United by the love of soccer

Published 8:05 pm Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Riverland soccer players Rolando Rubio, from left, Victor Maltz, Tiaggo Ferreira, Cindy Doan, Dante Ortiz and Diego Mendes-Luz are part of a Blue Devils team that is diverse as they come. Riverland has players from six different countries on its roster. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

If you traveled around the world and gathered athletes from Brazil, Portugal, South Korea, Nigeria and Benin you might have something similar to what the Riverland Community College soccer team is.

The Blue Devils, who are off to a 4-3 start this season, have brought in players from all over the globe as the program is in the midst of its fourth season. In all, they have players from six different countries on their roster.

The roster gives RCC head coach Troy Stenga a lesson on the differences of not only culture, but languages. While some of his players speak English, there are others who are still struggling with the language.

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“Sometimes I have to do a lot of gesturing or I’ll use a diagram to show them plays,” Stenga said. “My assistant coaches Mario (Garcia) and Miguel (Cisneros) help out a lot too.”

Brazilian native Diego Mendes-Luz, a forward, was one of the RCC players who struggled with English while playing for the Blue Devils last year. He even missed out on a chance to play soccer for a Division II college in Boston, Mass. as he couldn’t quite pass the school’s English test last May, but this year he’s much more comfortable with his second language.

“When I came here my English was zero, I didn’t know anybody and everything was different,” Mendes-Luz, who is from Rio Di Janeiro, said. “Little by little and step by step, I adjusted. Our families are far away and everybody helps each other, because we’re in the same situation.”

Mendes-Luz, who said soccer is his life, will be back to take that test again in Boston and he plans on passing it this time.

The Blue Devils have six Brazilians on the team and they’ve all become pretty acquainted with Tiago Ferreira, who is from Poro, Portugal. Ferreira had a couple of partial athletic scholarship offers to play NCAA soccer last season, but he wasn’t able to afford paying the tuition that wasn’t covered, so he made his way to Riverland to get a chance to play in the United States.

Ferreira, a defender who is 20 years old, is hoping to eventually play pro soccer and he’s also looking to get a good education in America. He said it’s tough to be away from home, but it helps that a lot of Riverland’s roster is dealing with the same problem.

“The first few weeks is difficult, because you’re homesick,” Ferreira said. “You miss your friends, your parents and you miss the food. But then you just get used to it and it’s easy. In Riverland everyone’s so open and they’re really good people. It’s pretty neat to have people from Brazil, they’re like my brothers. Then we have people from other places too and the team is like a family.”

While the Blue Devils have plenty of international talent, they also have a few local kids that are learning about other cultures first-hand. Austin grad Dante Ortiz, who is in second year with the Blue Devils, said he’s learned plenty about life and soccer with RCC.

“It’s fun learning about their culture and we adapt to them,” Ortiz said. “We have fun with those guys and we get along really easily. We’ve gotten better as a team since we’ve gotten to know each other.”

Austin grad Rolando Rubio, who scored a key goal in the Section 1A title game to send the Packers to their first state tournament in boys soccer in 2009, has also grown as he is in his second season with RCC.

“Each year I’ve been improving as a player and as a person,” he said.

While RCC’s international players are making big adjustments this season, Cindy Doan is also dealing with some changes. After playing girls soccer in high school, Doan has had to adjust to playing midfielder on a men’s team.

Doan always enjoyed soccer and she was talked into going out for the team by a friend.

“Sometimes it’s fun and sometimes it’s hard because they’re faster and stronger than I am. But I hang in there and I try,” she said.

The Blue Devils bring their fair share of culture to the table, and they’ve also brought plenty of soccer talent to the table. When the RCC program started, Stenga said that the team wouldn’t be able to overcome even one or two injuries due to lack of depth. Now the squad has quite a few more contributors.

“We’ve all worked hard in recruiting and we’re getting more numbers,” Stenga said. “In the beginning our best players were very good players, but we just didn’t have enough of them. Now we have depth to stay competitive with injuries.”

RCC will host Bismarck College at Larry Gilbertson Track and Field in Austin Saturday at 1 p.m.