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The US National Soccer Team is in Egypt for the FIFA Under-20 World Cup. The U.S. responded to their opening game loss to Germany with an explosion of goals against Cameroon, defeating the African nation 4-1. They lost to South Korea Friday night, 3-0, but can still advance to the second round. Four of the six third-place teams go on, and the Americans will
find out Saturday whether they continue.
The American team is strengthened by players from a variety of different backgrounds. More than half of the players on this year's American Under-20 team have at least one parent who immigrated to the US. Many are immigrants themselves.
Peri Marosevic fled war-torn Bosnia at two
Bosnian-American Peri Marosevic, 20, has already faced more adversity than the average person will encounter in a lifetime. As a small child, he left a war-torn homeland with his family. "When I was two - I had an older sister, she was five - my parents decided it would be best, having these little children, to move out," he recalls. "It was a tough situation for anybody to be there. You see, and you hear on the radio, that houses are being blown up, and you really do not want to be around that. My parents made a good decision," he says.
Marosevic and his family settled in Chicago. The good student earned a scholarship to the University of Michigan.
That story alone is one of tremendous achievement against long odds. But Marosevic's success does not end there. Like so many American children of immigrants from soccer-loving nations, Marosevic retained a love for the game ubiquitous in his home country.
Eventually his skill on the field drew attention from scouts for the U.S. Soccer Federation. The naturalized U.S. citizen began playing for American national youth teams. Earlier this year, he was selected to the Under-20 national team, to represent his adopted nation in the 2009 FIFA World Cup in Egypt.
Gale Agbossoumonde's journey began in Togo
Marosevic's history is one of many compelling stories among the 21 players representing the US in Egypt. Gale Agbossoumonde, the team's towering defender, also escaped conflict. "I was born in Togo, and then there was a civil war," he explains, adding that his family moved to Benin when he was still an infant. "I lived there for seven or eight years, and then moved to the United States in 2000, when I was eight or nine," Agbossoumonde says.
Sheanon Williams has roots in the Caribbean
Defender Sheanon Williams, the son of Trinidadians who came to the Boston area from the Caribbean, says that diversity helps the team members understand each other off the field, and contributes to an interesting mix of skills on it.
"I think that is one of the great things about the U.S. We do have, definitely, a diverse culture that lives in the U.S., so we have Mexicans, and we have Africans, and all that. It mixes together well and it brings to the table different things that some players might not have from different countries," Williams says.
Players bring different soccer styles together
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With homegrown talent from a number of American states and players with origins in countries as varied as Nigeria, El Salvador, and Norway, the team displays disparate styles of soccer from all over the world. On the field, that mix has brought the U.S. to the verge of becoming a world power in soccer for the first time, and has helped the Under-20 team qualify for its seventh straight FIFA World Cup.
With so many players having realized the American dream, it should come as little surprise that one player actually goes by that name.
Living the American dream on the soccer field
Mexican-American Jorge Flores went from being a teenaged maintenance man at a Southern California church to a soccer star when he won a TV reality show contest and a tryout with Major League Soccer team, Chivas USA. Flores says his teammates now call him Sueño, which means 'dream' in Spanish.
"I was living in Mexico and came to the USA, and tried out, and I am the winner out of 2000 players; that is something you have to feel happy about. Right now I am playing professional in the U.S., and they gave me the opportunity. I am very happy," he says.
Flores' sense of pride in the red, white and blue jersey is shared by the other players who have roots in foreign lands. Peri Marosevic says his family will never forget where they came from, but they are proud to see him represent the United States on the soccer field. "This is our country," he says simply.
He adds, "The U.S. has given us so much opportunity. My parents, they're working, they are happy people. They live life to the fullest now. It is an unbelievable feeling to now be able to represent the U.S. in the World Cup and be one of the players."
The FIFA Under-20 World Cup kicked off on September 24th in Alexandria, Egypt. The tournament runs through mid-October, with the young Americans hoping to improve on their fourth place best finish so far.