Can My 9-Month Old American Daughter Love Everton?

Originally published for Toffeeweb

Alba in her Everton sweater
Alba proudly representing her colors during a stroll at a local park

It wasn’t quite déjà vu or nostalgia, but as we sat there watching as Everton Ladies defeated Liverpool 1–0 in the Merseyside Derby this past November—Alba in her high chair beside the TV tossing Cheerios casually to the floor for the dog, me nearby working from the couch on my laptop—I remembered a similar afternoon more than a decade ago. 

I was in New Jersey at the kitchen table in my parent’s second-floor apartment watching as Everton lost 3–0 to Sporting Lisbon to tumble out of the 2009–10 Europa League. Like a boy newly in love, I was in my first full season as an Everton supporter. The optimism of youth had not yet been trampled by the cruelty of the world. Naively, I wished that God might indulge the virtuosity of my decision to support the Toffees with a championship trophy I could shove in the faces of my friends who had raised disbelieving eyebrows when I swore allegiance to a Premier League side not named Manchester United, Chelsea, or Arsenal.

I am an American-born son of Argentinian immigrants, and the first club to make a claim on my heart was neither English nor American. It was Rosario Central, a mid-table side founded in 1889 by Scottish railway workers, which last won the Argentine first division in 1987—the same year of Everton’s last league championship. My main purpose in watching European soccer leagues was to track Argentinians abroad. But by the late 2000s, when broadcasts of the Premier League and Champions League had expanded to Fox Sports and ESPN, more and more of my friends were claiming a club. They hung their crests on their dorm room walls. “How can you not have an EPL team?” they asked me. “Just pick one.” 

Alba and dad
Before Everton’s season opener against Tottenham Hotspur

 I was raised to be a localista—a supporter of your city or neighborhood team. It felt unnatural, in the way much of American sports fandom outside of college football feels unnatural. How could I support a team I wouldn’t likely see in person for years or even decades? Before I chose, I spent hours online researching, and even more in bed at night wondering which was the best fit, like the sweater you try on once and instinctively know it’ll be the first you turn to the next winter when the temperature drops. A plumber’s son from a gritty working-class city couldn’t support a soulless foreign-owned billionaire club, like the ones my college friends had chosen. I needed one that meant something to its people beyond championships—although I was an Atlantic Ocean away from experiencing any of it myself.

Eventually, Everton burrowed its way to my heart, where the club’s ownership stake only increased this past February with the arrival of my daughter. 

But, will she love the Blues as I do? 

Even before Alba was born, I purchased her more official club gear than I had for myself in a decade. I prayed that she would share my obsession. Her second day on earth, I held her in a hospital room in Knoxville, Tennessee—4,000 miles in a straight line from Liverpool—as we watched Everton’s men collapse to Arsenal. At home a week later, Everton drew 1–1 to Man United. After the match, I posted a picture of her in her blue Everton onesie to Instagram, denouncing the injustice: “What a way to start a Blues fan’s career.”

Everton Ladies—they would be the remedy. 

Though she cannot yet know it, Alba—whose grandfather had played in the youth sides of Newell’s Old Boys, the boyhood club of Lionel Messi and a brief late-career detour of Diego Maradona—is in line to inherit a tradition of infatuation that has afflicted those with Argentinian blood since football was first shipped overseas by the British in the mid-1800s. 

I did not grow up watching women’s soccer, or even watching women play soccer, besides the historic 1999 World Cup victory every American soccer fan can recall with only the mention of an image (Siri, search for “Brandi Chastain sports bra”). Since that victory, two professional women’s leagues have failed; a third, the National Women’s Soccer League, looks more promising, though it consists of 10 teams spread across a nation of 330 million—the closest of which is located in a different state a three-and-a-half hour drive from my city. While I spent five nights a week in college playing in a park behind my parent’s house with other immigrant kids from Mexico, Colombia, Poland, Egypt, Kenya, I cannot recall a single time a woman joined us. 

