael Teixeira is from Brazil. Five years ago, he came to the U.S. with his family because his father planned on studying theology at Emmanuel Seminary.
Teixeira started playing soccer at 10 years old, and now he plays for the East Tennessee State University men’s club soccer team.
“In Brazil, soccer is crazy. Everybody plays soccer. It is not like just ‘Oh! Soccer, let’s play for fun.’ It’s like a big thing.”
– Raphael Teixeira
“I’ve been playing soccer for most of my life,” said Teixeira, who added that his childhood would have been boring without it.
Teixeira said he was not a good player at first, and he felt nervous when he played against better players. However, he practiced a lot because he wanted to improve his skills.
“The first year I was really bad,” Teixeira said. “The second and third years I played more, and I was able to keep up with everybody else.”
Teixeira said in Brazil people play soccer everywhere, so it is normal to see groups playing the sport. He said soccer is almost like a religion to Brazilians.
“In Brazil, soccer is crazy. Everybody plays soccer,” he said. “It is not like just ‘Oh! Soccer, let’s play for fun.’ It’s like a big thing.”
Every four years, the FIFA World Cup gives Brazil’s fans an opportunity to show their love of the game.
“We paint everything in green and yellow…and we put flags everywhere,” Teixeira said.
Henrique Novaes, who is also from Brazil, plays for ETSU’s NCAA Division I men’s soccer team. Like Teixeira, Novaes said soccer is more than a sport – it is a passion.
“Brazilians choose a team to cheer for when they are kids, and they stick with this team for the rest of their lives. No matter how bad the team may be doing, you never leave it,” Novaes said. “You may get divorced from your wife, but you can’t leave your team. That’s how important soccer is for us.”
“I didn’t know the meaning of it as I was just a couple of days old, but I surely do now.”
– Henrique Novaes
Fans like Teixeira and Novaes have rallied behind Brazil’s national team as it sets World Cup records. Brazil is the only country to win the FIFA World Cup five times and the only team that has played in all 20 FIFA World Cup tournaments.
“I think we love soccer so much because we are the best at it. Winning five FIFA World Cups – it is quite an accomplishment,” Novaes said.
Novaes has been immersed in soccer since he was a child. His father gave him his first soccer ball when he was born.
“I didn’t know the meaning of it as I was just a couple of days old, but I surely do now,” Novaes said.
He started playing soccer at 5 years old and said he felt amazing.
“Being able to run around chasing a ball was my favorite thing to do,” Novaes said.
He said the beauty of soccer lies in that it requires nothing but an object that can be kicked around.
“It could be a water bottle, a bottle cap, a folded pair of socks or an actual ball, and it can be played anywhere,” Novaes said.
As a child, Novaes said he used flip-flops as goals and played on beaches, in streets, in backyards, or wherever he could. Now, Novaes travels the Southeast U.S. playing against some of the highest ranked teams in collegiate soccer, including No. 4-ranked Clemson University and No. 31-ranked Mercer University.
Cristopher Frank Santana is another of ETSU’s men’s soccer club team members with Latin American roots. Santana came to the U.S. from Ecuador one year ago, but he had visited the U.S. before.
“Two or three years ago, I came to visit my brother in New York, and we tried to play soccer,” Santana said. “I didn’t see many [people] playing soccer.”
Santana said he sees more people playing now, as the 2014 World Cup may have caused people to identify with soccer more. He believes this has increased soccer’s popularity in the U.S.
Like many Latin Americans, Santana spent his childhood playing soccer, first learning at 3 years old. He said his father gave him numerous things to play with as a child but that soccer became his passion.
“I really felt identified with soccer because it’s culture down there in South America,” he said.
To Santana, soccer means life, and he does not know who he would be without it. Santana said that soccer is important to Ecuadorians because the sport offers an escape from reality. He said the country has faced many political and sociological problems but soccer unites everyone.
Whether it is the national team or a local one, Santana said there is always a game to watch. Ecuador’s national team has placed as high as 16th in its three World Cup appearances and is currently ranked No. 34.
With the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia approaching, the members of the ETSU men’s club soccer team and NCAA Division I team are sure to be cheering for their own favorite teams. Yet, one thing will unite them all: their love for the sport.
“It’s not just a game,” Teixeira said.
For Brazilians, Ecuadorians, and Latin Americans living across the world, soccer is a way of life.
Above right: Henrique Novaes' five shots against Virginia Military Institute put ETSU in position to win 3-2. Photo: Xiaotong Shan. At left: Cristopher Santana, from Ecuador, plays for the ETSU men's soccer club. Photo: Tengge Zhang.
In Spanish: Fútbol