Mormons in Soccer

For some time I’ve been trying to build a list of Mormons playing soccer throughout the world, and over time I think I’ve come up with a start of one. So far I’ve found about a dozen Mormons who have ever played professional soccer somewhere in the world. Amazingly enough, three of these have played at the World Cup level. But only 2 of these are playing now, and one of these two is playing in the U.S.  In addition one Mormon is coaching at the professional level and another at the NCAA Division I level (outside of the BYU teams).

The numbers are so small in comparison to other sports (including Rugby, which isn’t very popular in the U.S.) that I have to believe that I’m missing many more players.

First let’s look at the best—those who have played at the World Cup level or on national teams in International competition. The best-known Mormon to have played on a national team is Aleisha Cramer Rose, who played with the U.S. Women’s team in the 1998 Women’s World Cup. She stopped playing competitively when she married.

Another world-class player is Freddy Rincón, who played on the Colombia national team from 1990 to 2001, several years before he joined the Church. As I understand it, Rincón was baptized in 2005 while he was in São Paulo, Brazil after playing for Corinthians. Since he retired from playing, Rincón has coached several Brazilian second and third level and youth teams.

Perhaps the best or most successful Mormon soccer player is the Brazilian Milton Queirós da Paixão, known to Brazilian soccer fans as Tita. (pronounced Cheeta). Tita played for the Brazilian national team from 1979 to 1990 after making a name for himself on perhaps the greatest Brazilian soccer team of all time, Flamengo (of Rio de Janeiro) of 1978-1983. That team went 52 games in succession without a loss (43-9-0) in 1978-1979 and twice won the Brazilian championship. He was also with the national team when Brazil won the Americas cup in 1989. Since 2000 he has been a coach at a series of teams, including the El Paso Patriots, the Chivas affiliate in the USL Premiere Development League. He currently coaches the Necaxa club in Aguascalientes, Mexico (2nd level).

.  .  .  .  .

Tita is, of course, the Mormon currently coaching a professional team. But the other Mormon coach, who works on the collegiate level, is also very impressive—and impressive as a coach. Anson Dorrance, head coach of the UNC Tarheels women’s soccer team, has been nothing short of dominant in collegiate women’s soccer. In fact, Dorrance could claim to have co-founded collegiate women’s soccer, since he was one of those who asked the NCAA women’s program predecessor Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women to start a national women’s soccer program in the U.S. Since then, Dorrance’s teams have won 20 of the 28 national women’s soccer championships and Dorrance himself has been named national coach of the year eight times. From 1986 to 1994 Dorrance also coached the U.S. women’s national soccer team, leading it to its win of the first ever Women’s Word Cup in 1991.

.  .  .  .  .

So, who are the current active players?—at least those that I know about?

Only one, Guillermo Franco, plays outside the United States. Franco is an Argentine, and, after joining the LDS Church in 2002 as a youth, rose to play for the division 1 Godoy Cruz team, before taking a two-year hiatus to serve an LDS mission. When he returned in 2007, he played for Godoy Cruz for two years before he was loaned to a series of 2nd league teams, this past season Gimnasia y Esgrima de Jujuy.

The other player is Jacob Hustedt, who was drafted earlier this year by the San Jose Earthquakes of the MLS. While Hustedt, a Midfielder, is on the team, he hasn’t yet played in a game — but I recently learned that Jacob has been told that he will play in one of the upcoming games. Keep an eye out.


44 comments for “Mormons in Soccer

  1. Also not confirmed but from comments in 2009:

    2 relatively famous Mormon soccer players in England are of Chinese descent but excellent players .. Wi Wun Won plays for Leicester City and is a real crowd pleaser .. his fellow countryman Ow Lng Sin plays at Preston and is a regular visitor to our Preston Temple. I am sure there are others but I dn’t know them. I only know this because of my church attendance with Ow Lng.

  2. rah, I only included those in the categories I mentioned: active current players, active coaches and former national team members. There are others on my list, including Bennett and Lohran (Tita’s son).

    But, I didn’t know about Wi Wun Won or Ow Lng Sin

    Thanks for the great information.

  3. You can find rosters for Preston here and for Leicester City here. I see no evidence of anybody named Wi Wun Won in the former or of Ow Lng Sin in the latter. Google searches are equally futile.

  4. Whoops. I got the teams mixed up in the comment, but my conclusion stands.

  5. There was a Mormon on the ’86 Argentine national team who got a bit of media attention at the time. I recall a newspaper article at the time where he was asked if he tithed, and he said he didn’t and that maybe that was why his recent wedding was not in the temple.

  6. Elano is a member of the Church, but I think he is less active- at least he was when he played for Manchester City

  7. James — how do you know?

    I’ve wasted a lot of time trying to verify that rumor about Elano, and have never been able to verify it.

  8. Last Lemming, after looking around a bit, I think rah is making a joke about Liecester City and Preston:

    Wi Wun Won ==> “We Won One”
    Ow Lng Sin ==> “How Long Since”

    Apparently its a joke that has been used a bit before.

  9. Anyone know about Justin Braun? Born in Salt Lake, he has played for Chivas and Montreal in MLS and was just traded home to Real Salt Lake.

