DOMINIC HOSCHER | Reporter
Three students have gone from playing soccer on the streets of Santiago, Chile to Lindenwood University’s Hunter Stadium in St. Charles, Missouri.
In Santiago, people of all ages will head to the streets, fields or any place there’s room to play their favorite sport. Gaspar Alvarez, Leon Silva,and Fernando Cordero are no exception.
“Soccer is like a religion,” junior Gaspar Alvarez said. “We are next to Argentina, we are next to Brazil. Big countries with big fan bases, so we have a culture in Latin America where soccer is just our sport.”
Sophomore Leon Silva had never imagined playing in the United States during his early days of playing soccer.
“When I was young, I just played to have fun, not thinking about my college, not thinking about anything other than to just have fun,” Silva said.
Soccer can also change people’s lives, turning something that seems unlikely into a reality. That’s exactly what it did for Lindenwood men’s soccer players senior Cordero, Silva and Alvarez. The trio went from playing for their teams in Santiago, to traveling 5,147 miles to play the game they love in St. Charles, Missouri.
To get to this point, all three of them participated in separate showcases where they played in front of college coaches from all across the United States. Some of these showcases were held back in Santiago, while others took place in the U.S.
After playing at his school until he was 18, Cordero was given the opportunity to play in the Disney Boys Soccer Showcase in Orlando, Florida in 2014. From there, he earned offers from five different universities, one of which was Lindenwood.
A year later, Alvarez played in the Adidas Wisa Showcase in North Carolina at Wingate University. After that, he played in front of 30 coaches from both Division I and II schools. Playing in front of such a large audience was nerve-wracking, but Alvarez said that through practicing every day, he was prepared.
“I started, in January, preparing for a showcase that was in December. So when the moment comes, you get a little bit nervous, but then you start touching the ball, you score once, and then you become relaxed and play,” Alvarez said.
Traveling with Alvarez to the showcase at Wingate was Silva, who is one year younger than his now Lion teammate. Those two, along with Cordero, played in the One Sports Chile academy, which sent each of them to the United States. Silva took a slightly different path, however, going to play in Massachusetts at Berkshire High School for his senior year. Once this was completed, he joined Alvarez and Cordero at Lindenwood.
From traveling from Chile to the U.S. to adapting to a new culture together, to playing their favorite sport together as teammates, Cordero, Silva, and Alvarez have developed a connection that’s stronger than friendship.
“They are like my older brothers,” Silva said. “They took that responsibility and they’ve helped me a lot. They would do anything for me, and I would do anything for them.”
Cordero said that he has taken on the older brother role of the family. He’s spent time with them in class and on the weekends.
“Being able to do all of this together has made us all very good friends,” Cordero said. “Maybe in Chile, we wouldn’t have been friends. But here, we’re very close and talk all of the time so I think soccer and the team has helped us with that.”
The three said they feel a sense of pride when they line up before every game together.
“I can’t describe the feeling of when they say, ‘from Santiago, Chile, Leon Silva, from Santiago, Chile, Gaspar Alvarez, from Santiago, Chile, Fernando Cordero,’” Silva said. “I never thought about it when I came to the states, but now I feel an extra bit of motivation and responsibility.”
Due to the players all playing similar positions, with Cordero and Silva in the central midfield and Alvarez in front of them at striker, the trio has a special connection. This has led to the trio combining for 10 goals and nine assists this season.
“When I’m on the field, sometimes I have this feeling that we see different things that the other players don’t see,” Alvarez said.
One example of this came on Sept. 16, when the Lions hosted the Harding University Bisons. The game went to overtime, and Alvarez scored the game-winning goal. Cordero trusted Alvarez, and fed him the ball off the free-kick which led to the decisive moment.
“It’s something that you cannot explain, it’s something that you’ve got to read during the game,” Alvarez said. “More than anything, it’s the trust you get from them.”
They also said that speaking Spanish on the field together benefits them during each game they play together.
“I’m always going to listen for Fernando and Gaspar saying ‘Come on, Leon’ in Spanish,” Silva said. “I do the same for them. Every time they make a mistake or do something wrong, I’ll be there for them and I think that’s really important.”
One of the moments in which their family-like relationship was on display came last year when the Lions lost to Fort Hays State near the end of the season, Silva said.
“We were all having really bad days, and everything affects you differently when you’re away from home,” Silva said. “So we stick together in those moments, the hard moments. They are the moments that define our friendship.”
Cordero said that helping the younger members of the trio has also helped turn him into a leader.
“I’m a little bit shy on and off the field, but many teammates and coaches I’ve had have told me that I look like a leader,” Cordero said. “Even though I don’t talk much, they see me as a leader so I think I’ve become a better one on the field.”
For Alvarez, both the move from Chile and his friendships have helped him grow up.
“The fact that I’m living on my own, it’s not normal,” Alvarez said. “It made me grow up. There’s basic stuff, doing your bed every day, if you are hungry, you go get your own food. Though I have friends and everything, I’m by myself. If anything happens to me, I’m on my own so I need to be a responsible man right away. I came in very naive, more immature, and I’ve grown up.”
Silva said his self-confidence is what has improved most over his 5,000 mile journey from the comfort of his home.
“I feel much more prepared for what’s coming,” Silva said. “This also helps me prepare for life, and be much more confident in taking care of myself.”
The players know that they will not have too much time left on the field together past this season. Cordero is a senior, Alvarez a junior, and Silva is a sophomore. With this mind, Silva has already looked ahead, thinking about the possibility of achieving the ultimate glory alongside his Chilean brothers before they exit the college scene.
“I can’t imagine winning the conference with them,” Silva said. “I have already dreamed about showing the national flag in front of everyone, with the trophy there and the three of us together.”
All three have said that their relationship will last long after they’ve graduated.
“The relationships you make during this experience in college, is something you cannot forget,” Alvarez said. “I will never forget the friends that I’ve made not only on the field, but outside. These are relationships that will last for life.”
Photo courtesy of Leon Silva.
Photo courtesy of Leon Silva.
Photo by Maria Escalona.
Photo courtesy of Leon Silva.
Photo by Maria Escalona