By Victor Munoz
Since we are in Hispanic Heritage Month until Oct. 15, it’s only natural that as a person of Hispanic descent who also happens to be sports editor of the CSUDH Bulletin, my thoughts lately have drifted toward the fact that so many of our athletes are, or have been, Hispanic.
And no sport is as integral to Hispanic culture and their daily lives than that of soccer. England (which isn’t even its own country anymore!) loves to claim it created football, and, at least during the World Cup, every citizen of the world is suddenly the world’s biggest football/soccer fan, but no region of the world embraces it with such passion as the Spanish-speaking regions of the world (and yes, Brazil, we know you’re all about speaking Portuguese, which makes many Brazilians Latino/a and not Hispanic; but in terms of fútbol, you are as Hispanic as the rest of us).
As historian Stefan Rinke wrote in 2006, soccer is the last real passion in Latin America, something that at least one member of the 2018 CSUDH men’s soccer team absolutely believes.
“Everyone in my family plays soccer,” said Roberto Carlos Rivera, a freshman. “Soccer is everywhere in our lives.”
Rivera is obviously not the only Toro soccer player with familial roots in Mexican, Central American or South American soil. A glance at both the men’s and women’s rosters this year suggest at least two dozen of its players could say the same. But how many were named after a soccer legend, such as Rivera, whose father named him after the Brazilian soccer legend Roberto Carlos da Silva Rocha, who played on 21 championship teams, including one World Cup; winner, three Champions League winners and four Spanish League Championships?
Rivera wants to follow the path of his namesake as well as his grandfather, who played professional soccer in Guatemala.
“[As a soccer player] I want to reach the top,” said Rivera, who starts as center back this season for CSUDH and is second on the team in minutes next to sophomore midfielder D’Morea Alewine. “I am working hard every day to make it to the professional level.”
Rivera was on the verge of representing the Guatemalan National team but in October 2016, the nation was suspended from FIFA activities due to their statutes not being in line with FIFA and CONCACAF, the federation Guatemala competes in.
Though disappointed that he couldn’t represent Guatemala, Rivera said that his dream of becoming a professional is intact. That dream was also a defense mechanism to avoid the dangers of growing up in Gardena.
“Soccer kept me away from any of the dangers and activities that were around because things do happen around my neighborhood,” Rivera said.
In his rookie season at CSUDH, Rivera has started all 12 games, accumulating 1,043 minutes of play. He has played a full match for 10 straight games and has completed 11 of the 12 CSUDH matches. Although he’s been playing a lot of minutes as a freshman, Rivera is not taking anything for granted: he knows there’s a lot of work remaining to reach his goal of turning professional.
“It feels great to play so much at the collegiate level,” Rivera said. “But I’m going to continue working hard because I’m never satisfied. There is always a higher level where you could go and more that you could learn.”
Rivera said he owes his success to his parents because they introduced him to soccer and have supported him along the way.
“My parents have given it all for me and soccer,” Rivera said. “Sometimes my parents would have to prioritize me over my younger siblings because they see I’m taking soccer seriously.”
Also, Rivera said that thanks to the inheritance of soccer from his parents he is also pursuing an education in computer science.
“I am well aware that if I am able to go pro, it may or may not be what sets me for my retirement,” Rivera said. “And with that, I am more than grateful to be studying at a school like CSUDH and pursuing something apart from soccer that I love to do.”