Chasing the Chilean dream in Michigan

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Ivo Cerda is a Chilean soccer player that plays for the Lansing Ignite. Until last December, he studied engineering in the University of Michigan, but his talent gave him a chance in the USL League One. He already achieved his life dream of becoming a professional soccer player, but now his goal is to play in the MLS. All of this, far away from both home and the idea of superstars’ soccer players that dominates South America.

This is the scene: they scored a goal and in the Cooley Law School Stadium, with half of its seven thousand seats empty, the crowd does not show a very Latin American commotion. There is some shy clapping and an occasional celebration yell. By far, the most frequent reaction were cold smiles interrupted by beer sips. The score was 3-1 to in favor of the Lansing Ignite.

The strongest cries didn’t come from the fans, but from the players. Especially from one of them, who was moving his arms frenetically, looking up to the gallery, trying to arouse and motivate them. There was Ivo Cerda, a 23 year-old Chilean and professional soccer player, who was part of the Lansing team on its official debut and victory on April 15, 2019.

For him, it was weird to play for the first time in that stadium, because it was made for baseball games.

“The shape of a baseball field doesn’t match with a soccer field, and even though the grass is fine, there are this clay parts that are covered by patches,” he said. “It’s very hard to get used to that.”

Ivo has a military styled hair cut, tanned skin, a tight black t-shirt, and stands 5-foot-10-inches tall. He buys a cup of coffee on a restaurant at Downtown East Lansing and nobody recognizes him. He said that if he were an American football player, people would probably be asking for pictures or autographs.

“Maybe they would even give me the coffee for free”, he jokes.

How popular is soccer in the US?

Cerda explains that American football players are superstars, the same as soccer players back in Chile.

“Or even more, because there is so many people following them,” he said. Michigan State University and the University of Michigan football stadiums have capacities for 80 and 110 thousand fans, and they are filled to maximum capacity every weekend during the season. On the other hand, just about three thousand people go to see Lansing Ignite when they play as locals.

Question: Is it true that Americans do not like soccer?

Lansing Ignite was founded this January and plays in USL League One, the third most important soccer league in the US. It is the only professional soccer team in Michigan and shares its stadium with the Lansing Lugnuts, which plays in the Minor League of Baseball, both belonging to the same owner, Tom Dickson.

Question: How has your experiencie so far been in Lansing Ignite?

Watch this video to see Cerda’s answer:


Ivo Cerda played in the young categories of Universidad Católica, third of the biggest soccer teams  in Chile. He debuted as a professional back in 2014, but he had few opportunities. Then, the option of a scholarship in the University of Michigan showed up and he became an engineering student and the captain of its soccer team between 2015 and 2018. At the end of last year, he suspended his studies even though he was missing just a semester to complete his degree.

“December is the month when the chances to become a professional player emerge. I had the opportunity and took it. That’s how I ended up in Lansing Ignite,” he said.

Life is all about trainings, games, trips, injuries. Trainings again, another injury, games that you want to but can’t play. Ivo Cerda said that becoming a professional soccer player has always been his dream.

“I’m doing this since I was 10-years-old, when I start playing in the UC (Católica). I’ve studied and had the chance to become a professional in other subject, but for me nothing beats soccer,” Cerda said.

Ivo Cerda’s dream is made up in Chilean measure and built with blood and passion in South America, where the soccer player is a hero. But he carried his dream to the US, where the same soccer player is just an athlete.

“Here, they’re focused on statistics and numbers, but they don’t fully comprehend the beauty of soccer,” he said.

However, Cerda also said that soccer has been developing a lot on the previous years and has been gaining popularity. Nowadays, his dream is to play on the Major League of Soccer (MLS), the most important soccer league in the US.

Question: How different is soccer in Chile and in the US?

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