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Soccer league unites Latino families, tradition

Posted at 2:47 PM, May 17, 2016

For twelve weeks during the summer, hundreds of Omaha Latinos put on their cleats and compete in one of the state's most competitive and largest soccer leagues. 

This league was the first Latino league in Omaha, probably in the state of Nebraska.

In 1995, Rafael Franco started South Omaha interligas after seeing a need for a positive place for Latino men. 

“There used to be a lot of players that finished high school and they were good players - but they had no place to play” Franco said.

Franco wanted to keep them far away from the street's temptations. 

“We are keeping them away from drugs. Keep them away from alcohol. From gang members,” said Interligas Co-Director Sergio Martinez said.

The league started out small with only six teams and a few dozen players. Franco handwrote the schedules and league stats into a notebook. 

But with the increase of Latinos in Omaha within the last twenty years, the league expanded and merged with another Latino league to form the Omaha Latino Soccer Interligas. 

The league grew to 50 teams, nearly one thousand players. 

“The players, I've known since they were six years old. And now they're twenty years old. And they still playing soccer,” Franco said.

Sundays are game days.

“That's the only day they have off. Most of the community work Monday through Saturday. Either in the packing house that we have in South Omaha or in construction," Martinez said.

The game days are usually a family affair. 

“They bring their sisters, brothers, the cousins, the grandpa, grandma, and this is a whole community event for the family to get together,” Martinez added.

For Samantha and Froilan Cuevas's family, Sunday’s schedule is already booked. 

“Nothing comes in on Sundays. Only soccer,” Cuevas said.

Soccer player Samantha Cuevas said that the day consist of the following.

The men’s team has a game in the morning. Then they have a co-ed game in the evenings together, and then women’s game at night. 

“It gives us that family time since during the week, everyone is busy and they have things going on,” she said.  

It's turned into soccer Sunday pastime for Latino families.

“I don't think Sundays doesn't exist if we don't have soccer game with the family,” Martinez said.

It’s also a popular spot for food vendors. Tacos, tortas. paletas and carnitas. 

“It really brings out the Hispanic culture, everyone - it's almost - you have to get a torta after a soccer game. You can't come to soccer and not have tortas or tacos,”  Cuevas said.

For these guys, soccer is not just on Sundays.

It's a lifestyle.