It's Soccer Play-Offs….Yes In Hartford


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                           Competing in the finals is Deportivo Juvenil Cuilquense, its
                                 team members are from Guatemala
Brian Woodman Jr.
Soccer play-offs are coming to Connecticut this weekend –  and with a league that offers such team names as  ‘Somos Peru’,  ‘Honduras” and ‘Colombia’ –  and although the players have day jobs and range in age from 18 to 50,  you can bet there will be lots of spirited and tough competition on the field.  Soccer for Latin Americans is more than a sport – it’s a passion.

The teams are part of the one-year old New England Soccer League, according to Fernando Marroquin, a spokesmen for the organization. “There had been some organized efforts in the past to have soccer tournaments at Colt Park, ” said Marroquin. “On our second year we’ve organized the League, made it part of Friends of Colt Park and started to make connections to other leagues and organizations in the City to expand the sport around the state. This year we became members of the Connecticut Soccer Association and the U.S. Amateur Soccer Association.”
The league has 16 teams and the games offer more than just action on the field says Marroquin.   Players and  the fans are a diverse representation of Latin American countries that include:  Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Colombia, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Cuba, Jamaica, and the  Dominican Republic.
They enjoy the friendly competition, as well sampling the  different ethnic foods at the games.  The  500 spectators attending the games, he says,  is an indication that soccer is growing in urban as well as suburban environments.The league has 350 players and the teams are – Somos Peru, Honduras, Colombia, Aguila Peru, Mexico, El Salvador, Comayagua, Malacateco, Cruz Azul Hidalgo, Jaguares, Deportivo Hispano, Deportivo Hartford, Deportivo Santos, Tacana, Cuilquense and Chipastor.
Although 90 percent of the community built around the league is Latino, there are also Serbians, Bosnians and others in the organization. “Although most of the teams are organized by nationality or have names that relate them to a country, it doesn’t mean that only players of that specific region play for that team,” said  Marroquin.  “For example, Somos Peru has players from Peru, Jamaica, Colombia, El Salvador and Serbia; Honduras has Hondurans, Argentinians, Peruvians and Salvadorans, etc. The vast majority of players live in Hartford, but we do have some that come from the towns around the City including Springfield, he added.
Team members are a devoted group.  Danny Gonzalez, coach of team Comayagua, said, “The highlight of my weekend is Sunday at the park. It gives me the opportunity to release stress and talk to people that I know but I’m not able to see during the week. It also helps my daughters because they can run around the park worry-free, all day. Even my wife, who is from Puerto Rico and did not grow with the sport, has learn about it and loves it. She shouts to our players even louder than I do!”
Raul Canales, president of the League and player of Deportivo Hartford said, “Going to the park allows me to spend time with friends and family; even though I’m Honduran and my brother is the coach of team Honduras, I play for a different team because it gives me the opportunity to meet new people”
Tim Pearl, from Manchester, CT and player of team Jaguares adds, “I enjoy playing in this league. After playing in college I was looking for a league to play the sport and stay in shape. I have to say that Colt Park has a very competitive league and players that could play against any other team in the state any day! The level of play is way better than I expected and I’m even learning a couple of words in Spanish!”
The teams play  every Sunday from April to October at Colt Park in Hartford, its play-off games between its four top teams will be on September 28 and October 5 at Dillon Stadium.  Somos Peru, Honduras, Colombia and Aguila Peru will compete on September 28th. The two winners will compete on October 5th for the championship, while the others will compete for third place. A consolation group consisting of Cruz Azul Hidalgo, Jaguares, Deportivo Hispano and Deportivo Hartford will also compete during the semi-finals.
The players range from amateurs to former professionals from other countries. “I’ve been playing soccer since I remember and I’ve been following it for the same amount of time,” said Marroquin, adding,  “It’s a great sport that provides the opportunity to develop a great physical condition (professional players run around five miles every game), create a great sense of team belonging and responsibility. It’s a great tool to keep kids and adults off the streets and, because of its great popularity around the world, a lot of people can become professional athletes pretty much everywhere.”
It does not  have a lot of points assigned to scoring, like American football does, but is a sport that will definitely keep your attention in the game. If you think about it, a 14-7 score on a football game means the same that a 2-1 score in soccer, but in two halves of 45 minutes and one half-time of 15.
A lot of players  like the game because it gives them the opportunity to play for longer periods of time, even if they are not as good as someone else. Even in scrimmage games, no one is supposed to wait for their turn at bat to play offense, and no one gets to sit and relax if they are the sixth man on the lineup and it’s the first three that are up on a specific inning. Every player, including the goalie, can score a goal or save one, and that is always fun.
It’s also an inexpensive game to enjoy; to play cleats and shin guards are the only equipment that is mandatory in any league on any level around the world.
The kids soccer camp of the New England Soccer League
The league started a youth soccer camp last year that runs from the spring through the fall every Saturday from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm to help prepare youths for school soccer programs this fall.
The New England Soccer League playoff game this Sunday begin at 11:30, adults are $3,  children younger than 12 get in free. Marroquin added that sponsors are welcome.