What is your name and home field location?
Danny Bautista. We practice at the Lehigh and Aramingo field.
What is your connection to Puerto Rico?
A lot, family. Many of our players are in mixed relationships with Puerto Rican wives, or the husbands are Puerto Rican and will be playing, children and many friends as well. We are trying to represent the Puerto Rican community because they are people that provide help to many here in different facets like work and legalities. All this is for all of us to unite and the Puerto Ricans who are legal in this country help us in different ways. So, we build friendships with them or with others who may have spouses that are from Puerto Rico and this makes us proud to represent Puerto Rico even when we aren’t all Puerto Rican. We aren’t all from Puerto Rico, but much of the base is. This group was founded last year by a Colombian, but his mother is married to a Puerto Rican and in honor to his father he registered this team. He then went around looking for players from other countries to reinforce the team because in the Philadelphia area you don’t see too many good Puerto Rican soccer players. There are a few, but not 25 to make a whole team. He is now a trainer and a supporter. He doesn’t come to all the practices, but he will be present at the games once the cup begins.
What made you interested in participating in the Unity Cup?
As I said before, we are Hispanics and because of this, how can I say, we have certain limitations. For example, we live in this area of the city (Aramingo and Lehigh) and can’t go far distances to play in areas that have better fields because it isn’t permitted. Some fields are privately owned. We always must wait on public fields to use and sometimes they are in really bad condition. Some may not have lights. It is more of a sacrifice for us because many of us are older and need to wait to get out from work and wait until others have finished using the fields after 8pm. We are tired by then. The Unity Cup has nice fields. Their fields are all synthetic, and the uniforms they give us are also a plus. It all helps. It helps to motivate the younger players. About 22 of our players are under 22 years old, the rest are veterans. They are players who continue to wear their jerseys with pride in other tournaments and feel motivated enough to continue playing. So, the Unity Cup motivates us through all this and also by having a great group of referees that are serious in what they do and are respectful. We put this tournament in a category of being semiprofessional, not like the bureaucratic tournaments that we play in the area because of the condition of the field and the refs. Like, having a good friend be a ref. You understand me, there are many differences between the Unity Cup and what we are used to playing in.
What was your favorite moment from last year’s tournament?
Yes, I was the captain of the team last year. I played the first two games. I was unable to play the last games. The first playoff game was most memorable when we eliminated Argentina because we passed the group phase. We believed in ourselves, but Argentina was a strong rival that played at our same competitive level, yet we were sure we could beat them and we did. It was an extra happiness to know we had advanced to the next game. In the next game, the conditions weren’t in our favor. I feel we weren’t ready mentally. We were scored on very early on like in the first one or two minutes. The whole team lost faith. Psychologically, we were unable to surpass that early goal, and this plays an important part in the players, knowing how to handle these situations psychologically. That was the part I didn’t like about last year’s tournament. We were eliminated but that’s the game. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.
How did your team come together?
To begin, the guy who is the stepson of the Puerto Rican was motivated because of his father. He wanted to bring him happiness in representing their country, the country of Puerto Rico, so he registered the team with a base of about 10 players from Puerto Rico. But he knew he needed 25 players so he contacted me and I found him one, two, or three players from different teams in the area until we gathered the 25.
Can you tell us a bit about the rest of your team?
It’s a courageous team. A team that plays with heart, that plays until the end regardless of the outcome. Whether they are winning or losing, they continue to fight until the end. A team that competes for the passion of soccer and doesn’t have players that are full of themselves and think they are way above the abilities of others who play in the Philadelphia area. We feel that we do play well and have a good chance to do better than last year. We were in the top 8.
What does soccer mean to your community?
It means a lot. It means an escape from the stresses of work, of many responsibilities that we have in this country. It is a moment in which we can forget many of our problems. It is, you know, many people don’t have good financial conditions and they must work to pay the rent, pay the electric, water, and cell phone bills so that they can find stable financial status so when one comes out to play soccer they forget about everything. They even forget that a family member is waiting for them. One grabs a soccer ball and simply concentrates on the game. It is a fun escape. It is also a path for the young to follow instead of being on the streets buying, selling, or doing drugs or getting mixed up in gangs. They prefer to be on teams and making friends which offer them a game of soccer and you know, they follow the professional teams and become soccer fans. It is a good path to follow a sport and be a sportsman. Each person chooses their own sport and like a basketball or football player there are many with dreams, dreams of being able to one day play professionally. So, this is a great chance for many of them to be motivated and someone can see them.
