Javier Calle vs. Sporting KC

South American Players Adjusting to United States, New York City

While he was head coach of Real Salt Lake, Jason Kreis had success scouting and cultivating talent from South America -- Javier Morales, Jamison Olave, Fabian Espindola to name a few.

So it’s no surprise the New York City FC skipper wanted to send his resources back there while building a roster prior to the Club’s inaugural season in Major League Soccer.

David Lee, New York City FC’s Director of Player Recruitment, spent nearly two months over the course of the last year in South America scouting players.

“We spent a long time in South America because we absolutely believe there’s a lot of talent there,” Lee said. “There’s been some good precedent in MLS that South American players have done well here. Jason has a history of finding and developing players from South America when he was with Salt Lake and they’ve done well.”

Lee’s time in South America has paid dividends with the winter signings of Ecuadorian defender Andres Mendoza on January 5 and Colombian midfielder Javier Calle on February 6.

Besides the language differences, there’s also a cultural change South American players have to get acclimated to when coming to the United States; many for the first time.

Prior to joining New York City FC, Mendoza had never been to the United States. Calle said he was in Atlanta for some friendly matches while playing for the Colombian Under-20 side, but he had never been to New York City.

“It’s a very different style of life,” Calle, 23, said. “People here work a lot. People in Colombia take their time a little bit more.”

Not surprisingly, having fellow South American players on the roster help make the transition, both on and off the field, a little easier.

“It helps a lot,” said Calle, who made his first-team debut on March 28 against Sporting KC. “They’re very helpful because I don’t know how to speak English right now. It just builds on the comradery. Overall it’s complicated to communicate with anyone not knowing the language but having people on the team that speak my language makes it easier.” 

Midfielder Sebastian Velasquez is a bridge between South America and the United States. Born in Medellin, Colombia, Velasquez moved to America with his mother when he was 14 months old.

He grew up in South Carolina and speaks English, while Calle and Mendoza are beginning the process of learning the language.

“With a new team, I’m helping as much as I can,” Velasquez said. “Obviously sometimes it’s easier for Hispanic people to have someone to help them transition and feel more comfortable. I know the diversity of this city will help make our new players feel welcome, too.”

New York City FC began the season with seven players that are fluent in Spanish. Language barrier or not, all of the players speak the international language of soccer.

They all also know of the unique situation they’re a part of in launching a professional franchise. That certainly isn’t lost on the 25-year-old Mendoza.

“When I was asked to come to New York, I was very excited,” Mendoza said. “I’m very happy to be on a team with David Villa, Frank Lampard and my other teammates here in the U.S. For me it’s very interesting to have this experience in a place like New York City.”