Soccer is More Than a Sport

Moving within a country is stressful, but emigration to another nation is another level of stress. One thing immigrants like to do when moving to a new place is keep some of their old things, whether that be material objects, family traditions, or even food. One thing Bolivians brought with them is their love of soccer.

There are well over four hundred Latino soccer teams with over seven thousand athletes in the Washington Metro area. There are quite a few rivalries, some stemming from former hometowns in Central and South America where the players are from. Many of the players, coaches and owners learned the soccer game and business behind it when they lived outside of the United States. Teams even recruit professional players from their home countries to come play in their metro area teams.[1] Despite the money involved in a lot of the leagues, some coaches refuse to pay players.[2]

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Birds eye view of RFK Stadium provided by


Money and business are a large part of these leagues, bringing in thousands of dollars annually, but there is no way to know how much vendors are earning. Even international businesses like Budweiser are involved. In 1998, Budweiser donated $10,000 to the TACA Cup which was held at Robert F. Kennedy (RFK) Memorial Stadium in Washington, DC. The six day tournament brought in over $16,000 worth of tickets when only two years before the ceremony had been held in an airline office. Getting from an office to RFK in the span of two years is an amazing change. Athletic wear and equipment companies that had verbal agreements wanted contracts to prevent big names like Adidas from taking their “small town clients.” In total, the TACA Cup cost $23,000 for referees, security, renting RFK, and the many other expenses that come with hosting a tournament.[3] However, the competing teams do not have to pay to enter the tournament.[4]

Teams pay anywhere from $500 – $1500 to join leagues and then the owners of the leagues take care of things like field rentals and hiring and paying referees. With such a large fan base, Latino soccer is a $1.4 million a year industry. Many Latino-owned restaurants and businesses aid in supporting the soccer community by sponsoring teams. Sponsoring restaurants often keep their doors open late at night to celebrate winning games.[5]  Unlike most leagues, the Bolivian league is run by a board of directors, instead of owners.[6]

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Bolivian Marco Etcheverry from

Bolivians, athletes or not, have a local Bolivian celebrity to look up to and use as a beacon of hope for success. Marco Etcheverry was on DC United and had a large fan base comprised of the Bolivians living around the DC Metro area. Fans said they took inspiration from Etcheverry both on and off the field. Americans also like him so that helps unite the immigrants with the locals. Even when offered a large deal to be traded to a team in France, Etcheverry denied it, citing his reasons as wanting to stay in the DC area and remain loyal to both Bolivians and Americans in the area. He even planned to open his own soccer school to give back to the community even further. He donated uniforms to teams and gives speeches to Bolivian schools.[7]

With strong leagues and star Bolivian players, soccer is one thing that Bolivian immigrants don’t have to give up when they come to America. Soccer unites fans around the world and definitely in the DC Metro area. There are plenty of teams to get involved in or just to cheer for. The large soccer scene gives immigrants the chance to feel more at home and start new relationships on common ground.

[1] Gabriel Escobar, “The Other Pro Soccer; In Area’s Latino Leagues, Part of the Game Is Profit, and the Best Players Are Paid” The Washington Post, November 29, 1998, 1.

[2] Escobar, 2.

[3] Escobar, 2.

[4] Escobar, 5.

[5] Escobar, 2.

[6] Escobar, 3.

[7] Pamela Constable, “The Pride of All Hispanics: United’s Etcheverry is Bolivia’s Shining Star,” The Washington Post, Octeber 21, 1998.

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