Kicking around a ball with friends from the moment you get to stand on your own two feet, they say that’s when it starts. But in certain corners of the world the case is more profound. In those places, soccer is not a sport a kid takes up just because their parents enjoy it, because their friends are doing it or because they need an after school activity. To them soccer is everything, they wake up to it, go to school with it, come back home and talk about it at dinner tables, are out in the streets or (if dealt a favorable card) on a green field playing and right before bed pray for it but not in a routine manner, they mean it because what they are asking for is straight from the heart and pumps through their blood like mad. In some countries that’s what soccer is, as integral a part as their government and as important a knowledge as their primary language, regardless of the funds they often may lack. Come this summer, soccer will mean that much more to them.
Carlos Terreros, a 21 year old from Ecuador puts it like this: “it’s the activity that brings me the most happiness.” Carlos lives with his parents, grandfather, older sister and younger brother in a fairly small home right outside the city of Guayaquil. The area is not the most picturesque that Ecuador has to offer but the humble nature of the home is charming. Soccer holds a strong presence in this household; clothing, gear, photographs, newspaper cutouts, trophies etc. To them “[Soccer] is a passion a culture, something that calls much attention and also an opportunity to better your life”. Carlos not only partakes in soccer games in the area first hand but is also part of a solid support system for his 15 year old brother, Gian Carlo, who most recently returned from a tournament in Chile where he played for Ecuador’s teen division and helped win bronze.
The future “hands” of Ecuador? He and his family sure hope so, but in the meantime Gian Carlo is working hard toward that dream, one that he began chasing at the tender age of seven and one that has so memorably become his vehicle to stepping outside the country on three occasions thus far. His game-day ritual, like that of many athletes, is consistent and all his own: he wakes up, packs his gloves and cleats, quickly showers, a sweet goodbye kiss from his mother and then out the door accompanied by his first coaches and men who are major motivators in his soccer career, his father and grandfather. Right before the game and after a team pep talk, Gian Carlo takes a knee under the three poles and prays to his grandmother to protect him and of course, that arch.
When asked about an idol, Gian Carlo so enthusiastically discusses Iker Casillas, a Spanish goalkeeper who beginning at a young age has and continues to gain much recognition in a professional career with La Liga club Real Madrid and the Spanish National team. As far as his perspective for the next ten years, Gian Carlo says he wants “to win a gold glove” (a prize given to the best goalie), and holds hope to one day play beyond the fields of Ecuador, in Europe (where there is undoubtedly greater opportunities for which to compete). Nonetheless, the youngest of the Terreros clan has his eyes set on ultimately playing for Ecuador’s national team in what else but the World Cup. When asked where he sees himself in that same amount of time, his older brother responds, “as a professional engineer and supporting my brother any way I can.” Guess you have to get that passport ready then, Carlos.
With the World Cup two months away soccer is going to take the main stage. In technical terms soccer is the most widely played and watched sport and so an opportunity for countries not often regarded with a limelight, to leave a profound impression. That’s the great thing about this game, it transcends countless borders from nationalities to languages, generations, and social class. Dream big or go home, right, that’s definitely something Gian Carlo may agree with wholeheartedly. In countries like Ecuador that’s a major part of life. Fans around the world are expecting to see world-renowned stars including their countrymen almost literally give their blood, sweat and tears. Carlos anticipates nothing less, “it doesn’t matter what part of the world [teams] are from, their religion, economy, none of that stuff, on the field its eleven guys against eleven guys who may have many things setting them apart but in the end they are not much different from one another.” I mean he’s right, they are all there for the same reason just a matter of who wants it more, who can handle the struggle best or, on certain mystical occasions, who has lady luck on their side.
To give a better perspective of where I’m coming from writing this, I’m sitting typing in the midst of flu like symptoms helped by a New York spring that does not appear to settle on any particular weather pattern. My view: a brand new yellow jersey with trails of blue and red neatly hung on the door of my bedroom closet. Call that inspiration? I’d say so, that and the fact that I was born and raised here in the States, but in a home where roots run deep, and with a family here and down by the equator with their hearts and hopes set upon the events of this summer. So, when it comes to soccer Ecuador is first pick, and U.S. my second. Guess we’ll see what Brazil 2014 has to say. Oh and if you did not already deduce the following, here it is, those kids I’m referencing (or as I should now learn to say, young men) are family, first cousins to be exact, who so willingly answered my questions. Gian Carlo even playfully sent back his answers autographed. I will keep that correspondence well assured it will be worth something some day.