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Two New Yorkers Build Bridges to War-Torn Countries Through Soccer

 

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From left to right: Nick Pugliese receiving the Kabel Cup medal,
Alex Fyfe with Iraqi children a decade ago and with his wife Shelli today

By Randy Vogt, Director of Public Relations, Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association

March 11, 2014-Being the world’s game, soccer has the ability to unite diverse cultures more than any other sport. During the past decade, two New Yorkers took advantage of the unique opportunity that our sport gives them in war-torn countries in Asia.

23-year-old Nick Pugliese, who grew up playing for the Rochester Futbol Club and the Olympic Development Program of New York West, graduated from Williams College in 2012 after serving as captain of the Ephs men’s soccer team. He took a job with Roshan, Afghanistan’s major telecommunications company, in their office in Kabul. He played so well for the company team that he was noticed by Ferozi FC and wound up playing professionally in the Kabul Premier League. Ferozi’s home stadium is Ghazi Stadium, the same field where the Taliban executed people 15 years ago when they were officially in power. The joy of playing soccer and making new friends prompted Nick to concentrate on playing so he quit his day job and played futsal in a local park before training, earning $300 monthly from Ferozi. With his dirty blonde hair, he stood out on Afghan soccer fields and led Ferozi to the Kabul Cup championship in 2013. He is now back home in the Empire State, planning his next career move.

“Soccer was the best way that I knew to be part of the community,” Nick said.

Nick’s story was recently featured on ESPN and written about in Sports Illustrated. Exactly a decade ago, Alex Fyfe was written about in The New York Times and interviewed twice on Fox News when he organized a soccer equipment collection for kids in Mosul, Iraq. The US Army Captain raised an amazing $25,000 in soccer equipment––everything from uniforms, balls, cleats, shin guards to even referee jerseys and a captain’s band! Leading the soccer equipment drive were the Long Island Junior Soccer League (LIJSL) and his varsity coach at Rocky Point High School, Al Ellis.

Alex never actually had a chance to play in a pick-up game with the Iraqi kids because of security concerns a decade ago but did have some kick-abouts with them.

“My fondest memory was when we went on a long patrol up into northern Iraq, near the Kurdish area, to open a school that we funded. We brought along school supplies and soccer equipment to give to the kids during the ‘ribbon cutting ceremony,’” Alex said. “It was such a success! The headmaster of the school had the 30 of us over to his very small house for lunch. We actually took our equipment off––bulletproof vests, helmets, etc.–– for the first and only time all year. I really didn’t feel like we were in a country in a brutal war. Everyone from that particular village were extremely grateful for what we were doing for them. I think this was an eye-opener for a lot of our own soldiers. That one day really proved to them that we were there to help Iraqis and that improving their quality of life was actually an attainable goal.”

After leaving the Army in 2005, the West Point graduate attained his MBA at Georgetown University in 2007, then went to work at JP Morgan. Now 36 years old, he is the Executive Director of JP Morgan’s San Francisco office.

Alex also sits on the Board of Directors of the Soccer For Peace Foundation, a non-profit that utilizes soccer as a vehicle for social change. It was there that he met his wife Shelli and their son, Ethan, was born last June. Alex is already reading coaching manuals should Ethan decide to play soccer in the future.

In the Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association (ENYYSA), Alex played for the Sound Beach Panthers and Sachem Redskins of the LIJSL and received a 1996 LIJSL Scholarship.

We had to ask Alex about Iraq a decade after his 15 minutes of fame and he is optimistic about its future. “I certainly believe that we left Iraq in a much better position than when we first arrived. In my view, we really set that government up for success. For awhile it seemed that they were moving in the right direction, though over the last year or so, they’ve strayed a bit. That’s my take from what I read at least. All is not lost though. I think they just need a fresh person at the top.”

With 123,843 youth soccer players––68,587 boys and 55,256 girls––and more than 25,000 volunteers, the non-profit Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association (ENYYSA) stretches from Montauk Point, Long Island to the Canadian border. Members are affiliated with 11 leagues throughout the association, which covers the entire state of New York east of Route 81. ENYYSA exists to promote and enhance the game of soccer for children and teenagers between the ages of 5 and 19 years old, and to encourage the healthy development of youth players, coaches, referees and administrators. All levels of soccer are offered––from intramural, travel team and premier players as well as Special Children. No child who wants to play soccer is turned away. ENYYSA is a proud member of the United States Soccer Federation and United States Youth Soccer Association. For more information, please log on to http://www.enysoccer.com/, which receives nearly 300,000 hits annually from the growing soccer community.

 

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