The United Nations of NHS boys soccer
By STEVE GEOGHEGAN
Hour Staff Writer
NORWALK — The Norwalk High boys soccer team is a veritable melting pot.
The Bears have six players who were born in different countries and 13 others who are first generation, thereby having one or more parent born in a different country, with the rest of the team from the United States.
That could be seen as a hindrance to some teams but nothing could be further from the truth for Norwalk, which plays for the Class LL state championship against Fairfield Prep on at New Canaan’s Dunning Field at 10:30 a.m., Friday.
“I think it’s great,” NHS head coach Chris Laughton said. “It makes us unique. No other team is like that. Our style of play is different from everybody and the way that we look and who we are is different as well. Our differences are really our strength.”
There are 14 countries that make up the nationalities of 19 players including Greece (Andrew Melitsanopoulos, George Kutrubis), Colombia (Santiago Muriel), Italy (Matt Capomolla), Uruguay (Nacho Navarro, Nico Samperez, Carlos Teysseire), Ecuador and Cyprus (Luizos Karaiskos), Poland (Michal Nowicki, Paul Soja, Robert Gryglewski), Mexico (Sergio Mandujano), Ukraine (Svet Kozak), Honduras (Miguel Argueta), Guatemala (Jose Canahui), El Salvador (Alejandro Rivera, Rene Jimenez), Costa Rica (Patrick Barrantes) and Haiti (Cory Sainsymr).
The six who were born in their respective countries are Kozak, Sainsymr, Navarro, Canahui, Rivera and Argueta.
“On the positive side, it’s good because we each add our own style of play,” said Rivera, one of the team senior captains along with Melitsanopoulos and Muriel. “We contribute our own taste to the game. Negativity-wise, other teams can criticize us but we look past that because we love one another. No matter what color you are, we’re all one. We’re of the same family.”
Because of the differences of the players and their backgrounds, it lends itself to a certain curiosity. They all want to know each other and where they come from, Laughton said.
“You usually have a deeper relationship and a deeper friendship with those guys,” he said. “It’s made us who we are today. That’s why we’re such a tight team, on and off the field.”
The players will sometimes speak in their native languages on the field. It comes in handy when you don’t want the other team, or maybe even a referee, to know what they’re saying to one another.
Rivera said he’ll use some Polish words with Soja and speak Spanish with Navarro.
“Everything moves so fast in the game, you’ll say anything just to get the ball,” he said. “You pick up different languages along the way and use them in a game.”
Kozak, a junior goalie, was born near Poland and speaks four different languages (Polish, Ukrainian, Russian, English). That helps because he can speak Polish with Soja in the defensive backfield.
“You find ways to communicate with each other,” he said. “We understand each other a lot better than people who may be from the same country. We’re all different but we’re all the same. It’s a great thing to have.”
For the most people, all the players weren’t just thrown onto the team out of the blue. They played together for years in the Norwalk Junior Soccer Association so there’s a great deal of familiarity already.
“We’re used to it,” Melitsanopoulos said. “Growing up, especially in Norwalk, there’s never been a race we haven’t seen before. It’s not really a big deal, even if you’re Colombian, Uruguayan or Greek like myself, we’re all the same in the end.”
Laughton said the players have been able to meld all of the styles their respective nations usually play with into their own unique attacking style.
“You look at the background of these guys and a lot of them come from countries that take pride in having some attacking flair,” he said. “We try to incorporate that into how we play because that’s how these guys were brought up and that’s who they are. That’s what they see on TV when they watch their national team play.”
Even though they may speak different languages and come from different places they all share one thing in common: a passion for the sport of soccer.
“We all come together because we love the sport,” Navarro said. “There’s a lot of nationalities and I’ve never seen a team with so many.”
© The Hour Newspaper