  10. Sorry- I served on Stake when he lived in Manchester- now I’m beginning to doubt myself. But from conversations with the Stake President at the time, he also thought he was. The Manchester City forums (my local team, and my children’s favourite team) were full of his membership when he wasn’t playing well.

  11. that is what i get for a quick search. :)

    I do agree that it is really odd that we haven’t produced more soccer players. Given the upper-middle class whiteness of the sport in the US (a very Mormon demographic) and all the members in South America you would think we would have more than this small amount. There are probably quite a few Mormon (active and completely inactive in the professional youth ranks in SA I would wager).

    I have 2 soccer crazed boys 11 and 9, one very competitive in the young club scene. Maybe it has to do with the fact that club soccer is almost always a Sunday thing (I don’t know about Utah but everywhere else it is) as far as the competitive games go. We are already facing that choice. Our boys can train during the week with the clubs but can’t play club games if we restrict them for Sabbath purposes. Saturday is reserved for the local travel teams (which they also play on and I coach). As soccer continues to move toward making professionals in their teens before college this should increasingly put the squeeze on Mormon (and other Sabbath observing families). I mean if my kid played a sport in college and it was determined he would have a shot professionally I think that is an easy decision to let them give it a try. With a 9 year old you have to be delusional to believe you can predict they even have a shot at getting into an academy team at 16, so it is hard to justify letting them play every Sunday (and its clear that the official line of the church is while we aren’t going to say anything bad about the Jimmers, Steve Youngs etc. their stories are definitely not going to be told in our manuals. Only people who turn down professional sports careers for Sabbath observance or put their careers at risk through missions are worthy of the manual and Ensign, maybe rightly so.) Yet if you aren’t on that circuit by the time you are 14 or so there is almost no chance you will ever be noticed. At very least you have to make a choice by 16 at the latest whether you are going to try them out for professional academies and that is very late. All in all this a system that would tend to disadvantage Mormon youth more than other sports which have more alternative paths available. Just a theory.

  12. Claudio Borghi, current coach of the Chilean national team and former national team player for Argentina, briefly, in the ’80’s is still -technically- a Mormon. But since he married a catholic girl in 90 odd has kind off dropped out of the church and now smokes too.

    However he was raised and was an active member in Buenos Aires until becoming a professional player for Argentinos Jnrs and Boca Jnrs in the ’80s when he started going inactive. He was still active when he played one or two matches in the ’86 world cup and was featured in Deseret News. At one point he was considered another Maradona but didn’t reach that level.

    There was another member too in the early ’90s who was the goal keeper for Colo Colo and a son of a mission president -and active- but I can’t remember his name now. I’ll look him up and let you know if I find him.

  13. By the way I met his family on my mission in Argentina. Turns out that his parents didn’t really want him to play because they feared he’d go inactive. His grandmother had taken him to the local side when he was about 10 because Claudio was ‘great’ at football.

  14. Pretty sure Justin Braun’s not LDS. RSL fans, who are decidedly ambivalent about JB joining the team, have been that way since an incident the first year JB was a professional playing for Chivas USA and his mom, who’d had a few too many, made the mistake of walking past the south end supporter’s section wearing a Chivas jersey (on the pitch, which is a big no-no), and then got into a shouting match with them.

  15. Charlie (19), Claudio must be the player that John Mansfield (7) is talking about. You’ve saved me a lot of work by figuring out who he is.

    The keeper for Colo Colo may be easier to find with the mission president connection.

    In (20), I assume you mean Claudio Borghi, right?

  16. Kent maybe you should build a list of Mormons who are / were professional athletes in general not just soccer. It would not be so limited and probably way fun

  17. Ricardo Ismael Rojas (AKA “Vaselina”)- Paraguayan defender(played for their national team in 98 World Cup) but later became nationalized Argentine. Played his glory days for River Plate: (video is of his amazing goal against arch-rival Boca to finalize championship)
    He also home taught my grandparents-in-law while he lived in Buenos Aires.
    Here is a link to an interesting article on him:
    It is a kind of “what happened to Ricardo Rojas?” piece and in it he mentions his membership in the church. For those of you who don’t read Spanish, Rojas currently lives in the backwood jungles of Misiones, Argentina where he is mostly off the grid practicing agriculture and bringing up his family in the faith.

  18. Correction: He is Argentinian but became a nationalized Paraguayan after playing club soccer in Paraguay. He did indeed play for the 98 WC Paraguayan team (this is most likely why he was nationalized).

  19. Alan gordon was in my ward growing up. His dad (same name) played MLB. Don’t know if Alan Jr is still LDS, though.

  20. Christine (23), what makes you think I’m not? I do it sport by sport.

    If you are looking for less beautiful or less balanced sports (like Basketball or Football), I have a lot of information, and I try to post on them in the Fall when their seasons begin.

  21. Mac (24 & 25), the Rojas I have on my list is Ricardo Francisco Roja Trujillo – Colo-colo — apparently the keeper that Charlie (19) is talking about?

    Are we mixing up people in this case like has happened with Guillermo Franco? (who is sometimes mixed up with the more famous Mexican player of the same name who plays for West Ham in the UK).

