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Fútbol, Calcio or Soccer: How Two Foreign-Born Players Have Found A Home On A Team

Valerio Tatafiore (Photo by Marcella Maisto)

By Sonia Miranda

Felipe Rojas and Valerio Tatafiore, two players from opposite corners of the world, have found a home in Sarasota Paradise, a newly established soccer team, as they pursue their shared dream of playing professional soccer while navigating the difficulties of adapting to a new country.

Moving to a different country is never easy, especially at an early age when you must assimilate into a completely new culture.

Felipe Rojas, born in Bogota, Colombia, was just 4 years old when his family moved to Florida, U.S.A. Although he doesn’t recall many details of his childhood in Colombia, one memory that remains dear to him is kicking the ball around as a kid.

Felipe (photo by Marcella Maisto)
Felipe Rojas (photo by Marcella Maisto)

Valerio Tatafiore has a similar recollection of kicking the ball around with his father on the streets of Napoli, Italy, where he was born.

SOCCER AS DESTINY

For both players, soccer seems almost destined to be a part of who they are today.

“I was actually born during the 1998 World Cup final, like during it. The doctor was late to help my mom because he was watching the game,” Rojas recalls.

Unsurprisingly, years later, soccer would continue to be a considerable part of Rojas’ life.

As for Tatafiore, while growing up in Napoli, he felt soccer run through his veins since he was born.

“It is hard to explain, but when you are from Napoli, soccer becomes part of your blood,” he says. “From the baby blue banners being paraded from rooftop to rooftop to the legendary mural of Diego Maradona in one of the neighborhoods, it is everywhere you look and everything you hear.”

While their love for soccer began in their home countries, Tatafiore and Rojas started playing organized soccer after immigrating to the United States.

In Sarasota, Fla., U.S.A., Rojas joined his local YMCA, where he remembers playing soccer for the first time with other kids.

“That was my first place, like, playing soccer when I was, like, five or six. You know, I was indoors with little goals,” Rojas recalls. “And that’s my earliest memory of me really playing soccer.”

DOMINANT YOUTH

Tatafiore’s soccer journey began in Boston, Mass., where he effortlessly began to dominate the sport at a youth level.

Valerio (photo by Marcella Maisto)
Valerio Tatafiore (photo by Marcella Maisto)

“At 8 years old, I started with the teams in my local town; however, it was not long before I became recognized as a talent, and over the course of the years, I quickly moved up to play for various clubs and eventually professional academies as a young teenager,” Tatafiore says.

When you are from Napoli, soccer becomes part of your blood.

LEARNING A NEW LANGUAGE

While balancing their growing soccer careers, Tatafiore and Rojas also faced the challenge of learning a new language.

Back in Italy, Tatafiore had begun learning English, making it more accessible once he moved to the United States. Additionally, having Italian as his first language was beneficial when communicating with players on the field.

“Learning Italian as my first language has helped me on the field, making it much easier to understand many of the languages heard on a soccer field, such as Spanish, French and so on,” he says.

Although Rojas recalls when he was still learning the language, he says, “I was, not, you know, fluent and would have had trouble communicating. I couldn’t get [my point] across.”

That challenge for him was short-lived, thanks to the help of his English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes, where he quickly grasped the language.

GOING PRO

As the years went by, Rojas and Tatafiore increasingly identified with their new home in the United States. Simultaneously, their passion for the sport grew until they realized they wanted to pursue a career playing professionally.

In what seems like faith, a new semi-professional soccer club was coming together in a city they had embraced as their own. Sarasota Paradise competes in the United Soccer League Second Division, or USL-2.

Learning Italian as my first language has helped me on the field.

“The very summer my family and I moved here was about the same time that Sarasota Paradise was founded and launched,” Tatafiore says. “Come try-out time. I gave it my all, and the rest is history.”

Felipe Rojas (photo by Marcella Maisto)
Felipe Rojas (photo by Marcella Maisto)

Rojas’ journey didn’t come as easy, as he had just broken his fifth metatarsal months prior. He couldn’t try out, he couldn’t practice, he couldn’t even play.

“Despite my injuries, I just needed to play here. I just slowly made my way into talking to Marcus [the club’s founder]. I talked with the head coach and talked to the people around the head coach.”

Sarasota Paradise allowed Rojas to join the club in 2023 despite his condition.

The club’s support and inclusion of Rojas and Tatafiore are no surprise, as the club holds a diverse roster.

“Our players come from a diverse cultural background, which represents the multicultural nature of the wider Sarasota community,” says Mirko Dakovic, coach of Sarasota Paradise.

“Having this diversity benefits our club because we are an inclusive organization that appeals to people across cultural barriers and unites them in their love of the game of soccer,” Dakovic adds.

Our players come from a diverse cultural background, which represents the multicultural nature of the wider Sarasota community.

By playing for Sarasota Paradise, Rojas and Tatafiore know that experience will bring them one step closer to their goal of one day playing professionally.

Sarasota has become a place that unites them not just by their love for soccer but also by their shared journey of immigrating to the United States, learning a new language and embracing the U.S. soccer scene.

With the support of their coaches and teammates, Rojas and Tatafiore remain focused on their upcoming 2024 season, where they hope to continue to grow on and off the field and represent not just their home country but also Sarasota, a place they now call home.

Valerio Tatafiore (Photo by Marcella Maisto)
Valerio Tatafiore (Photo by Marcella Maisto)
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