Playing the “world’s favorite sport,” the Augustana Men’s Soccer club moves across the campus green as a single, well-oiled machine. With students representing more than ten different countries, the team is one of the most diverse groups on campus.
“It is a very engaging sport as a way to unite people,” said captain of the team and senior, Sylvester Donkor. “No matter what happens within one game, people seem to forget all of their differences. They could hug anybody for no reason. It’s jubilating.”
Sophomore Nathnael Berhanu, who has been playing soccer for “as long as [he] could kick a ball around,” says that by bringing a mixture of different styles and skills to the same table, the diversity of players only adds to the team’s strength
“We have some people who are extremely good dribblers and people who sprint everywhere. It’s a lot of different players playing a different kind of game, but bringing it into one team. The guys from Honduras might teach us a trick or two and the Americans might teach us how to push and shove.”
The non-sanctioned sport has existed since 1966 as an opportunity for male students to continue playing soccer in college, despite the fact that Augustana does not have an official men’s team.
Junior Erik Rossing currently plays tennis for Augustana, but plays soccer in his spare time. He says the club provides a way for him to continue playing the sport he loves.
“The thrill of winning and getting to play again is something special,” Rossing said. “Whenever I pick up a soccer ball and kick one around, it makes me wanna think about quitting tennis just to go join club soccer.”
Before the team can become an official team on campus, Augustana would have to overcome a few hurdles such as establishing another woman’s sport on campus in order to fulfill Title IX requirements, which mandate that schools maintain an equal number of women and men players.
For now, being an unsanctioned team has benefits of its own. Rossing said playing for enjoyment, rather than competition, takes pressure off the game. Similarly, junior Darwin Garcia said the club gives him the chance to take a break from school work.
“I played soccer in Honduras as a hobby,” said Garcia. “It was time I spent with my friends to get school off my mind off, and that’s how I see it here too, just going to practice and hanging out with the guys and playing the sport that I like.”
Being an unsanctioned sport also allows for flexibility regarding who is able to play during their free time. By moving their twice-a-week practices from Tomar Park to the campus green, the club hopes to make itself more visible to others who might be interested.
“Almost at every practice we have new people showing up,” Donkor said. “And the most surprising thing is that there are people showing up now who have been here many years, but they didn’t feel like playing because some thought it was just an international thing.”
Traditionally, the team has been led by a student captain only. When Donkor became captain two years ago, he wanted to increase the team’s competitiveness. Predicting that professional leadership would strengthen the team’s abilities, Donkor sought a coach for the team.
That’s when Donkor met John Pagone, an Augustana alumni who played on the club team during the 90s. Pagone currently serves as the club’s coach and attends each practice.
“Now you can tell we’re a lot more organized,” Rossing said. “We have better structure now. Having a coach there now to guide us makes a difference and seeing the results of that at the first game was definitely one of my favorite memories.”
In their first game, the team played against the University of North Dakota and won 3-2. Aside from UND, the team also plays against the University of Minnesota-Moorhead, North Dakota State University and South Dakota State University throughout the fall semester.
“Last year we had a travelling team of about 15 or 16 students [when we played against SDSU], Berhanu said. We played a brilliant game and we won 3-0. All the goals were team created, nobody ran from midfield, nobody scored a 40-yard shot. It was pass-pass, dribble, pass-pass, pop—it just reminded me how beautiful the game is. Seeing us work so well together without even playing two months together. I mean they don’t call it the world’s favorite game for no reason.”