Provo cultivates a rich soccer culture

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Each day players meet together at a place determined on the “Provo Soccer” Facebook page — often the Richards Building fields at BYU — to play a game of pickup soccer. The diverse blend of players contributes to a unique soccer game. (Aldo Macias)

Soccer is not the most popular sport in the United States, but Provo has a vibrant, authentic soccer culture that many may not know about.

Because of its affiliation with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, BYU draws students from diverse parts of the world where soccer reigns supreme above all other sports. Though from completely different backgrounds, these students find commonality in playing “the beautiful game” together.

“The soccer culture in Provo is cool because we have a variety of college students that play, and many of these college students who play are not from the United States,” Provo native Arturo Lazareno said. “There are some from Brazil, Belize, France — you get a bunch of cultures and it is just so different. A lot of people have their own style.”

This diversity contributes to a unique blend of talented players who come together from all over the world to play a universal game they all love. These impromptu games are set up quickly and attract players from almost everywhere imaginable.

“Provo soccer is a lot more diverse than in the South where I am from. There are just people from all over,” said Joseph Sanders, a BYU psychology student from Georgia. “Soccer is the universal sport, and Provo is such a diverse place, so I think that’s why there’s so much interest here.”

LDS returned missionaries living in Provo, who served in countries where soccer is beloved, make strong contributions to the soccer scene that is thriving here. Those returned missionaries bring home a love for soccer that developed while living and serving people who have a deep-rooted history and love for the game. Their love of soccer might be, in a way, a reflection of their identity to the country where they served and their love for people who live there.

The “Provo Soccer” Facebook group serves as a valuable social link, bringing like-minded local soccer enthusiasts together to play soccer. The page started small six years ago, but it has since grown. It currently has 2,010 members.

“It’s a Facebook page for people who play soccer to communicate. Players will post where they’re playing and what time they’re playing. That’s what Provo Soccer is all about,” Lazareno said.

The players coordinate on the Facebook page and come ready to play at the decided location — often the Richards Building fields at BYU. Often so many players will show to play that two separate games will be created to accommodate everyone.

“We have a lot of members, and it’s just getting bigger and bigger. Ever since the World Cup, a bunch of people has jumped in, and the fields are full of players. It’s a lot of fun,” Lazareno said.

Aadesh Neupane — a Computer Science doctoral student from Nepal — said playing pickup soccer has made it easy for him to connect with people who share one of his interests.

“The thing I love most about playing pickup soccer is meeting new people and playing with them. The playing style in Provo is different from Nepal, but the pickup games we used to play at the university in Nepal is similar to here in Provo,” Neupane said.