Nick Pugliese ‘12 to be Featured on Sunday ESPN “SportsCenter”
Pugliese will speak about his experiences in Kabul
on Sunday, Feb. 23 at 7:00 PM
in Griffin 3
ESPN commentator Tom Rinaldi voices the story, which explores Pugliese's life in Kabul last fall. A native of Rochester, N.Y., Pugliese went to Afghanistan to take a job after graduating from Williams College in Massachusetts, where he was a soccer standout. He played high school soccer at Rochester's McQuaid Jesuit.
"I was just fascinated by the idea of an American all by himself living in this country and of all the things, he was playing professional soccer," said Dan Arruda, producer of the feature for ESPN, who spent 10 days in Afghanistan with Pugliese. "It just seemed very surprising to me and I wondered what his life was like."
Nick Pugliese, a former Eph men's soccer team captain and midfielder, went to Kabul, Afghanistan, after graduation to work for a telecommunications firm. In Kabul Pugliese began playing soccer with co-workers and the next thing he knew he had to choose between staying in telecommunications and playing professionally for Ferozi FC in the Kabul Premier League (KPL).
Not being able to get soccer out of his system at this stage of his life, Pugliese opted to play for Ferozi FC. He soon moved out of the telecommunications compound and into an apartment house in Kabul to live with some teammates.
"Much of my decision to pursue playing professional soccer comes from my time at Williams, where my teammates and coach [Mike] Russo taught me how to play with confidence and love the game," said Pugliese.
The SC Featured story will debut during ESPN's flagship news and information program SportsCenter on Sunday, Feb. 9, at 10 a.m. ET on ESPN, and will re-air on other editions of the program throughout the day.
Quotes from the Feature:
"You cannot explain this place in two minutes, I think you couldn¹t do it in two hours. I¹m not sure whether I will be able to share this experience with people or if it¹s something that I¹ll just hold with myself for the rest of my life."
"So many people could have stood in my way and said 'I don¹t think it¹s a good idea that you¹re here,' or 'this is an Afghan team,' and no one said a thing. It was just, 'yeah, come on and play.' That simple."
About three weeks after the airdate, the Pugliese segment will be available on ESPN.com.
Pugliese puts his story in context: "2013 was a particularly exciting time to be a soccer fan in Afghanistan. In August, the Afghanistan national team hosted rival Pakistan for the first time since 1976, a match the Afghanis won 3-0. Then, in September, the Afghanistan national team defeated India to become champions of South Asia. Soccer has always been popular in Afghanistan, but now people are wild about it. It has brought people together. My adventure was a small piece of this bigger story."
Pugliese added, "Molly Hunter '09, who works for ABC-TV in New York as an assignment editor, heard about my story from Williams Middle Eastern history professor Magnus Bernhardsson and passed information along to ESPN, which is owned by ABC."
The three-man crew from ESPN, under the direction of producer Dan Arruda and assisted by an Afghan translator/coordinator, saw Pugliese play pickup futsal, visit Kabul's central bazaar, train with an Afghanistan Premier League (APL) team [Oqaban Hindukosh], and play a game for his Kabul Premier League team Ferozi FC. The crew also met Pugliese's friends and teammates.
Before traveling to Kabul, Arruda and his crew headed to Pugliese's hometown of Rochester, NY, to interview Nick's mother Kim and his father Scott.
In addition to playing for Ferozi FC in the Kabul Premier League, Pugliese was employed by the APL to serve as its media coordinator. The playing seasons for the APL and the APL do not overlap. Arruda's ESPN crew also captured Pugliese performing his duties for the KPL.
"The ESPN crew was great to work with and I was grateful that they respected my wishes about what could be filmed and what should not be," stated Pugliese. "When out in public, they used only one camera and never did anything to draw extra attention."
"I was surprised that after the film crew left none of my neighbors made mention of the cameramen following me around," Pugliese said.
Pugliese's Ferozi FC won the 2013 pre-season tournament for the Kabul Premier League and then ended up losing in the championship game after the conclusion of the regular season to finish second overall.
For Pugliese, his year of professional soccer in Kabul was never just about soccer and results. "It was learning that a lot of the barriers that we set for ourselves are less daunting than we think," he noted.
"The hardest thing for me was to get started, to ask that first question -- 'can I join in?' -- said Pugliese. "But when I finally did ask, I found that people were more accepting than I expected. Between soccer, a good sense of humor, and trying to learn the language, I was able to enter into the lives of many people I never would have otherwise. The whole experience taught me the power of sports in bringing people of different cultures together."
At this point Pugliese has yet to decide if he will be returning to play for Ferozi FC next season. Now, back in Rochester, he is producing a documentary film profiling the young men who play pickup soccer in a public park in central Kabul. He will be launching a Kickstarter campaign the week the ESPN piece is aired to raise funds for the project.