    ChrisW (26), I assume you mean MLS, not MLB, right? I see an Alan Gordon who plays for the Earthquakes. I’ll have to start making inquiries in Gilbert where he grew up.

  22. In Ecuador there was in the late eighties and early nineties (i think) a player by the name of Jimmy Montanero, known to fans as “El Mormón”. He was, of course, a member of the Church, who played for Guayaquil’s Barcelona and for Ecuador’s national team.

    Here’s a Youtube clip about him, where he is remembered as one of Barcelona’s greatest players:

  23. Someone please give Edson Arantes do Nascimento O Livro de mormon before its too late and we have to do his work vicariously.

  24. Thanks for doing this Kent. I tend not to follow or care about popular American sports (i.e. basketball, football, and baseball), but soccer I will watch.

  25. Gabriel (29), thank you. At the very least, Wikipedia agrees with your information. I appreciate your help.

    Lucy (30), Quem me dera (i.e., I wish). I’m quite sure its been tried before.

    Ben S. (31), While I have my own strong preferences in sport (Baseball, Soccer), I try to be very ‘equal opportunity’ about what I include. I’m open to suggestions.

    BTW, give Ken Burns’ documentary on Baseball a try (its on Netflix) — it might just change your mind about Baseball, which is, I think, much more intricate and interesting than other sports (try explaining Baseball to someone from another country who is unfamiliar with the game — its much more of a challenge than, say, Basketball. I know, I’ve had to do it multiple times. It usually takes a full game before foreigners really get it).

  26. Kent Larsen (28), yeah, the quakes. I was in his ward but went to a different high school. His dad claimed to have played MLB, maybe it was for a farm team. Sorry for the confusion.

  27. ChrisW (33), by chance do you know his father’s name? There are 111 known Gordons who have played in the minors, 9 of whom made it to the majors at some point. If his father did make the majors, I’d guess it is most likely either Don or Mike, each of whom played for a couple of years. [Unless, of course, the father has a different last name for some reason.]

  28. at Kent that info on mormons in athletics would be awesome, i am thinking cricket. I am a huge fan from living in Australia.i.e. try to explain the cricket to someone who did not grow up with it….

  29. Christine, Cricket would be great, but I so far haven’t come across any Mormon players. I agree with you that Cricket is quite difficult to explain — much more difficult than baseball.

    Nor have I come across anyone in Tennis (except my brother-in-law, who is a pro at a tennis club and who played competitively when he was younger). Its kind of odd given that there are so many Mormons in professional Golf.

  30. yes !!! how can we get some inroads into cricket and tennis.
    missionaries, please hang out in relevant clubs and convert!
    i personally came to mormonism via pickleball which is the poor seniors version of tennis. 2 of my fellow pickle ballers are mormons and they flat converted me by being (among other things) very good players. but we are no way near EVER good enough to make it to any championships so … nothing here for your list…

    sample pickleball game

  31. Kent, there is no mix-up here (not on my part, at least) :)
    If you follow the links in my first comment or even if you look Ricardo Ismael Rojas up on wikipedia: you can read about his club-playing history.
    As far a Guillermo Franco is concerned, I only know of the Argentine player who became a nationalized Mexican to play for the ‘Tricolor’ (Mexican national team). He is the Franco that played for West Ham.

  32. Kent, after listening to an interview with New York Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles, I wonder if he’s a member. He’s from AZ and recently returned from playing in Germany. He mentions wondering what “the Lord’s plan” was for him during a trying time. The interview can be found here:

  33. Matt, how far in the interview is this statement?

    I must admit that this is very little to go on. I haven’t found anything so far that would make me think he is Mormon v. simply Christian (and I think that “wondering what “the Lord’s plan” was for him during a trying time” could be true for many Christian — and perhaps even other — religions).

    I will certainly keep an eye out for further information.

  34. There are tenths, perhaps hundreds of Mormon soccer players in Brazil, most of them are not that famous, but on their cities or surroundings they are.
    For example, my father-in-law was a soccer player to Rio Branco, Parana among others.
    In 1990 he was considered the best goalkeeper in State Championship where Corinthians (Currently and twice World Champion) beat Sao Paulo (3-times World Champion).
    But there are lots of others, like Evandro Nunes that played for Ponte Preta and then Flamengo, he was hired to play after Zico retired, but he had a major injury and retire that year.
    By the way, I dont really think Elano is a Mormon. Iracemapolis, where he was born was part of my stake some 20 years ago and we have never had mormon missionaries there.
    Many church members love soccer here in Brazil, but most of them understand that playing soccer may drive then away from the gospel.
    In my previous ward there were 2 young men that were pertty good at soccer, one of them had an invitation to play for Sao Paulo and the other for Santos, both played some 2 or 3 months and decided to quit to go on a mission and live a life of service.

  35. Thanks for your information, Lucas. This is very helpful in compiling the lists I work on.

    I certainly see that sports sometimes leads members astray. But it doesn’t always do so. And I wonder if keeping track of those who are Mormon might help mitigate that, help them realize that being a church member isn’t necessarily detrimental to their career or goals.

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