An American in Afghanistan: How Soccer Breached the Culture Gap

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The stories that emerge from Afghanistan to be told to an American audience are rarely characterized as uplifting. Not when suicide bombers, the potential for a resurgence of al Qaeda, the presidential election, and war weariness dominate headlines. But a fresh perspective about the bonding power of sports is coming from an unlikely source: 23-year old American Nick Pugliese.

Pugliese was the subject of an ESPN “SportsCenter Featured” segment in February, which told the story of Pugliese’s journey from recent college graduate to the first American to play professional soccer in Afghanistan. After taking a job with a telecommunications company in Afghanistan, Pugliese looked for a way to cope with being away from the familiar. Thousands of miles away from family, friends, and home, he turned to soccer, which he had played for years.

He started playing on the company team and found he felt at home when he returned to the pitch. His on-field skills caught Ferozi FC head coach Eilyas Ahmad Manocher’s eye. Following a trial run with the team, Pugliese was offered a position, which to him was an invitation to join a soccer family. He agreed, which meant trading his job and company compound living quarters for a pair of cleats and residential complex.

He started chronicling his journey in a blog. Writing to explain why he was giving up with job, decent salary, and security, he said the game is “cathartic” and that he could not stop playing. “It allows you to express what needs to be expressed,” Pugliese wrote.

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