That changed when I arrived in Knoxville—a more traditionally American and less immigrant-dense city in the American South—where I joined mostly co-ed indoor leagues with women who had played college soccer and didn’t hesitate to slide through you from behind then call you a sissy if you complained. Five years ago, I met my wife on one of these fields. In a league game last year, while pregnant, she turned to a Mexican goalkeeper she swore had called her a puta (Spanish for bitch) throughout the first half. After scoring, she asked him “Who’s the puta now?”

Everton supporters at a bar
A Merseyside Derby spent with visiting Liverpudlians at Mr. Dennehy’s, an Everton supporter’s bar in New York City

I dream of Alba being a woman like this. 

When I learned we were having a girl, I searched online for information on Everton’s women’s team. I familiarized myself with their names and personalities. I had seen Izzy Christiansen against the US women in Nashville in March 2019 when the nations drew 2–2 in the SheBelieves Cup. I was grateful when Valérie Gauvin failed to score for France as the US eliminated the hosts en route to winning last year’s World Cup—which drew a record 1.12 billion viewers worldwide. Soon Alba was sitting beside me on the couch in her Everton jersey with a slobbery soccer ball moving from her hand to her mouth as we streamed Everton Ladies through the FA Player app (a godsend, particularly for the non-English who are trying to follow their teams abroad without navigating a labyrinth of illegal online streaming sites). I purchased my first-ever television—a 55-inch smart TV that towers above the previous 32-incher my parents had donated to me years earlier—and watched on NBC Sports as we lost the Women’s FA Cup Final to Manchester City. “You’ve gotta get used to this feeling,” I told Alba as she mumbled incoherently beside me, spit soaking her jersey like tears. “But we’re Evertonians. We’ll get them next time.”

My father-in-law has said he’s met no other person as single-minded in their dedication to the future they imagine for their child. I take it as a compliment, though beside it in my mind is the constant trickle of comments from others who hear, for example, how this daughter of mine may one day need to move to England if the Women’s Super League, as I predict, truly does overtake whatever professional American women’s league exists at the time, and ask: “What if she doesn’t even like soccer?” “Are you prepared for her to crush your dreams?”

Alba in her Everton oneside
Alba watching Everton vs. Man United in her second week of life.

No, I am not. Even at my most pessimistic, I cannot envision a future where this love for football, for Everton, does not ingrain itself somehow into Alba’s growing brain, eventually making its way to her heart. Once it’s there, how can she turn away? “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell…” wrote the Apostle Paul in the Book of Acts two thousand years ago. Football fans know this biblical truth well. Ours is a faith that can never be stripped from us, no matter the despair or the heartbreak.

Maybe football isn’t life, as the character Danny Rojas repeats over and over on Ted Lasso (the AppleTV+ show that arose out of a joke about what would happen if an American football coach were to coach a Premier League team). But isn’t there something about football that is inseparable from life? Being an Everton supporter has taught me that longing for greener pastures might only lead to lament once I’ve arrived. It has taught me to be bold in enjoying the joys of life, for they may be fleeting. It has taught me that long-distance relationships can work, and that hope persists beyond crushing failure. 

I am glad for the way England has invested in women’s soccer. To have something else to hope in. I am excited every week to share videos in the “Everton That” GroupMe I share with six or seven other Knoxville-based Blues, of Alba watching beside me as Lucy Graham scores another goal (“She’s Scottish,” I tell Alba. “You’re named for Scotland.”). Already there are a few extra dollars in my savings account for the trip we’ll make to the United Kingdom in a post-COVID-19 world, enough to stop at both Goodison Park and Walton Hall Park for a weekend of games.

This past week, an American soccer player made history as the first woman to play in the upper echelons of college football. My wife, with Alba on her lap, and I, beside them on the couch, joined millions of American boys and girls, women and men, tuning in to watch Sarah Fuller make a kick. Representation matters. “I saw it, therefore I know it is now possible.” 

