Illinois’ Indoor World Cup isn’t just about a love of soccer for Team Mexico.
The Cup is also about redemption.
Captain Jorge Gallegos – a senior actuarial science major at Illinois -- said he’s the motivator during the tournament.
He’s the one who gathers his teammates into a huddle. He pumps up his friends with mantras like “play simple, play fast, play smart” – encouraging them in a mix of English and Spanish.
He’s not the only one. Team China calls out plays in Mandarin. Team Nigeria uses its country’s universal soccer slang – phrases such as “enta” to signal an attack maneuver -- as language shortcuts during matches.
“That’s a really fun part about the World Cup, honestly; you’re going up against teams that speak different languages than you,” Gallegos said.
Held every fall, Illinois’ Indoor World Cup offers soccer fanatics on campus a chance to compete against each other in a friendly tournament of nations, including adopted countries for domestic students who participate.
International Student and Scholar Services Associate Director Martin McFarlane said one of the driving factors behind the tournament is to bring as many people and countries together over a shared love of football.
“Over the 10 years we’ve been doing this, the most memorable moment was a conversation I had with the Iranian team back in 2007,” McFarlane, who started the World Cup in 2005, said. “One of their players said that they were aware of the negative impression many people had of Iran, but at the Indoor World Cup, everyone saw all other countries as footballers like themselves.”
Partnering with Campus Recreation, International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) hosted the Indoor World Cup XVI at the beginning of November 2014, drawing more than 160 international and domestic students and scholars to Campus Recreation Center East.
Teams play abbreviated, 15-minute halves on an indoor soccer field in order to fit the tournament into one weekend, Huang said, but Illinois’ tournament still mimics the real World Cup’s elimination-style brackets.
This year’s Indoor World Cup proved to be so popular that coordinator and ISSS International Advising Specialist Lily Huang said she had to turn teams away. Huang said she’s planning on hosting a second World Cup in the spring, giving first choice for spots to teams unable to participate this fall.
“We want (the Indoor World Cup) to be a truly international event, something that honors our international students and aspects they care about,” Huang said, citing soccer’s dominant popularity around the world. “When the teams are so mixed like that, there’s a lot of organic integration happening, not only between domestic and international students, but among international students themselves.”
This year’s Indoor World Cup featured 16 teams: Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Nigeria, Palestine, Peru, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Spain, South Korea, USA and Vietnam.
In order to claim a specific country to represent an Indoor World Cup team, at least four players must be from that country, Huang said.
Some Indoor World Cup teams – like Team USA – filled their roster with a mix of domestic and international students.
Team Mexico was composed of mostly Mexican-American students, Gallegos said, some of whom have dual citizenship between the U.S. and Mexico.
Many players faced each other in intramural soccer, or went head-to-head in the Indoor World Cup the year before, he said.
“We know most of the players from Team Nigeria, those guys are really good friends with us,” Gallegos said. “It’s really fun to see all the different countries get represented.”
International doctoral student Oki Abiodun -- who’s currently in the third year of a Ph.D. program in chemical engineering – said he’s played pick-up games before with members of Team USA, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Spain before meeting them on the field during the Indoor World Cup.
Many campus events celebrate diversity, he said, but the Indoor World Cup and a collective passion for soccer really brings students together.
“It’s one of those few events on campus you maybe from Spain hanging out with someone from Brazil or someone from Saudi Arabia,” Abiodun said. “It brings all countries together in an active way.”
Team Mexico, Gallegos said, really, really wanted to beat Team USA this year. Team USA had won the Indoor World Cup the last four years running, Gallegos said, and defeated his team in the 2013 finals.
It was heartbreaking for Team Mexico lose to Team USA again this year, he said, during a penalty shootout in the final game of the tournament.
Despite the loss, Gallegos said he still wishes it wasn’t his last year to participate in the Cup.
Indoor World Cup has become one of the highlights of his time at Illinois, Gallegos said, ever since he found out about the tournament as a sophomore two years ago.
“I just saw the school spirit [at Illinois] when I saw commercials or tailgating,” Gallegos, who described himself as a “big sports guy,” said. “I wanted to be part of that live school spirit.”
During the tournament Huang said she and International Orientation Student Leader (IOSL) live tweeted the Indoor World Cup using the hashtag #ILLINOISWorldCup. Players who weren’t competing on the second day of the tournament – like one student from the Saudi Arabia team -- told Huang the social media updates helped them keep an eye on their competition over the weekend.
“It’s also another way to let people know that our international students do get involved,” Huang said of the Indoor World Cup. “[International students] are interested in our programming and resources.”
Abiodun said he planned on starting active practices for Team Nigeria after Thanksgiving to recover both from busy class schedules and Nigeria’s early defeat in the Indoor World Cup.
And Gallegos said he’s looking forward to a second chance at Indoor World Cup glory for Team Mexico in the spring.
“Soccer -- or football -- is probably the most international sport you can get,” Huang said. “It’s something that everyone plays.”
For more information about the Spring 2015 World Cup event, contact Lily Huang. For more information about International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS), follow them on Twitter at @ISSS_Illinois or Facebook.