In the past decade, soccer, or fútbol, has grown more and more popular here in the United States.
This past summer as the world turned its attention to the 2014 World Cup, more Americans tuned in than ever before.
For context, the U.S. Men’s National Team’s match against Belgium received a 9.6 rating (16 million viewers), where the average rating for the 2014 NBA Finals was a 9.3 (15.5 million viewers).
Even with soccer’s popularity soaring in and around major cities following last summer’s World Cup competition, it seems the craze hasn’t quite caught on here in Webster Parish or other small neighboring communities.
Habacu Morales, owner of Habacu’s Mexican Resteraunt in Minden, is a life-long lover of the beautiful game. He began playing around the age of five and never looked back.
“When I was about five years old my dad introduced me to soccer,” Morales said. “I have three brothers who are all older than me and they all played soccer. One played professionally in the Second Division of Mexico and I played professionally for a while in Cozumel. I got into business when I was 22, but I still play soccer, now it’s just for fun in local leagues in Shreveport.”
Morales, now 34, marvels at the skill of past stars like Ronaldinho and Zinedine Zidane, as well as the game’s current icons such as Ronaldo, Messi and Luis Suarez.
For all we know, the next great fútbol player could be somewhere here in Webster Parish.
The fear of Morales and many others is that those skills will never be known or developed due to the apathetic attitude many Louisiana residents have for soccer.
“I coach a team here in Minden at the Rec. Center,” Morales said. “None of the parents really want to help with the soccer though because it’s not football, basketball or baseball. The parents didn’t grow up playing soccer so they don’t encourage the kids to play. Soccer is actually the most popular sport in the world, and I feel like the problem is that not enough people get to see the game being played.”
Morales absorbs the majority of the costs of equipment and uniforms for his team.
“I pay for everything myself,” Morales said. “I get some funding from our sponsors that we greatly appreciate, but the goals, balls and jerseys I paid for. It only costs $10 to register to play in Minden, but it doesn’t cover the cost of anything else.”
So why does he continue to fight to grow the game in a place that doesn’t seem to support the fútbol movement?
“It’s for my son,” Morales said. “He’s just seven and I want him to have the opportunity to be better than I was at soccer. He likes it (soccer) a lot but he needs a place where he can receive good training. I do it for the other kids as well. It’s not for business or anything, I just like to see the kids having fun with soccer. My hope is that these kids can grow up in the sport together, develop chemistry and have good coaching.”
Currently, soccer is not played at any elementary or middle schools, but Morales says he would like to see that change.
“I would like to buy some property and make a couple of soccer fields,” Morales said. “I would like there to be a soccer academy here where talented players can develop their skills. As of right now, if a kid has skills I’d have to take him to Shreveport to train.”
Hopefully soon that will change. Morales has a goal in mind; time will tell if he can hit the target.