Untapped Talent: Soccer star tries to balance love and life between two countries

Editor’s note: This is the final part in a six-week-long series”by contributor Nzar Sharif examining how individual immigrants who came to the United States seeking a better life have had to leave behind the skills, talents and careers they had cultivated. To read the rest of the series, search on the site for “Untapped Talents.”

When he showed up for the interview over evening tea, “Carlos” confidently walked into the room, his t-shirt and brown pants splattered with paint. He had just left his job. “Carlos” and his girlfriend “Megan” agreed to talk with The Citizen on the condition that their real names not be used because of the sensitive nature of Carlos’s status. Megan, who is fluent in Spanish after spending several years living in Mexico before meeting Carlos, sometimes helped translate. (The interview was edited for grammar and clarity.) His story is that of a Mexican soccer player who had to choose between love and his career.

And here’s how he told it to contributor Nzar Sharif:

“I was a well-known soccer player in Mexico. I was on TV and in local newspapers often — whenever I helped my team win. My parents were hoping to have their son be an international soccer star in future. I came to the U.S in 2016 on a tourist visa. I was hoping to make some professional networking connections and help to work on an exchange program between the U.S and Mexico. Here is when the second part of my story started. Love came my way. After I stayed a few months in the U.S., I fell in love with Megan. 

Shortly after my trip from Mexico, I found a professional soccer team in Richmond, Virginia. I tried hard to get in and prove to them that I am a professional player — that I can help their team to win. But unfortunately, I faced negative reactions from the coaches and the decision makers. They did not let me be part of their team no matter how hard I tried. I think my origin made them skeptical about my ability to play soccer.   

It is hard to have two options to take in life. For me, both soccer and love are important. But since I do not have work authorization, that made my life even more challenging. I am on tourist visa. No team is willing to sponsor my work authorization even after I tried my hardest to make that happen. This new administration also made work-visa sponsorship much harder.  That is why I believe the employers or decision makers are unable to hire people who are looking to get a work visa. Because of that reason I must go back to Mexico and come back to the U.S twice a year. We are thinking about to get married, but I need to have some savings to do that. 

A few months ago, I got an excellent offer from Qatar. A soccer team there is willing to cover my relocation fees and offered me excellent benefits after I met their coach. But I can not move forward with that offer because my girlfriend is in the middle of her career development and has other plans in her life. My question to this country is: why is a well know team all the way across the world is willing to offer me a work visa when I cannot obtain one here in the U.S.? When I talk to my fellow Mexicans or other immigrants who have work authorization or are United States citizens, I have learned they are still suffering to get a good job even though they are professionals, have talents and experience. And I become disappointed about getting a job. I am not sure if I can get back to playing in soccer stadiums even if I were to get married and granted a green card here in the U.S.

To make living now and save some money to take English classes and prepare for my wedding, I am doing two jobs. Both jobs are keeping me busy seven days a week. The first job is painting the interior and exterior of houses and apartments around Harrisonburg. I still enjoy doing this job even though I always think about what a difference I can make if I was put in the right place or knew the right people.  The second job is playing soccer for different teams, and I am getting paid per game. I keep getting invitations from (semi-pro) teams. Sometimes I play two games consecutively on the same day. It is very hard and challenging because I don’t have any benefits, such as health insurance and training pay. I am only getting paid $100-$150 per game. The reason why I am keep doing both jobs now is because when winter is coming, there won’t be many painting jobs and playing to do. I must work hard to save some money to my wedding and taking English classes. 

There is very competitive and limited opportunity here in the U.S for those of us who came from different backgrounds. One needs to take longer path, and it’s often a struggle. But I am very sure what it takes to make us reach our goals and achieve our dreams will make us even stronger as individuals.” 

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