High School Boys Soccer

THE WORLD’S CLUB

Culture, diversity make up Mustangs boys soccer team

By Dennis Silva II, Sports Editor
Posted 3/25/21

Taylor’s boys soccer players could not be more different in their backgrounds and homelands, but those differences have also made for a close, tight-knit winning team.

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High School Boys Soccer

THE WORLD’S CLUB

Culture, diversity make up Mustangs boys soccer team

Posted

Taylor’s boys soccer players could not be more different in their backgrounds and homelands, but those differences have also made for a close, tight-knit winning team.

Coach Julio Rivas has a unique circumstance in leading a cultured, diverse club. Only one player, senior defender Ethan Mefford, is a full-blooded Texan. Otherwise, Rivas’ Mustangs, who are 8-5-2 heading into the first round of the playoffs this weekend, feature talents from Peru, Finland, Scotland, Colombia, Poland, South Korea, Honduras, and Argentina, among others.

“Everybody’s Americanized,” Mefford said. “It’s actually pretty cool, because when we have team dinners, I get to try new foods and hear about their cultures. Taylor is a diverse school, so I’ve gotten pretty used to playing with all different kinds of people. I ask a lot of questions. I do a lot of listening.”

Players have made a concerted effort to get to know each other, establishing relationships and trust over those team get-togethers. Players and coaches rave about a Vietnamese spread made by senior defender Austin Tran’s mom that included a scrumptious honey-glazed barbecue pork. Mefford enjoyed crepes for the first time. Rivas talks excitedly about the Ghanaian dish fufu, a meal of rice with chicken that is eaten with the hands.

That togetherness and acceptance off the field has translated onto the field as players acclimated to different views of the game to form a cohesive style of play.

“It’s nice to see how different people play from different countries,” senior center midfielder Niilo Hanninen said. “We have fast people. We have technical people. We have good passers. We have a little bit of everything.”

It has not been without its challenges, however. The general consensus among Taylor’s players is that American soccer is more physical, organized, and refined than soccer in other countries. American soccer is also not as technical and possession oriented.

Hanninen refers to American soccer as “kickball.”

“One of the main differences is the style,” said junior midfielder Gabriel Stephano Zagastizabal, who is from Peru. “Here is more physical. Over there, it’s less organized. I was used to playing with rocks in the neighborhood over there, so when I came over here it was very different. It took me six months to adjust and find a club. It was difficult.”

The Mustangs’ leading playmaker, senior striker Andrey Millan, is Colombian. Senior defender Jeongwook Yun is from South Korea and will have to serve in the Korean military. Junior midfielder/forward John Park is also from South Korea, but because he has dual citizenship he may not have to serve. Junior goalkeeper Aidan Bousleiman is Lebanese and Argentinian.

There’s more. Many more.

Junior defender Luke Skelton’s family is from England. Sophomore winger Alei Sabek is Egyptian. Hanninen is from Finland. Tran is from Houston, but his family is Vietnamese. Junior midfielder Lewis Paterson is from Scotland. Junior defender Lukas Piotrowicz is Polish but was born in Canada. Junior defender Carlos Villatoro is Honduran.

Those are just some of the key players that make up an eclectic roster.

“Every day is exciting,” Rivas said. “Every day is different. It’s funny, because you have all these guys from different places and backgrounds, but we all have the love of the game in common.

“This group is so close, and they’ve bonded so well. Last year, I had some egos. This year, I don’t. I just have kids that want to work and get better, very humble. They really want to prove themselves.”

Rivas admitted he does not have the most technically skilled players or the biggest and strongest athletes. But the Mustangs compete, as shown by their third-place finish in a hotly contested District 19-6A. He has set a standard of toughness and discipline in his two years as head coach because of buy-in from players.

“From the outside looking in, it looks difficult when you have so many different players from different places,” Rivas said. “But these guys have a big brotherhood. If you’re willing to fight and go that extra mile for the guy next to you, anything is possible. I know our cultures are different, but the concepts are the same. What are you willing to fight for? What are you willing to battle for? For this team, it’s the guy right next to them.”

Perhaps the face of the Mustangs’ worldliness is junior midfielder Ignacio Saettone.

Saettone is Argentinian but was born in Katy. Because of his father’s career, he has lived in London, Angola, Venezuela, Australia, back to England, and finally back to Katy before the start of the 2020 season.

“I feel like I’ve learned to adapt to different things,” Saettone said. “I can relate more to different types of people. It’s good for me. Moving around is hard, because it’s hard to make friends because you’re always meeting new people, but that’s also a plus.”

Senior midfielder/forward Connor Muñoz’s mother is American, but his dad was Mexican. His father’s dying wish was for his son to play soccer. While his siblings played football, Muñoz played soccer in honor of his dad.

Even the team managers are non-natives, one from Palestine and another from Ghana.

“Soccer is a universal sport,” Tran said. “We’ve been fortunate to be exposed to so many diverse cultures and it’s created an interwoven family.”

Rivas said the variance in culture is largely due to the occupations of parents. Most are in the oil or engineering fields. It also helps that Taylor has a strong reputation academically.

“I like coaching guys with different backgrounds because that’s like the ultimate team,” Rivas said. “You need physical guys like Luke (Skelton), you need guys who are good with the ball at their feet like Stephano and Andrey, our Colombians and south Americans who aren’t scared to take you one-on-one. Then you need industrious hard workers like Austin and Lukas. It’s nice to have different kinds of cultures to make a unit.”

Rivas said the biggest misconception is that there must be a vast division between players because of the substantial difference in cultures. He quickly came to understand that that was far from the case.

People are people. Whether from Peru or Finland or Poland or Honduras, they’re human.

“Honestly, we’re not so different,” Rivas said. “Everybody’s got the same problems, going through the same stuff on a daily basis. It’s just kids being kids.”

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