CINCINNATI -- Josu Currais began learning English four years ago when he started his professional soccer career in Finland.
The FC Cincinnati midfielder and former FC Barcelona academy player figured English could help him better communicate with teammates wherever he went.
Even in Cincinnati, Currais is able to speak his native Spanish with some of his teammates who share a knowledge of the language, but Monday, FC Cincinnati might be looking to him to help understand what the opponent is saying on the pitch.
Spanish La Liga’s Valencia CF comes to Nippert Stadium for an international friendly, bringing the challenges of a unique, technically superior style of possession play and likely a few communication barriers.
“It’s a little bit hard when you’re not able to speak (with teammates or an opponent), but once you are on the pitch, it’s just football,” said Currais, who almost signed with Valencia before electing instead to stay closer to home with FC Barcelona’s youth academy.
FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch remembers how strange it was the first time he played an opponent that spoke a different language, but said his players have been around enough foreign players and teams -- and many of them are foreigners themselves -- to know how to handle it.
The most important thing, he said, is being able to understand your own teammates.
“You may not understand a word (the opponents) are saying but you just go with it,” Koch said. “It's part of the game and you focus on what you can control.
“In sports, you don't have to speak a verbal language. It's a language that's spoken on the field. We have players on our team that have varying abilities of English too. Thankfully everyone in our group does speak a decent amount of English so we can all communicate and make sure we're all on the same page, but when you play a team, it doesn't really matter what language they are speaking.”
The game might not change because of a potential lack of communication between the two teams Monday, but FC Cincinnati midfielder Kenney Walker said there are advantages to being able to understand an opponent.
When there is a language barrier, it just makes it more difficult to anticipate what the opponent is doing.
“When you're playing USL games or Open Cup, we're playing a lot of other guys from the U.S., you can pick up on what they're saying or sometimes you might here part of a conversation about what they want to do,” Walker said. “Obviously, if they're speaking Spanish other guys might be able to relay that to us, but it's going to be kind of learning on the fly or figuring out how they are playing by just going out there and playing. It's the beautiful part of the game where you have to figure out what the other team is doing all on the field and not by listening to what you're hearing on the field.”
Walker said the language barrier will be more difficult for Valencia.
He played a team in Mexico during his time with the Los Angeles Galaxy, where he began his career in 2012, and remembered how much more hostile the environment felt not being able to understand anyone.
“Going down there, when they are chanting in Spanish, all the players are speaking Spanish, the refs are speaking Spanish, you're only out there playing with your teammates and you can't understand anything,” Walker said. “It's just going out there, figuring it out and finding ways to win.”
It likely won’t feel that way for everyone on Valencia’s squad. Though the roster is made up mainly of Spaniards, some players might also speak English.
And Currais isn’t the only player on FC Cincinnati’s squad that speaks Spanish. Marco Dominguez is from Montreal but Spanish is his family’s first language, and others at least know bits and pieces of Spanish. Reserve midfielder Eric Stevenson made it his New Year’s resolution to learn Spanish and practices sometimes with Currais.
“It's a little weird because you're hearing a different language being spoken on the other side, but you don't really think about it,” Stevenson said of his experience playing against opponents that speak a different language. “At this point, we're all used to it because half our team is foreign. You hear, in our locker room, French, Spanish, English all the time. They've probably got guys I'm sure that Spanish is not their first language. It will just make things a little more interesting I guess.”