Soccer is considered the world’s game, and that’s certainly the case with Republic FC.
Its roster includes players from eight countries, and four main languages – English, Spanish, German and Serbian – are spoken, which can cause issues for teammates trying to communicate while playing at breakneck speeds. But it also has given Republic FC an advantage at times, when players are able to intercept opponents’ on-pitch strategy.
“Generally, there is going to be some sort of language barrier when you’re playing on such a high level because we’re getting players from all over the world,” Republic FC defender Emrah Klimenta said. “I’ve played on teams with players from Brazil, Central America and all over Europe, and it can be tough communicating sometimes.”
Klimenta and coach Paul Buckle point out that soccer’s unique body language makes every top player at least bilingual. The subtle body movements allow the player with the ball to know when a teammate is about to make a run toward goal, for example. And, except for breaks in the action from dead balls, most communication is limited to a few sentences. But what is said and in what language can be the difference between victory and defeat.
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Generally, there is going to be some sort of language barrier when you’re playing on such a high level because we’re getting players from all over the world. I’ve played on teams with players from Brazil, Central America and all over Europe, and it can be tough communicating sometimes.
Republic FC defender Emrah Klimenta
“The language barrier can be a problem, but movement is a language, too, and body language is (soccer) language on the pitch,” Buckle said. “We can use simple words like ‘over’ or ‘man on’ that don’t take a long time to teach. Shape is the biggest strategy in soccer, and once you figure out your opponent’s shape you can attack it. That’s done mostly with your eyes, not your ears. You start to build a telepathy on the pitch, and that can come from the social side of being a team. It’s great that our guys are willing to take the time to hang out together off the pitch as well.”
Carlos Rodriguez, a young, promising defender from Torreon, Coahuila, Mexico, away from home for the first time, said he knew only about three English words when he arrived in Sacramento before the season. Midfielder Agustin Cazarez has been Rodriguez’s interpreter and roommate, helping him with the adjustment on the pitch and as he navigates a new country.
“It was very difficult at first because only a few guys spoke Spanish,” Rodriguez said as Cazarez interpreted. “Most of the guys know some Spanish words, and I now understand English words such as ‘pressure,’ ‘go,’ ‘left,’ ‘right’ and ‘push.’
“I’m happy that I’m trying to learn more English. It’s a process, and I’m staying positive. Every day, I try to learn a few new words and how to use them in a sentence. I do that mostly by listening to TV or watching videos.”
Klimenta said when he gave Rodriguez a ride to the gym last week they struggled to communicate, but using hand gestures helped.
“Carlos tries so hard to learn English quickly, and I commend him for that so it’s great that we have some guys who are bilingual, especially with the Spanish speakers like Carlos,” Klimenta said. “Augie (Cazarez) can help ease them into the team setting, help them with drills and just make them feel more comfortable here in the United States.”
Klimenta, who is fluent in Serbian, English and German, said he also would like to be conversant in Spanish. He said he’s nearly fluent in Turkish and can understand French more than speak it. If he adds Spanish, he will be able to eavesdrop on most teams and perhaps gain a nugget of strategy.
Klimenta said he overheard a couple of Orange County Blues players during a 3-3 tie July 10. While the Blues players didn’t divulge any juicy secrets, Klimenta said he had some fun with his unsuspecting opponents.
“The Blues have quite a few players from Serbia, and I picked up quite a bit of what they were trying to do,” Klimenta said of the match at Anteater Stadium. “My name, Klimenta, doesn’t say, ‘Hi, I’m from Serbia.’ So they were quite surprised when in the game I said something to them in Serbian. I wanted to get into their heads a bit.”
Cazarez said he made a similar intercept during a game last season.
“We were playing Atlas last season, and some of their backline guys didn’t think anyone on Republic FC knew Spanish,” Cazarez said. “So I listened to them, heard their strategy and knew how to get around it.”
Despite that knowledge, Republic FC lost 4-1 to the Liga MX team.
Klimenta said he thought about teaching his teammates some key soccer phrases in Serbian because there are fewer players in the United States who speak Serbian than Spanish and English. But the idea was quickly scratched.
“Everyone just wants to know all the curse words,” Klimenta said.
Klimenta and Buckle agreed it’s never too late to learn another language. Buckle is considering learning Spanish, which would benefit him if he remains in the United States rather than returning to England. Klimenta said adding Spanish makes sense for him, too.
“The word of soccer is so universal,” Klimenta said. “There is rarely a high-level team from one certain area, state or country. That mix is part of what makes the sport so beautiful.”
Mark Billingsley, firstname.lastname@example.org