Members of the Footballers United team warm up before a Sunday match in the Pasadena Adult Soccer League
The endless buzz of the South African vuvuzela is missing. Missing, too, are spectators. But in Pasadena, a scaled-down version of the World Cup plays out almost every day in the city-sponsored Adult Soccer League.
Anyone wondering about the popularity of soccer in the Southland should talk to Sherisse Tuck. She says its been growing since right after the 1994 World Cup.
"That’s when it seemed to explode," says Tuck, who coordinates the Pasadena Adult Soccer League. "I remember driving past Caltech, and there was just all these people playing pick up every single day, and they were people that never played before."
Tuck, 41, has played soccer for decades — and helped Pasadena's league expand to meet a growing need. About 2,000 players now suit up for 120 teams. There are divisions for men, women, coed, over 30, advanced competitors to beginners. Most divisions play seven-on-seven soccer on shorter fields, but there's a competitive 11-on-11 division for women.
The league's biggest challenge now is finding enough soccer fields to play on.
"My main focus is still to get the people who’ve never played before to play," Tuck says. "Because it’s a great sport. It’s the best sport in the world."
And you’ll find the world in the Pasadena’s Adult Soccer league. Walking down the sidelines or past the bleachers on a Sunday at Jackie Robinson Park in Pasadena, you can hear soccer chatter in several languages: Armenian, Spanish, English, and Chinese.
Scott Ho is the captain of the Qualy Electric Team.
"We all come from China, mainland China or Hong Kong," says Ho. "I think we’re the oldest. We’re all over 40 here, so we’re just having fun."
Tele Jimenes, is the captain of Soccer Club, or SC, United — all Mexican-American cousins, who live in San Fernando.
"When it’s nicely, richly diverse is when it’s good," says Jimenes. "We got white teams, Armenian teams, Asian teams. It’s good that way."
This season, the team has chosen to wear the same jerseys as Mexico’s World Cup team. Jimenes says the jerseys make some of his teammate-cousins nervous.
"You know, if we’re gonna be the only Mexican team, we gotta kinda represent. And if we don’t, they’re gonna be like, 'These Mexicans suck!' You know? 'They’re all about the jerseys!' You know?"
SC United — in the Mexican black — did represent. They beat a team called Victorious Secret, whose players — all male — wore the USA’s World Cup jersey. The referee was from Finland. Go figure.
Not all the teams in Pasadena’s league draw from a single ethnicity or locality. The league also builds teams of free agents who just want to play. The Footballers United squad features an Armenian goalkeeper, an American midfielder, two Mexican-Ecuadorian brothers, and Frenchman Chris Giovanelli.
"I play soccer and I feel good, and after I go home and I’m happy and my family is happy because they see me happy," says Giovanelli. "I need it. Like, some people wake up in the morning; they need a coffee or a cigarette; I need soccer at least two to three times a week."
Giovanelli hails from Marseilles and sports a tattoo on his arm of that city’s soccer team. His teammates call him “Frenchy” — and they’re glad to have a defender with 32 years of experience playing and coaching soccer. Striker Nicholas Thompson is from London.
"You can actually tell by the way people play — I believe — what country they’re from," says Thompson. "I can tell Frenchy’s from France: he’s very composed on the ball. The Mexicans are very suave, they like to dribble and attack players, which I think is a very Mexican trait."
Nicholas Thompson might celebrate the diversity — but not the result. Footballers United got booted by the all-Armenian team it faced that afternoon. It might be time for Thompson’s internationally-flavored squad to add a Brazilian or two.