Soccer time: the wee hours

AT PLAY

Late night's all right for players in Soccerdome's predominantly Hispanic Restaurant League

November 30, 2005|By JEFF SEIDEL | JEFF SEIDEL,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Angel Pulido works two jobs and attends Howard Community College. The Columbia resident worked Monday night at his job as a bartender at Chevy's restaurant at Arundel Mills mall and got off late.

So why in the world was he at Soccerdome at 11:55 p.m. Monday getting ready to play a game?

Pulido plays in one of Soccerdome's most popular programs, the Restaurant League, set up for men who work in restaurants and don't mind playing soccer at midnight. The Restaurant League meets four nights a week, usually with players who have come from work and can't wait to get on the field.

Many of the players in this league are Hispanic and come from places where soccer is like a religion. They will do anything to play the game they love, which is the reason people like Pulido don't mind showing up at midnight to play after a long day at work.

The 30-year-old Pulido, who emigrated from Mexico four years ago, plays one night a week, depending upon his schedule. He works hard to find playing time, which is how he found his way to the soccer game Monday.

"We love soccer," said Pulido, who plays for Solo Latinos (Only Latins). "I watch soccer every night, every day. I have stress all week, and this is my best time of the week."

Many of those who compete in the league have similar feelings. Paula Madde has run this program for almost three years at Soccerdome and understands why the players don't mind coming out at late hours. She came to the United States from Bolivia and played soccer there.

"This is the only time these guys have for fun," Madde said. "The guys come and play all year. They just want to play."

The late games keep Madde working until the wee hours. When games don't begin until 12:15 a.m., she might not get off work until nearly 2 a.m., as players and fans take a while to leave the building.

Henry Campiz is one of the league's youngest players. He works in the kitchen at a Red Robin restaurant and came to the United States from Cuba. The 19-year-old has been here for about two years and found out about the league after coming to Soccerdome to play in a different league.

The Columbia resident, who has been in the Restaurant League for two seasons, doesn't mind playing late at night.

"I have to work during the day," Campiz said. "This is when I have time. Everybody asks me the same thing. It's fine [with me]. I just want to play soccer. That's all I want to do."

But coming to Soccerdome when the Restaurant League is playing would make anyone forget what time of day it is.

The Soccerdome parking lot was packed when players began showing up after 11 p.m. for Monday's game. They kicked balls back and forth on the parking lot, retrieved equipment from their cars and enjoyed each other's company.

Games were played on side-by-side fields. Many fans sitting on small grandstands cheered as if a World Cup game were being played. But it was 30 minutes past midnight.

A large computer was available for anyone who wanted to check the league's standings on the Internet - several players did that - or for people interested in doing other things. One player used the computer to check his bank account.

The league has been established for about three years and is growing. It began with late games once or twice a week but now has expanded to the Monday-through-Thursday format.

The league took the unusual time slot out of necessity, but it caught on quickly. There was one division when the program started. Now 16 teams make up two divisions. This has become one of Soccerdome's most popular men's leagues.

"They're very serious about what they do," said April Walker, Soccerdome's manager. "I think they really enjoy having their own league."

Walker said the management hopes to run a similar league at Soccerdome II in Anne Arundel County. The goal is to open Friday. The scheduled opening was delayed by a few weeks.

A league startup at the Anne Arundel facility would give players like Pulido more options to play.

"I enjoy my playing. I enjoy my running," he said. "I love soccer."

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