Starting Monday, MLSsoccer.com launches its "Under African Skies" series, a daily look at what the first World Cup held on the African continent means to Major League Soccer's African players. We begin with New York Red Bulls 'keeper Bouna Coundoul, who is a native of Senegal.
MONTCLAIR, N.J. — Though he is from Senegal, Red Bulls goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul will beam with pride this June when South Africa hosts the continent’s first-ever World Cup. He terms it the biggest sporting event to come to Africa, and he said that Africans are set to introduce everyone to the beauty that their corner of the world holds.
“We are all proud," Coundoul said. "When Senegal went far in the 2002 World Cup, it wasn’t just people from our country who were proud. People from all over Africa were rooting for us, cheering for us.”
Coundoul understands the pride that comes with playing for the national team and remembers fondly his debut for Senegal in his homeland a few years ago. Growing up in the suburban city of Guédiawaye, Coundoul was the first player from his hometown to ever make the national team. Three bus loads of friends and family went to see the match, but he said hundreds—if not thousands—more from the city, from former teammates to acquaintances, showed up wearing Coundoul themed shirts and headbands.
Two years ago, he started the “Bouna Time Academy” in Senegal. Boasting 60 young athletes, the players go to public school during the day, and then train two or three times a week before playing a game on the weekend. Only good students or young people proficient in a trade are accepted to the academy, as Coundoul wants to show them success after football. It is part of giving back, something that is deep in his convictions.
“Soccer has fed a lot of people in Africa,” Coundoul said. “A player’s families, their neighbors and friends. Sometimes whole communities.”
Coundoul is helping feed a few people. Back home in Senegal, his family’s house has expanded to 15 rooms. He says it is filled with parents and grandparents, nieces and nephews, cousins and even friends. Dinner time, he says, looks like a restaurant. When asked how large his family is, Coundoul can only laugh and roll his eyes—he really has no idea the headcount of a family portrait.
He won’t brag about it, but Coundoul uses his paycheck to help his family, giving them a better life.
“The people at Western Union know me well," Coundoul said. "They are quite familiar with my face.”
During the league’s World Cup break, Coundoul said he will go home to Senegal for a visit. He estimates he can squeeze an eight-day trip into the break and be able to catch some World Cup games happening on the continent of his beloved Senegal.
He doesn’t think that World Cup favorite Brazil will win the tournament, and when pressed he predicts that England will lift the trophy. He also likes Germany and Spain, and says that the United States should do well.
“They might go to the quarterfinals or the semifinals,” Coundoul said. “They can do very well though I don’t think they’ll win the whole thing.”
As for Senegal, Coundoul said the country will shut down this summer when the games are on, he said. Come 2014, however, he hopes he'll be watching the World Cup from a different perspective.
“Hopefully next time, I will be there and a part of it,” Coundoul said.