Why is soccer important to you personally?
For me, it means much of what I just stated previously. My family was a soccer family, so then I began to play at the age of about 12 and since then soccer has been more important then everything else. I would go to school and wait for the first recess bell to ring. I would grab a soccer ball and play for the 30 minutes we had for recess. The bell would ring again to go back to class and continue my studies, waiting for the final dismissal bell to run home to get my cleats and off to the soccer fields again. The afternoon would finish and off to the smaller barrio courts to play indoor soccer until 10 pm. This was from Monday to Sunday. There were no days to rest. As a youngster, we think it is endless, so it is something I bring in my blood. Now with age and injuries my body isn’t at the same level physically, so I then turn to support the youngsters to give them an opportunity, because if there aren’t people like me who give the young these opportunities by leaving work aside for a bit and dedicating time to them by grabbing a ball and teaching them, explaining techniques, small things that we once learned… This all motivates me in soccer. I try to maintain a competitive team to share this with all those in this area. Maybe these kids will get a chance at a tryout. This would make me very happy to honor Puerto Rico but not only them, kids from different countries.
How has soccer made your life better?
In everything, to the point that it took me away from following a path of bad habits and hanging with the wrong crowd. It taught me motivation and discipline. It gives you character not only in the game but in life. All this transfers to your own life, the way you do things. You become a person who fights to do things right. So for me, soccer is the vertebra of my entire life, from family, to friends, to work, and even having fun watching soccer on TV. If we go to the beach, I take my soccer ball and build a field in the sand. At work, we all are constantly talking about the latest soccer news. So for me, soccer is present in my life all the time.
Why do you think soccer is so popular around the world?
I think that part of the discipline that this sport has isn’t a quality that many people have, so when you hold the discipline and want to play, then you play and you play well. Hopefully you will be lucky and play professionally. Soccer is everything: work, fun, a sport, and it is now one of the most viewed around the world because many things influence the sport. Many may not have financial conditions to play sports, but if you look at soccer all you need is a ball and some sticks for the goal posts and there: you have soccer. I feel this is why the poor began with soccer and found that it was a way to get out and touch the world. This is why I feel that soccer is played worldwide.
How do you think soccer in general (and the Unity Cup in particular) promotes inclusivity?
Soccer in my opinion still needs to give more opportunities to those that don’t have the financial conditions, fields, or the connections. To become a professional sometimes too much is asked of a player in order to simply play, like paperwork and legalities that try to hinder you from even wanting to try out. They need to become a bit more flexible in making it easier for those who don’t have the recourse to do so. They just need a chance, an opportunity. I feel that the Unity Cup displays what I am talking about now. Because it is a competitive tournament that doesn’t ask for money — maybe the registration fee, which is minor — but then the rest is they provide us great fields, in good condition, good refs, playing more than two or more games especially if you are among the lucky ones to pass on to the next phase. All this plus having the opportunity to represent your country, so it’s not the same as putting on a jersey and playing for John or Juan, no, you are playing for Puerto Rico. Playing for the honor of that country. This invites you to take it seriously and give it your all. I feel that the Unity Cup is a great way to venue this young talent that come from low incomes.
What places (such as restaurants or cultural centers) or groups in Philadelphia would you recommend to someone if they wanted to learn more about Puerto Rican culture?
For me I like to have breakfast at the Coqui restaurant on H and Tioga. They sell pastelitos, surullo, canoas, which is very traditional Puerto Rican food. You can also go to Freddy & Tony’s, they also have great traditional food from Puerto Rico. There are many other restaurants you can go to taste many traditional dishes. I think that all Spanish food is delectable. I like them all. I eat Mexican, Peruvian, Colombian. They are very similar.
What’s one thing you wish more people knew about Puerto Rico?
The most important thing I would like for everyone to know about Puerto Rico is that we are a team that comes with much humility, a team that doesn’t have resentment with one another. We are all the same: all captains, forwards, midfielders, and so on. Most importantly, we are all family and friends. Another thing I would like them to know about the Puerto Rico team is that many of the players are from a team called Catrachos PA. It’s a team I have had for about 10 years. They have been champions in almost all the leagues they have played in. They help me proudly represent Puerto Rico.