Maybe Alba will not be the next Alex Morgan—though I fully expect her to compete with Morgan’s daughter, Charlie, who is just two months younger than her, for our nation’s No. 10 jersey. Maybe she will not care as deeply as I do about whether Everton wins or loses. It’ll probably be healthier for her if she doesn’t. But I tell her every day, whether she hears me or not, that nothing will ever prevent her from becoming everything she desires. There is no dream too big. If that dream happens to coincide with being an Evertonian, an Everton Ladies player, all the better for us. I’ve already started saving for the trip to Liverpool.

Inheriting a Love for the Outdoors

Inheriting a Love for the Outdoors

Originally published for Latino Outdoors

I was 7 years old the first time I watched my dad clean a catfish. We were in the kitchen of the old ranch house in the Pocono Mountains where we’d go every summer to escape the city. He cut off its head. Even separated from its body, the fish’s lips smacked together like it was still breathing. I was terrified. And strangely fascinated. The same feeling I had had a few years earlier at my grandparent’s house on the dirt road side of Capitan Bermudez in Argentina, where my grandfather slaughtered a chicken and let it run headless through the yard.

For men like them, when it came to blood and guts, there was never any blushing or hesitation. As for me, I could not have turned out more different.

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Feature Writing Award for “Into the Light”

Feature Writing Award for “Into the Light”

In August, I won the Tennessee College Public Relations Association’s silver award in feature writing for my profile of Maddy Banic, a mental health advocate and former University of Tennessee Lady Vols swimmer who earned a national title in her last NCAA championships.

The story was first published as the cover story for Accolades Magazine, an annual print publication of the University of Tennessee’s College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences. It was reprinted in the spring/summer edition of Torchbearer, the university’s official alumni magazine.

Here’s an excerpt from the story. You may read more at the hyperlinks above:

Banic had fought too hard for it to end like this. The depression diagnosis her freshman year; the panic attack at the 2017 NCAA finals that saw her scratched from two events and hospitalized; the near suicide attempt months later in her apartment; the three-month NCAA-enforced separation from a team that wasn’t sure it wanted her back anyway. This was Banic’s final national championship as a collegiate swimmer, her last chance to leave with a medal—not for herself but for the teammates who took her back and voted her their captain in the fall of 2018, entrusting her to lead them.

With an evening final in the team 200-yard medley relay remaining, [head coach Matt] Kredich issued Banic a challenge: collect yourself and lead your teammates, he told her.

“She looked at me and took a deep breath,” Kredich remembers. “And she said, ‘OK, I can do that.’”

Hours later, Banic, Meghan Small, Nikol Popov, and Erika Brown won gold. It was Tennessee’s fourth NCAA relay title and Banic’s first national title. It was a moment. But even as Banic stood beside her teammates on the podium wearing a coonskin cap and a wide-eyed grin—joy erupting from the parts of her that had hurt for so long—she knew it was not the finish.

“This sport is something you do—it’s not who you are,” Banic says. “You can step aside and then come back. You don’t have to give up. You don’t have to hide that you’re struggling. You can seek help.”

Discovering Peace on the River

Discovering Peace on the River

Originally published for Tenkara Angler

My dad told the story again in late June in Jonathan’s workshop, with saltwater, spin, and fly rods hanging on hooks above his head and Jonathan, my fly fishing sensei, sitting with a fat cigar in mouth on a stool beside his tying table, listening.

“I would set Brian up, then I would tell him: don’t reel it in until you feel a bite,” Dad recounted. In this story, he turns to my brother, Victor, and sets his bobber and hooks on a small minnow we had caught in a stream feeding the small lake in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains. Before Victor can cast I’m already reeling in my line. “Did you feel a bite?” Yeah, yeah, I say. On the other end the dying minnow, whole, flaps in the water.

