Sometimes he forgets to call it soccer.
“I started playing football when I was about five,” sophomore Oliver Bihuniak explains.
There it is — football. That’s how you can tell. Oliver has been playing soccer — football — for as long as he can remember. He was only seven years old when he joined his first club team and learned how to master the basics: he learned to control the ball and guide it to the back of the net. Simple. By the time he was nine he was playing on two teams, which were both in higher age divisions. He definitely knew how to play, but after living in Spain for over a year, he realized he only knew how to play like an American.
Oliver had been playing like an American his whole life — that’s all he knew. He didn’t understand the culture and heart that the world associated with the game. But after his move, Oliver began to see what he was missing. In Europe, he learned the history and emotion that was tied to the game. To the Spanish, it isn’t just soccer, it’s a lifestyle. It was football.
“Soccer in Spain is bigger than anything else here. Everyone has a team and everyone plays. When the Spanish play, they are so passionate,” Oliver said. “They will do anything to get a result, as if every game was their last.”
Before he left for Europe, everyone Oliver played with played like an American. They didn’t understand the lifestyle and history that came along with the game.
Oliver realized this missing link in ninth grade. His parents decided that the family needed a fresh perspective: they were going to move to Spain.
“The original plan was to go and come back after a year,” Oliver’s mom, Meredith, said. “It was just for an adventure.”
Oliver’s dad, Chris, grew up moving around the world.Thankful for his multi-cultural upbringing, he also wanted his kids to have similar experiences.
But moving would also mean leaving things behind, which made Oliver angry. No more hanging out with his friends after school, no more Five Guys hamburgers, no more soccer — the game was going to change to football. If he left now, everything he had worked for would be lost by the time he came back. His friends would probably move on, and somebody would surely fill his spot on his old team.
Nonetheless, they bought the plane tickets, rented a Spanish house and enrolled in a school with an American-based curriculum. That August, they said goodbye and started their new life.
Oliver found himself in a place where he seemed to know nothing. He could name four people on the whole continent, and the fact that they shared his last name didn’t help. The food was bizarre and he couldn’t even speak the same language. Only one thing seemed to remind him of home: there was a soccer field near his house where he could practice the game that he knew so well from America.
The soccer field was where Oliver found an escape, but it was also where he found friends. It was where he went to hang out after school and it was where he was introduced to his first Spanish club team, San Jose.
Oliver began playing soccer with the team later that year. He had found a team that was competitive and enthusiastic. This style of play was cleaner, quicker, and had an air of confidence about it. The rules were the same, but the game itself was something different altogether. It was football.
As he played alongside the other boys, he began to think and play like they did. His confidence in the game began to strengthen and he started to feel more comfortable on the ball. Just like the players in Spain, Oliver began to dribble more and found that he was always hungry for the win. He began to play football like the Spanish did.
“I’ve noticed that I have started playing more like how I originally thought the Spanish play,” Oliver said. “I dribble more and am more comfortable and confident when I’m on the ball.”
He had been living and playing in Spain for a year and half when his parents suggested they move back. They had already overstayed their planned year and were ready to resume their life back home. While this meant that Oliver would get to go back to his friends and family in Kansas City, it also meant he would also be going back to American soccer. He would have to leave behind the intensity of the game and the passion that he had grown to know. Without the culture, the game wasn’t football.
Oliver joined a new club in America that December. When it came to choosing a team, he looked to Sporting Blue Valley (SBV), one of the largest clubs in Kansas City.
“When we heard Oliver was making it back to the states he was offered the spot immediately,” coach Adam Lamb said. “I hadn’t personally seen Oliver play but I had heard a lot of good things.”
According to Lamb, Oliver lived up to these expectations.
“He has made a very strong start,” Lamb said. “Oliver is very technical … great footwork and first touch and he seems to see the game very well. He also works extremely hard. He doesn’t seem to stop moving when he is on the field.”
Oliver knows where these things come from. He knows that his heart for the game is something that comes with the Spanish culture.
Sometimes he remembers the games in the field near his house. Sometimes he thinks back to the excitement that would come from the game. And sometimes he just forgets that he’s playing soccer. He’s playing football.