As we walk down the damp, cement ramp to the soccer field, you hear the murmurs of Spanish coming from the other teams who have already played their games or are getting ready to play. Jerseys are being taken off or put on and the men slap each other on the backs. “¡Bien juego!”
Around the field is a running track, where friends and family can sit and watch their husbands, brothers, sons, and cousins play soccer. I set down the lawn chair on the track and sat down as the team I was there for got ready to play.
Alejandro Rangel and Gustavo Tejeda are brothers from The Bronx, NY. Since Rangel could remember, soccer has always been something talked about in their household. Being seven years apart, Tejeda always had the influence of soccer from his brother and father.
“I always thought it was cool to see my brother and dad playing on the same team,” Tejeda said. “I thought that maybe one day I could play with them too.”
Ever since their father came from Mexico to the United States in the mid-to-late 80s, soccer has been a part of his life. From being a fan of Club América to coming to the U.S. to play alongside his brothers and friends.
Soccer became a family outing for them.
Tejeda had been a part of his father’s soccer team since the day he was born and grew up around his family team. For Rangel, it was a little bit different. While he had been a part of this team and family, he did not find that same support outside of the field.
“I love the sport now, but I’ve hated it too,” Rangel said.
Growing up, Rangel was the only one of his friends who had been a soccer fan. The more he talked about it to his friends and the more they did not care, the more Rangel fell away from the sport.
“I kept away from the sport for a while and no one at home forced me to watch or play soccer,” Rangel said. “But family is family, and as I much as I fought it, I fell in love with soccer all over again.”
Even today, Rangel and Tejeda get together every Sunday with their friends and family for their Sunday League games.
The Sunday League has become an important part of their lives. It is a community for them that has also become a home. It has been the place where Tejeda has started some of his closest friendships, such as Freddy Castelan.
“I basically had to recruit Freddy from when we went to middle school,” Tejeda said. “Since he joined the Sunday League, we just got closer and closer.”
Castelan also still comes play every Sunday, even now, with Tejeda and Rangel.
“To me it was way more important to stick around with them because it just made every result worthwhile,” Castelan said. “Every defeat was just made a little less sad when you get to laugh around with your friends after the game and every win feels 10 times better when you can do it with your best friends.”
While playing soccer in the Sunday League gave them a community and home, there was also a community of people who watched soccer. Rangel, Tejeda and Castelan all have their own teams they support.
Most of their soccer watching experiences came from watching teams from Europe and Mexico on TV. Rangel had become a fan of FC Barcelona the day they signed one of the best Mexican soccer players, Rafael Marquez.
Along with Rangel, Castelan is also a supporter of FC Barcelona.
“Being a fan of team like FC Barcelona is good experience because you get to watch the elite level of soccer being played week in and week out,” Castelan said.
Tejeda had begun his support for Real Madrid when he started to understand what being a supporter of a team really meant.
“When I was younger, before I really understood having a favorite team, I was a Barcelona ‘fan’ because of my brother,” Tejeda said. “I chose Madrid because that was Barcelona’s rival and I wanted to compete with my brother in a way and have friendly arguments about it.”
As much as they supported their European teams, they could not support them 100% the way they wanted to. There was only so much they could do from being overseas.
Some of the main ways Rangel finds a way to be a part of that community is by being active on social media and watching the games with other FC Barcelona fans near him.
“Best way to be a part of the community is through social media and occasionally visiting,” Rangel said. “But as much as I would like to truly be a supporter it’ll never be the case.”
Tejeda and Castelan try to follow their teams the same as Rangel. By social media and watching the teams play when they can. But it is not enough to feel like they are a part of that community.
“It does feel like you can’t support the team and sometimes I don’t feel as attached to the team because of that,” Tejeda said. “Like, if I’m not there, how can I really support them the most.”
Soccer did not become popular in the U.S. until more recently. While European Leagues have been going on for hundreds of years, Major League Soccer (MLS) has only been around for about 30 years.
For years soccer fans in the U.S. had become fans of soccer teams in Europe or Central America because there were no steady teams for them to support in their country.
In 2015, New York City Football Club (NYCFC) joined MLS. This is when Rangel, Tejeda and Castelan finally felt like they had their own team in their hometown.
“Having a team right here in our city is something special because it makes you feel like you’re actually a part of it and that you can actually help out the team by attending games to support them,” Castelan said. “It also allows you to be part of bigger community than just your immediate circle.”
For Rangel and Tejeda, it became another family outing for them. Rangel holds three NYCFC season ticket passes for him, Tejeda and their father. When Tejeda is not attending college, he is at every single home game alongside his brother.
“To be able to share this with my brother and father is pretty cool,” Tejeda said. “We all never really supported the same team, until NYCFC came along.”
Even though NYCFC is still one of the newer teams in MLS and play at Yankee Stadium because they do not have their own stadium, they still bring in a loyal fanbase.
Compared to their rival, the New York Red Bulls who play in New Jersey, it is easier and feels more authentic for New York City soccer fans to support the closer team, NYCFC.
“Just to have a team of our own here to support is amazing,” Tejeda said. “Being a part of the supporter’s section is ‘the place’ to show your passion for the team.”
From having their own team to play on in the Sunday League to being able to support their hometown team in New York City, Tejeda, Rangel and Castelan have shown how impactful MLS has been from a fan standpoint.
“I got to experience something I never thought I would ever live,” Rangel said. “To support a team that truly represents the City of New York.”