EL PASO — Juarenses revered and dubbed him “Superman” during his tenure as a soccer star.
“I had the opportunity of being one of the most popular players in that team, said César Sosa. “In Juárez everybody knows me. They say ‘Supermán Sosa’ and they know who he is.”
Although it’s been two decades since the delantero suited up for the beloved Cobras de Ciudad Juárez, Sosa said his relationship with Juárez during his early 1990’s career has continued and garnered support for his new team now in El Paso.
“They relate him to that special team and maybe to that time where Juárez was really nice, peaceful and everything,” said Teresa Sosa, César’s wife. “A lot of the Hispanic people that are coming here to El Paso will know him from there.”
From Monday to Thursday, César delivers his meticulous instructions to throngs of young soccer players dressed in red Cobras uniforms at one of the fields of the Galatzan Recreational Center in the west side of the city. The team is part of the Cobras Soccer Academy in El Paso, which he founded in 2002 to provide soccer training for children and young people in the area.
The Cobras team is now the largest in the El Paso Classic Soccer League.
César’s staff gives instructions in Spanish. The majority of his understudies and most of the parents on the sidelines, understand every order, and the few players that don’t, pick it up quickly, said Cobras coach Jorge Rojas, who left coaching in Juárez a year and a half ago.
“Everybody speaks one language, soccer, just soccer here,” Rojas said.
Spanish is predominantly spoken at the park Monday through Thursday evenings, where families trickle into the recreational center’s parking lot, often collecting and mingling with other parents, while their children practice for the better half of a two-hour soccer training session.
“Some of the coaches aren’t bilingual at all,” said Jorge Matamoros, whose sons started playing with the Cobras after moving from Juárez in 2004.
Teresa Sosa sits up near the field, where she answers questions for parents and registers new members. She is busy alleviating the line for the duration of practice.
“We don’t really see parents just dropping off their kids and coming back,” Teresa Sosa said.
As the team grows the community does as well. César said he thinks his team has always had the biggest concentration of Latinos in the league. The other teams have more of a balanced mix, he said.
“They had just American kids, while we have more variety and more Latinos,” Rojas said.
César said he has students from México, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil and other places. He teaches Hispanic American and Anglo students as well, but they are the minority.
“You do see a lot of people with Hispanic heritage here,” said Cesar Maese, whose son joined the Cobras this year. He said his children get a taste of both worlds.
Although the team has been consistently composed of Latinos, César Sosa said he has recognized a definite spike in Juarenses joining the team in the last two years.
“There is a difference. A lot of people from México have been coming to our school since the problems in Juárez started,” he said. “In the beginning there were not many, but now, there are many children coming from Juárez.”
Teresa, his wife, said the academy, which has about 240 students, increased in size during the 2006 World Cup run and steadily grew until 2009. They’ve grown at a faster pace in the last two years.
They are not sure if it’s due to the dangerous drug war in México, but they have seen the community surrounding the soccer academy embrace new arrivals.
“They’ve come to be like a community of all the people that are moving here,” Teresa said. “A lot of people that are moving here have somehow met and they are networking and bringing the people here.”
Soccer practices offer the chance for families to network with each other. Teresa said many of them use investor visas to enter the U.S. and they often ask other parents questions about their businesses and other arrangements at practice.
“It’s like a big family. It is real good networking. Everyone’s trying to help everyone else,” Teresa said.
Rojas said if a family needs a contractor, lawyer or other specialized professional help they could find help at the park.
The Sosa family founded the soccer academy nearly four years before the declared drug war in 2006. Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s strategies have escalated violence throughout México as authorities carry out operations to eliminate higher-level drug capos, causing the splintering of drug cartels and increasing violence.
In Juárez alone, nearly 7,000 people have been slain in drug-related violence in the last five years.
Lawlessness and corruption persist in the dangerous, northern border city, pinning citizens in violent realities. Rojas said conditions have worsened to the point where even going to the park to play fútbol is a risk.
“There is not this kind of parks in Juárez,” Rojas said.
Many Juarenses have relocated in El Paso, Texas, the safest city in the U.S., because of the violence.
American-style football has dominated U.S. markets but the passion for soccer is growing in some areas of the country.
“I think it’s catching up because of all the people migrating from Latin America,” Maese said.
In 2010, El Paso’s long-time soccer franchise, the Patriots, formed a partnership with Mexican First Division team Guadalajara and officially renamed the team Chivas El Paso Patriots. Guadalajara’s professional sister team, Chivas USA, has played major league soccer out of Los Angeles since 2004.
Recently, Club Atlas de Guadalajara has also planted roots in U.S. soil. Atlas Soccer Academy, which is directly affiliated to the Mexican professional team, has a similar organization and practices a few fields away from the Cobras.
César said people may gravitate to the Cobras because of the credentials, experience and coaching style. He said his staff focuses on fundamentals and techniques.
“I found that the coaches here are more professional,” said Esteban García, whose sons play with the Cobras after moving from Juárez to El Paso a year ago.
César said they have competitive teams that participate in tournaments around the southwest. The teams also play with counterparts from Juárez and Chihuahua.
“Mexican people are really into soccer, so when they come here, they’re coming from high level coaching in Mexico, so when they come here they want something like that,” Teresa said.
Out of his professional 18-year career, César played for the Cobras de Cd. Juárez from 1990 to 1992. He recorded the most goals and minutes played in team history.
César was also a national player for his country, Paraguay. He is one of three coaches in the area who played professionally. He also has a license from FIFA.
Teresa said her husband’s popularity and the old team’s name might attract attention. Rojas also said some Juarenses have asked where he is coaching now and they have followed him.
Abraham Díaz, who has coached with the academy for five years, said the team’s recent growth is because the community in El Paso is growing.
“There was an increase and maybe its because of the violence, but we’re also a community,” Díaz said. “The parents here know each other from another place, their kids go to school together.”
Díaz said when a family moves over they receive help from other people who have made the move before. They form the new community.
“In our case, we have recommended it to some people from Juárez coming over,” Matamoros said. “It’s like being in Juárez.”
García said he picked the team because of the coaching his children would receive. His sons, who speak little English, are comfortable on the team.
“It’s a little bit easier for them to adapt in an environment that’s Spanish speaking,” García said. “They’re just learning. They’re adapting.”
His sons played soccer in Juárez up until the last week they were there and without a question they would play in El Paso, García said. “It gives them a sense of security,” he said.
Teresa said the soccer academy’s nature and instruction might help the children adapt to their new environments.
“We have these kids that are being pulled out of their environment for whatever reason; it’s good that they come here and that they find that familiarity,” Teresa said.