June 19, 2018
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World Cup consumes Maine residents from soccer-crazed nations

By Larry Mahoney, BDN Staff

Soccer fan Amadou Thiam might not be getting much sleep over the next month while the World Cup is underway in Brazil.

“This messes up my sleep pattern,” said Thiam, a personal trainer living in Bangor who played soccer at Husson University and grew up in several soccer-crazed countries, including France, Italy, Saudi Arabia and Senegal.

“I don’t like to watch recorded games. I like to watch them live. If I have to wake up in the middle of the night to watch a game, I will,” he added.

“I remember when the World Cup was in Japan, and everybody used to wake up earlier in the morning than usual to watch the games,” added University of Maine at Machias men’s soccer coach Pablo Jarrin Yepez, a former national team player in Ecuador.

That type of passion for the world soccer championship seems typical for fans, now living in Maine, who grew up where soccer was more than just a sport and life was different every four years in their respective countries when the World Cup was being contested.

“People get crazy,” said Roberto Lopez-Anido, a civil engineering professor at the University of Maine who is from Argentina. “People gather to watch the national team, and if we win there are parties everywhere. People are dancing.

“It is the biggest event for the people in Argentina,” Lopez-Anido added. “When the national team is playing, the streets are deserted because everybody is watching the game.”

Stefano Tijerina, a professor at the University of Maine in Orono and at Husson University, is originally from Colombia and said people will bring televisions to work to watch the World Cup. Big-screen televisions are also installed across the cities and in local establishments.

Often the games are shown at schools, or schools will let out early so children can go home to watch.

“The whole country comes to a stop,” Tijerina said.

“School attendance is probably a little down during the World Cup,” said Kenny Fergusson, a native of Scotland who lives in Orono. He noted the Scots have the Tartan Army, which is a band of soccer supporters.

Employers also accommodate employees by altering the work schedule or allowing televisions in the workplace.

“I talked to a friend of mine in Ecuador,” Jarrin Yepez chuckled. “He was complaining because he was setting up a doctor’s appointment, and they told him the doctor wouldn’t be seeing patients until after 6 [p.m.]”

Jarrin Yepez said employers know their workers may not be as efficient as usual if they can’t watch the World Cup, so they make provisions.

“It is a distraction,” he noted.

Jarrin Yepez said friends would arrange barbecues and get-togethers and watch the World Cup.

“People would take time off from work to watch it,” Thiam said. “They are serious about it.”

There are no other events that begin with 204 countries trying to qualify for the 32 spots at the World Cup.

“It is the only sport in which you can say the winner is a deserving world champion,” Thiam said. “The Super Bowl just involves teams within the United States.”

One of the primary reasons for the global magnitude of the sport, according to Thiam, is the fact it is an inexpensive sport.

“It doesn’t require much [money] to get kids from around the block to play soccer. And when we would play, we would idolize players. I grew up in the early ’80s, so I tried to emulate [Argentine star] Diego Maradona,” Thiam said. “He was left-footed, and I’m left-footed. I would watch what he did.”

Orono High School music teacher and boys soccer coach Waldo Caballero played soccer in his native Bolivia and said the World Cup sets off a “big celebration” in his country.

Caballero said the World Cup fever isn’t exclusive to their national team’s games. He said Bolivians enjoy all the matches, and the others echoed a similar sentiment.

“People will gather and discuss the games and talk about the players and the style of game each country plays,” Caballero said.

Bolivia did not qualify this year. But the country shares a border with Brazil, so Caballero said Bolivians will pull for Brazil. Jarrin Yepez said he cheers for all South American teams, as well as Mexico.

They will all keep a close eye on the United States and hope that team fares well, too.

“It’s always more fun to watch with someone else and talk about the game,” Lopez-Anido said.

They have all maintained their passion for the sport and will try to arrange their work schedules to watch as many games as possible.

Several said they will record games and watch them when they have the time.

They have moved to the United States at different times in their lives and have witnessed a dramatic growth in interest and participation of soccer in this country.

“For a long time, soccer wasn’t relevant in this country,” Thiam said. “But over the last 10-12 years, it has taken a big jump. U.S.-born players have way more skills than they used to have. They can compete with foreign players. It’s encouraging. It’s good to see.”

Lopez-Anido is amazed at the sport’s growth in the U.S. and how many boys and girls are playing soccer.

“There is huge potential. There are a lot of opportunities for boys and girls to play soccer now,” said Lopez-Anido, who has lived in America for 25 years.

Caballero said when he moved to America 35 years ago, “people barely talked about it. There wasn’t much soccer. Just a few schools had it.

“But after the United States hosted the World Cup in 1994, there was a dramatic change [in interest],” said Caballero, one of several who has attended a World Cup.

“The enthusiasm is growing every year,” said Tijerina who added that the media coverage of the sport has increased dramatically.

With the enthusiasm, growth and rising talent level, Jarrin Yepez said “expectations are higher now” in the United States.

The United States will open round-robin play against Ghana on Monday in an extremely difficult group that includes Portugal and Germany.

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