Bronx Kids Score Big with Former Soccer Pro

BY VICTOR LI

Franco Mena is upset. His team of young soccer players is about to face off against the Mexican team a few blocks away, but as Mena is laying out strategy to his huddle, he sees one of his players paying more attention to his cleats than his coach. Another is looking over at the interloper who has been assigned to write about the team.

“What did I say?” Mena’s voice rises to a shout as he tries to get his players to focus. The kids mumble back the few words they remember—something about playing defense—and look to the ground, chastened at being called out.

Franco Mena coaching his team

Franco Mena coaching his team

“Coach is strict,” said Sergio Colon Jr., a 13-year-old Honduran-American defender whose high school does not have organized soccer. “He’s serious. But I like coming here since I love to play.”

For the last two years, Mena has been coming to Crotona Park in the Bronx every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., weather permitting, giving free soccer lessons to children. The team is mostly Honduran, but there are also Ecuadorians, Jamaicans and Africans. “During the summer, we get like 30 to 40 kids out here,” said Mena, a licensed referee who says he was offered a pro contract years back in Honduras. “Now that school starts, we don’t get as many.”

He only has eight kids today, but he makes do, watching them take part in a four-on-four drill while avoiding a group of kids playing baseball nearby. The boys are all between the ages of 8 and 13, and they know Mena’s rules well. If the ball goes beyond the long line of cones, it’s out of bounds. If it goes between the two cones at the ends of the field, then it’s a goal. If it goes into the street, then play stops until Mena can safely retrieve it from oncoming traffic.

“I do this for the community,” Mena said. “I get cones, I get balls, I bring water, I bring soda. Nobody help me. I do this because I love soccer and I love to teach. It’s all out of my pocket.”

Photo – Victor Li

One Response to “Bronx Kids Score Big with Former Soccer Pro”

  1. [...] Bronx Kids Score Big with Former Soccer Pro Originally published at: The New York Globe. [...]

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