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A Bridgeport Latino soccer club has been building a legacy of friendship and culture for decades

Flahuer Cotrina, Daniel Tello, Victor Mesta, Renzo Valentin, and Alcides Urbina
Maricarmen Cajahuaringa
Connecticut Public
Flahuer Cotrina, Daniel Tello, Victor Mesta, Renzo Valentin, and Alcides Urbina.

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For more than 20 years Latin American men have been gathering in Bridgeport playing pickup games of soccer.

But what began as “Pichanga,” a Peruvian slang word for a casual soccer match, has grown into a regular group. The “Bridgeport Friday Knights” is more than a soccer club, it’s a place to make new friendships and continue cultural traditions.

Jorge Belleza is originally from Lima, Peru. He's lived in Connecticut for 32 years, and became a member of the “Pichangas” team about 20 years ago.

He said the team used to play tournaments in the Connecticut league; but they have taken a break to recruit new members in the community.

"We used to participate in the Connecticut league. We played through many divisions. Previously we have participated in free age games, but always playing within the city," Belleza said.

Fútbol, as it is called in Latin America, is an integral part of Hispanic culture, and heritage. Guillermo Arias is from San Juan de Miraflores, Peru. He's lived in Connecticut for 22 years.

"Most of us are Peruvian, but Colombians, Ecuadorians, and Mexicans have joined our group,” Arias said. We are always open to receiving people of all nationalities.

We always want to be a brotherhood and to keep our group together so that when there is a need among Peruvians or members of other nationalities, we can always be supportive,” Arias said.

Due to a combination of immigration and societal changes, "Futbol” is becoming part of the culture in the United States, roughly 27% of identified sports fans have an interest in soccer.

John Ponziani, is the senior vice president of marketing and communications at Hartford Athletic. He said that soccer is growing in size and popularity as the state diversifies.

“Connecticut is a soccer state,” Ponziani said. “As soccer continues to grow in terms of popularity, we're seeing great turnout from adults and some of those target demographics with event goers. And there's so much support for soccer here.”

“We want new young men to follow us, so that they can keep playing this sport that we love,” Belleza said.

Maricarmen Cajahuaringa is a journalist with extensive experience in Latino communities' politics, social issues, and culture. She founded Boceto Media, a digital Spanish-language newspaper based in Connecticut. Maricarmen holds a Bachelor's in Social Work from Springfield College, and a Master's in Journalism and Media Production from Sacred Heart University. As a reporter for Connecticut Public, she is dedicated to delivering accurate and informative coverage of the Hispanic/Latino population in the region. Maricarmen is an experienced and passionate journalist who strives to bring a voice to the stories of her community.

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