Continue reading “Discovering Peace on the River”

Fly Fishing Trip

Fly Fishing Trip

A short story dedicated to a friend, Jonathan

The fly was an olive green color, and in the grey cloudlight you could see a golden shimmer from the tinsel-like thread that wrapped around its fat inch-long body as it danced feet above the clear blue waters of the Watauga River. 

The fisherman stood waist deep in the ripples whipping the fly above him four, five, six times. With every forward motion he shot out a little more of the heavy orange line with his left hand. His right forearm moved in sync with his torso. He brought the line behind his body one final time, and when it laid out flat he cast it forward and released. The line shot through the guides of his rod and fell nearly 30 yards upstream, just above a deep pool.

After the fly, a woolly bugger, settled to the bottom, the man stripped in line a few inches at a time until it was close enough that he could pick it up and go directly into a back cast. The dance continued every time he brought in the line.

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My Hero, Batistuta

Batistuta

I was in eighth grade at PS 14. In Mrs. Squittieri’s history class we had been reading excerpts from The Odyssey and talking about heroes. I remember where I sat and the cover of the book of Greek mythologies we read from, which would become one of my childhood favorites. One day, in the way of all great teachers, she had connected the heroes of literature to the real-life heroes in our 13-year-old lives. I knew exactly who she was talking about.

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The American Offensive

Franc-Earle Schoonover’s Belleau Wood. Art Collection of the National Museum of the Marine Corps

I wrote a draft of this short story as a final project for an English elective my senior year of college in 2010. I had loved reading Ernest Hemingway’s In Our Time, a collection of short stories where he first introduces his iconic character, Nick Adams. I hoped to imitate Hemingway’s minimalist writing style, while also filling a gap I thought existed in the stories (I hadn’t yet read “Now I Lay Me,” a story from Hemingway’s Men Without Women collection, and wanted to make my own attempt at explaining why Adams returns from war so distraught and detached).

In Our Time is heavy. The stories are full of grief. They are told in an emotionless way (Hemingway was famous for his iceberg theory, where he kept the deeper meaning of a story under the surface). Thanks to two good friends and editors, I’ve made several improvements to the prelude and story, which I’ve titled “The American Offensive.” I hope you enjoy it.

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Elephant

Elephant

This short story is inspired by the song “Elephant” by Jason Isbell. 

Emily’s long porcelain legs shivered in the drafty cold of the sleepy Tennessee bar room. Above her, two dusty speakers rang out Clay Pigeons. She sat stoically in a short dark blue dress that clung tightly to her body. One of her hands tickled the chicken skin forming along her thigh.

“Take my sweater, Em,” Andy said to her. 

“It’s Emily, Andy,” she replied with a smile. 

Andy shook his head. For six months, they’d met at the same bar every Thursday night to watch singers with beards and sweat-stained hats play songs for middle-aged couples and a few yuppies, like Andy, who lived in the neighborhood and were bored with other bars where college kids hung out. 

The first Thursday, Andy noticed Emily, blonde and skinny, sitting by herself. She had big blue eyes and her arms were pale and muscled. He approached and stood beside her to order a beer. She did not turn to face him, even when he spoke to her.

“I didn’t know anyone else under the age of 30 came here,” he said. 

“I don’t come for conversation,” Emily replied, her eyes never moving from the bar top.

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Her Limbs The Sea

Her Limbs The Sea

A poem I wrote for my wife in 2017 when we were newly dating and I was on a trip to Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic

She was the breeze
on a Dominican beach,
palm trees swaying softly,
cool air kissing my red-pink cheeks.

Her voice a melody
of dark blue waves crashing on the shoreline,
toes deep in sand
like her hands moving up
my back to my shoulders,
wrapping me in a sea of
long, muscly limbs.

She was a bright light hanging from a palm tree,
above a hammock where we’d hold each other,
flickering,
as she does,
more than a thousand miles away,
yet, somehow, always here beside me.