What is your name and home field location?
Yury Nicolaev. We play north of Philadelphia at the Ukrainian American Sports Center, Tryzub.
What is your connection to Belarus?
I actually was born in Belarus: the capital, a city called Minsk. I came here 11 years ago.
What made you interested in participating in the Unity Cup?
Based on previous experience — I really liked how it was last year. I would like to introduce my country as well. In the last Unity Cup, I played for the Ukrainian team, but this year I decided to create my own team. (I have friends from Ukraine who play, so they invited me a couple of times.)
As a returning player, what was your favorite moment from last year’s tournament?
I think my favorite moment from playing last year was the game against the USA team. We won this game on a penalty, so that was an exciting moment. It was a very difficult game. The USA team attacked our team the whole game, we were trying to defend our net the whole game, and when we finally won it was so exciting!
How did your team come together?
We started training as a team half a year ago, and we knew each other previously. We just updated the team, we got new players, and we started playing. I’m usually playing with them every week. Also, I met some people through the Holland United club and invited them to play for Belarus.
Can you tell us a bit about the rest of your team?
We have players from the old Soviet Union countries: Belarus, Ukraine, a goalkeeper from Georgia, and a couple of Russians.
What does soccer mean to your community?
We grew up with it. I was born in Belarus, where everyone followed soccer and they became soccer fans since childhood. My teammates, they all came from similar communities, so we like following clubs, following the game, trying to play every week. That’s our life. Soccer, that’s our life, our home, our family.
Why is soccer important to you personally?
Since my childhood, I’m always trying to be part of a team. I tried to play professionally, but it was a long time ago. For me, it’s more than just a game. It’s more than a hobby.
How has soccer made your life better?
It helps me release all my stresses. It helps me to be in good shape physically. Also, I’ve met a lot of friends. We have a good community, we communicate with each other, we help each other. If somebody has any issue, for example, it’s like a big family.
Why do you think soccer is so popular around the world?
It might just be my opinion, but I think the most important thing is that the game continues without any stops. There aren’t any timeouts. It helps people be inside the game, be focused on the game all that time. No other game has the same feeling. Hockey, basketball, for example, they all have timeouts where people can get up, go somewhere, eat food, come back. But soccer just holds you in front of TV, or keeps you playing and doesn’t give you time to get rest until the game is done. That’s the most important feeling, I think. From the whistle to the whistle, from start to end, you’re focused on the game.
How do you think soccer in general (and the Unity Cup in particular) promotes inclusivity?
I think it was successful in this last year — and I really liked how it was! — because I met a lot of people from different countries. I still talk with them. The Unity Cup helps bring more and more people from different countries, from different communities, to be a part of one soccer community. I’m very glad we have the opportunity to play this way.
What places (such as restaurants or cultural centers) or groups in Philadelphia would you recommend to someone if they wanted to learn more about Belarusian culture?
Unfortunately, we don’t have any clubs representing Belarus. I can recommend the Ukrainian American Sports Center, Tryzub. I like how it looks, and the president of the club lets us play there. We also have traditional food, but unfortunately no restaurants in Philadelphia.
What’s one thing you wish more people knew about Belarus?
Belarus is located in the middle of Europe, between Poland, Russia, and Ukraine. We also have a practice in our country where many visitors can come, without any visa, for five days. It’s a good place to visit. If you’re planning to go to Europe, we have a lot of old castles that you can see, plus we have good traditions and history.