Friday Night Futbol

How an indoor soccer league creates a community in Des Moines

Dana Hall, left, and Marcela Hermosillo-Tarin share a laugh at the MVP Sports Center.

Writer: Mathany Ahmed
Photographer: Emily Kestel

On any given Friday night, you can find intense competition on the indoor soccer courts at MVP Sports Center in Des Moines.

Tonight, it’s the semifinals for the United Futbol Academy (UFA), a year-round soccer league for kids. One court over, two women’s teams go head-to-head for a mid-season matchup. On the third court, a few men are playing a casual pick-up game in vests they tossed on over their gym clothes.

On nights like these, up to 300 people — mostly immigrants or first-generation Americans — like to bond over their shared love for soccer, which keeps family traditions alive and provides an escape from everyday routines. It also builds a community, a local network with global connections.

Rocio Hermosillo bounds over to the middle court to play with the Goal Diggers, a team of women mostly in their 30s. She hugs her friends, coos over the pregnant belly of a teammate (watching safely from the bench) and runs through her warmups. It’s a chance to catch up with friends as much as it is a workout.

Hermosillo met Maria Rocha when they were both playing for the league as elementary school kids. Rocha isn’t playing tonight, while she recovers from an injury, but she came out to support her teammates and her husband, the team’s coach. “When you have that passion, that’s what it’s about,” she said. “It brings people together.”

Some of these lifelong friendships are just starting on the sidelines. Distinctions between families blur among the packs of toddlers who play hide-and-seek in the bleachers, protected from stray balls by nets that divide the courts. Older kids in uniforms kick around a ball to prep for upcoming games.

“I like playing soccer here because it gives me a way to express myself,” said Tatiana Miranda, a 12-year-old player who stopped sparring with a friend for a quick chat. “I meet so many friends here that I love. I really cherish our friendship.”

Many parents, like Mario and Rennis Monzon, have several kids on different teams. They split their attention, watching 8-year-old Oliver warm up on one court while his older brother plays goalie on another.

When Mario Monzon was growing up in Guatemala, his father taught him how to play and he loves continuing the tradition. The Monzon sons play in a different league in the summer, but they prefer indoor soccer with the United Futbol Academy.

“Oliver was adamant that he wanted to play with UFA. He got mad at us when we signed him up somewhere else,” Mario Monzon said. The league’s diversity is a major factor.

“The atmosphere here is just different,” agreed Rennis. “Hispanic culture is loud.” Besides the referees blowing their whistles, the players calling back and forth, and the shoes squeaking on the hardwood floor, Spanish music pumps from speakers someone set up in the bleachers. A fluffy white dog occasionally barks next to its owner, adding to the cacophony of chatter in multiple languages. It’s all part of the distinctly UFA soundscape.

As talented as the athletes are, it’s still a casual setting. It feels more like a family reunion than a high-stakes tournament.

“This is where I feel relaxed, this is where I feel my anger go away,” Karen Manzano said, still catching her breath after a game in the women’s league. “You forget about your problems.”

Her team lost. She’s drenched in sweat, and her car was towed right before the game. But to her, it’s all worth it. Playing soccer in this community offers a release from the stress of working two jobs.

“You’re not going to win all the time, but you’re going to have fun,” she said. “At least for an hour.”

Three players scramble for glory.

Futbol friends, families and fans fill the MVP Sports Center at 4600 Park Avenue.

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