In his final year at Williams College, midfielder Nick Pugliese captained the men’s soccer team while completing his degree in philosophy and political science. And after graduating from the college in 2012, he took a position with the Roshan telecommunications company in Kabul, Afghanistan. But his soccer career was not over. After just a handful of months in Afghanistan, Pugliese quit his job at Roshan and joined Ferozi FC, a professional soccer club. Sports Illustrated Senior Writer Grant Wahl, who told Nick’s story in a piece for SI.com, joined Bill Littlefield.
BL: When Nick first arrived in Afghanistan to work for a telecom company he wasn’t even allowed to play soccer for security and insurance reasons. So how did he end up joining Ferozi FC?
GW: Well he ended up starting by playing just what he calls amateur soccer in a local park area where they play a game called futsal, and people there thought he had game and wanted him to be on their team. It turned out that one of his teammates in this amateur league was also a member of one of the pro teams in Kabul and invited him for a tryout eventually.
BL: What was your reaction when you learned that there was an American playing pro soccer in Afghanistan?
GW: Well he’s the only one. You know, there’s an interesting Yanks abroad story to far-flung countries where Americans are applying their trade in the most global of games, sometimes for very little money as in Nick’s case, but he’s the only foreigner playing in this league right now. Cause you have to remember that, as you know, Afghanistan is a place that’s not entirely safe. He did have a security detail connected to his job at Roshan.
BL: Nick would be better paid and, as you suggest, perhaps safer if he had stayed with the telecommunications job. What is he trying to accomplish by being a soccer player there instead?
GW: Well he wants to live life and get a sense of what Afghanistan really is like outside of this security bubble, as he described it. His security team with the telecom company would not let him play or even train with the pro team at the national stadium, and so he started sneaking away from his own security detail which caused a problem with his company to the point where once he got the offer of a pro contract, paying just $300 a month plus room and board, he decided to leave his telecommunications job and take this one. So definitely not for a money-type thing but wants to experience what life is like in Afghanistan, and soccer’s definitely a way for him to connect, especially with other men on his team and get a sense of what their lives are really like. What he’s found he told me is that there’s a lot of shared concerns with men of his age around the world whether it’s about women or other things in day-to-day life.
BL: Before he plans to leave Afghanistan I understand Nick plans to do some documentary work with a translator. I wonder, will this be the first time he’s able to have really deep conversations with his teammates?
GW: It is one thing to be able to connect with teammates and other people through soccer even if you don’t necessarily speak the same language, but it’s another to do documentary work, which he sounds very excited to do. This is a guy who’s doing a really cool blog about his experience in Afghanistan. I think he wants to do more in the way of videos.
BL: So do you see this developing as a pipeline for American players looking to improve their game before, oh I don’t know, moving on to MLS?
GW: Probably not. I don’t think you’re going to find too many guys who are willing to use that as a stepping stone to go to Afghanistan first, but, you know, soccer’s so much a part of global society and connected to culture and politics. You find these great stories because everyone is interested in this game around the world, and I think Nick Pugliese is a great example of this kind of interconnectedness that takes place if you’re willing to put yourself in a country like that for a while.