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NFM hosts Latin soccer finalists

February 28, 2014
By CHUCK BALLARO ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

The North Fort Myers Community Park played host to an entirely different form of football than usual last Sunday. Actually, futbol is more like it.

The Southwest Florida Latin American Soccer League held its semifinal playoff games there with games played throughout the day. Teams played to qualify for three championship games, which were held this past weekend in Buckingham.

The league has been in existence since 1986 and plays throughout Southwest Florida, fielding 20 teams and more than 300 players from 10 different nations spread out over three divisions.

According to league president Enrique Lopez, the league started when other players who came here from other countries decided to start and expand it themselves.

"When we got enough Spanish groups, we just organized ourselves. To make it better, we contacted Lee County Parks and Recreation so we can get fields," Lopez said. "The league just gets better all the time."

The three divisions - A, B and East Fort Myers - converged at North Fort Myers to decide the best of the best teams that have been playing on Sundays (or occasionally Friday night) since early December, wearing colorful uniforms from some of the world's most famous squads.

The play is at a level far superior to that of area high schools, since some played professionally in other countries or in college here in the states or another country.

The league also has its share of players who starred in high school locally and either played in college, or didn't play at that level, but still enjoy playing.

With Cape Coral being one of the hotbeds of soccer in the state, it brings the league to another level.

Most of the players are of Latino origin, although Lopez said there are around 30 players who are not. The league takes players of all origins.

"Today, they may be too old to play semi-professionally, but when they come here, they show the young players how to play," Lopez said. "The younger players love to play and use our league to keep playing."

One team, called the Old Legends, is comprised of players 40 and over. Gary Duke said he put his team together so they could just play.

"It just so happened that in the middle of the tournament we started to win some games," Duke said. "Our goalkeeper came from Cuba and when he started playing for us, the team started to win."

The team came out of the eighth seed to beat the top seed, then another in the semifinal on penalty kicks to reach Sunday's final.

But for Duke and the rest of the team, being on the field is the most important thing.

"We are all very good players. We just can't stay away from soccer," Duke said. "Just being out there to kick the ball around, that's all that matters."



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