If you ever attend a CD Aguiluchos USA home match, you would be forgiven for thinking that you’re in a different country. After all, the atmosphere is part of the appeal for Aguiluchos, a team that was founded by Salvadoran immigrants with the goal of representing El Salvador’s rich culture.
“The idea began in 2006 with a group of friends and family. We wanted to put together something that would represent us here in the U.S., so we began playing on Sunday leagues, local leagues, etc.,” says Aguiluchos’ Chairman Roger Amaya.
By 2012, Amaya and his friends were ready to take the team to the next level.
“We felt as though the NPSL would be the best fit for us, so in 2012 we submitted an application and they accepted us. It was a big step because the idea was – and continues to be – to create something that represents Salvadorans here in the U.S.,” he says. “I liked NPSL’s plan because I could see that they’re trying to help the teams grow.”
CD Aguiluchos takes its name from first division Salvadoran team CD Águila, one of El Salvador’s most successful clubs whose achievements include winning the national league 15 times and being one of only three Salvadoran teams to win the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup.
“I am an aguilucho [CD Aguila supporter] since birth, so we decided to name the team in honor of CD Aguila and in honor of all those legends that have played for both CD Águila and El Salvador,” says Amaya.
Accordingly, Aguiluchos’ orange home kit pays homage to CD Águila’s colors, while its blue away kit pays homage to El Salvador’s national team. However, for all of the emphasis on paying homage to El Salvador and maintaining Salvadoran culture alive, Amaya tells us that Aguiluchos does not limit its roster to Salvadoran players and welcomes players with open arms regardless of where they are from.
“We don’t want to be selfish and only give chances to Salvadorans; we want to give opportunities to everyone – to anyone who likes to play soccer. We’re willing to give them Salvadoran nationality in a manner of speaking [laughs].”
Crossing Cultural Barriers and National Borders
Amaya tells us that by having players from other ethnicities in the team, it allows for Salvadoran culture to reach people who would otherwise have no exposure to it. Interestingly enough, it is not just soccer that has captured the interest of players.
“Many players were not familiar with pupusas, but now that’s the first thing that they eat when we go to training camps or when we travel to away matches,” says Amaya.
“Our MVP, the leading-scorer, is from England, and he had never spent time with Salvadorans. At first he thought it was crazy that at our matches they always had pupusas, music in Spanish, cumbia… but he’s gotten used to it and grown to like it. He even told me he’s thinking about marrying a Salvadoran woman!”
Stories like this show the cultural success the club has had, but Aguiluchos have also found success on the field. In 2014, the club qualified to the First Round of the U.S. Open Cup. Last year, Aguiluchos reached the semifinals in the Golden Gate Conference playoffs.
Part of this can be attributed to the fact that the club has managed to attract Salvadoran players of the caliber of Rudy Corrales and Luis Castro, who have won eight national titles between the two of them. In addition to these two legends of Salvadoran soccer, Aguiluchos have had plenty of players from other first division teams.
“Players from CD Águila, CD FAS, UES, and Firpo have come and left their mark on Aguiluchos, and we’re always ready to have players who have made history in our soccer,” says Amaya. “We want to bring people who have experience so they can help out the guys, the young players,” he adds.
If you’re wondering why so many first division players have had stints at Aguiluchos, Amaya attributes it to the professionalism with which he and the rest of his staff run the team.
”They’ve [the first division players] seen the seriousness with which we have been working. We take everything we do seriously and just like how people hear about when you do something bad, if you do something good people also hear about it.”
Having professional players from El Salvador’s first division is obviously beneficial to Aguiluchos, but it’s also beneficial to the visiting players, who are exposed to a different style of soccer. At the end of the day, everyone wins.
“There are players who have never been out of the country [El Salvador] and they benefit from being able to play at a different level,” says Amaya. “Soccer here can be a good experience for someone who’s never been out of the country.”
The Salvadoran Effect
The Hispanic community has played a large role in the growth of soccer in the U.S., both on and off the field. According to Amaya, Latinos give the sport a “special touch” that would otherwise be missing from American soccer.
Additionally, he believes that Salvadoran fans’ passion for soccer is good for the sport in America, and is thankful to NPSL for accepting Aguiluchos into the league and letting them share their culture with the rest of the league.
“[Other] teams accepted us and that was a great start because I felt like we were welcomed regardless of where we came from. They knew that we came from a culture that behaves differently,” says Amaya. “We came to bring the party to the bleachers and I am thankful that the league accepted us.”
With an eye towards the upcoming season, Amaya says that based on last year’s results Aguiluchos are “obligated” to do as well or better this year. Beyond 2016, Amaya and his staff have big plans for the team, which they see sticking around for a long time.
“I want Aguiluchos to be a Salvadoran brand that never goes away, whether it’s someone else or someone else’s son that keeps this idea going,” he says. “This is a dream that began in 2012 and it doesn’t matter who continues it, what matters is that it’s always there to represent Salvadorans here in the U.S.”