Located in Unicoi County, Johnson City Indoor Soccer has been popular in the area since its formation. The Latino community is prevalent in the night leagues, which contributes to a diverse environment of cultures.
“There is a rivalry there during the games.”
– Jesus Leon
The Mexican restaurant Seven Hermanos is one of many teams that play in the men’s Thursday night league. Seven Hermanos owner J. Jesus Leon has noted how beneficial the league has been to the Latino community.
“I believe that the soccer league helps the Latino community stay connected,” Leon said. “It’s great having so many different guys from different countries that come together to play.”
Futbol is popular within the Latino community, and having a place to play can help people connect to that important part of their culture. Latin American teams have historically performed well on the futbol world stage. They have produced famous players, such as Javier Hernandez from Mexico, Radamel Falcao from Colombia, Lionel Messi from Argentina and Neymar from Brazil.
A handful of Latino teams play in the league, which adds to the atmosphere. The league has a total of 12 teams that compete in two separate divisions – Thursday Night B- League, and Thursday Night B+ League. Leon said the competitiveness stems from each team’s strong desire to win.
“There is a rivalry there during the games,” he said. “It just comes from playing on the field everyone just wants to win the same amount.”
Leon was born in Jalisco, Mexico, but moved to the U.S. when he was 14. He opened Seven Hermanos only three years ago. Leon uses the indoor soccer league as a distraction from his work. He finds it an enjoyable, relaxing hobby.
“A few customers invited me to come and play in the league,” Leon said. “I accepted their offer and thought it would be something enjoyable to do after work.”
Competition leads to tough tackles, thrown elbows and harsh words. However, Leon claims there is no animosity among the restaurants after the final whistle blows. Players shake hands at the end of each game and leave their on-field disputes behind them.
“After the games I like to go and speak to the guys from the other teams to stay in touch,” Leon said. “It lets us all get to know each other.”
The adult indoor league runs through the winter. However, various other competitions – with age groups ranging from 3 years old to a varsity level – are held all year.
Johnson City Indoor Soccer owner Michael Balluff, who has been very influential in the improvement of soccer in Johnson City, commented on the league’s benefits to the community.
“Johnson City Indoor Soccer plays a large role within the local soccer community,” Balluff said. “During the winter months, over 1,400 players compete weekly, in what for many is the only exercise and touches on a ball they get.”
Balluff said the futbol leagues have broken down barriers of diversity. When the Thursday night league first started, many teams were all-white, or all-Latino; this has changed significantly since Johnson City Indoor Soccer has grown.
Balluff believes that Johnson City Indoor Soccer improves relationships among different communities. According to Balluff, the league has also brightened the economic outlook for businesses in the Johnson City area.
“Because our participants also range greatly in terms of income demographics, the indoor leagues have led to opportunities in business and employment that may not have developed without soccer,” Balluff said.
“On a team we all feel like family.”
– Juan Ramirez
One team expected to do well this year is Real Barca. The Latino team wear the famous Real Madrid shirt, which is a sign of their support for Spanish professional teams. Juan Ramirez, the starting goalkeeper, spoke about the variety of futbol styles in the league.
“It depends where you are from,” Ramirez said. “Being from another country may mean a different style of play.”
Ramirez was born in Mexico and moved to America seven years ago; he is a student at Unicoi County High School.
While the futbol scene is still growing in Johnson City, Balluff sees an increase in demand and popularity. He believes that the growth of the sport leads to the growth of the city.
“Soccer also plays a role in increasing the attractiveness of the community to possible new residents,” he said. “Many families and individuals when choosing where to relocate for work will consider the amenities a community has.”
Balluff says the attractiveness of improved public recreation could have the potential to lead to new community ties. The possibility of a growing social structure, with soccer as a focal point, gives the isolated communities the opportunity to integrate.
According to Ramirez, there is definitely a deeper emotional tie than just playing futbol.
“It brings us all together,” he said. “On a team we all feel like family.”
Top right: Real Barca number 11 runs with the ball. Above left: A Real Barca player smiles after winning the match. Above center: Real Barca vs The Pass Holes at Johnson City Indoor Soccer.