ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — No matter what country you come from or what language you speak, Futbol, aka soccer, has the ability to unite all different cultures. A soccer league in Roanoke has grown in importance to the area’s Hispanic community and beyond.
It’s become a longtime Sunday morning tradition in the Star City.
“It’s getting to a point where people are getting to know that it’s more competitive because we’re getting players,” goalkeeper Edwyn Alvarado said. “College students are getting to play here. People from out of Ronaoke are coming to play so I feel like it’s getting to be pretty known.”
La Liga Union de Futbol Roanoke attracts the most passionate players in the area for a few hours on the fields at River’s Edge Park. What started as an eight-team league in 2016 has grown to 14 different squads, each named after a famous international club.
Jovany Hernandez plays for the Roanoke version of Manchester City as a defender and is a five-year veteran of the league. He says he’d rate the competition nine out of ten.
“I’ve gotten to know a lot of people from different countries,” Hernandez said. “People that I never thought I would meet.”
While Hernandez is a Honduran native who arrived in Roanoke in 2018, Alvardo is a Star City original, who graduated from William Fleming in 2020.
“Even in high school, I remember they told us — if you want to get tough, try out for a Sunday league team. These teams here don’t come to play,” Alvarado, a goalkeeper for Roanoke’s Paris St. Germain said. “When it comes to playoffs, it gets even more intense. So as it goes on, you just happen to really know how these players move around and it’s awesome.”
While most play simply for the love of the game, some have gone on to play at higher levels of the sport, including Northside graduate Danny Pereira. The former Hokie now plays in Major League Soccer for Austin FC.
“That was amazing to be honest. To know that he put Roanoke on the mark, people look it up, where he’s from, they’ll know that he’s from here,” Alvarado said. “You can see how a player can grow so much and just be out of your league at some point. But it’s awesome that he was built here.”
Pereira is just one example of how La Liga has grown in Roanoke. Hernandez says the league is important for raising the next generation of soccer players in the area.
“It brings that environment just to relax and have fun, to be honest,” Alvarado said. “It’s not only Hispanic people that come here. We have people from Africa, Japan, everywhere around, Columbia, we have all these different countries that are here and that is just like people from Brazil, we have players from Brazil, Argentina, we’re bringing people together.”