On Palmer Trinity’s boys’ soccer team, the first language isn’t English.
It’s not even Spanish.
"It’s body language," Palmer senior goalie Daniel de Feu said.
A head nod, de Feu said, might be a signal to flick the ball over an opponent’s head. A raised hand, a pointed finger — these things all have meaning on the pitch.
Palmer’s players, who recently completed their season as District 16-1A champions, all understand English.
But body language is an important tool on a team with a wide variety of accents. After all, either through birth or their parents’ homelands, Palmer’s players represent 16 different nationalities.
The 16 countries are: Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, England, Iran, Italy, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, Spain, Venezuela and the U.S.
Besides soccer, the other unifying force on the team is music. On every bus trip to road games, the players blast Spanish tunes and start dancing salsa and merengue in the aisles or on their seats..
"At first, some of the players didn’t know the words," said senior forward Alejandro Martinez-Oletta, the son of Venezuelan parents. "But they got used to it."
Daniel De Feu, the son of British-born Palmer head coach Scott de Feu, speaks little Spanish. But he enjoys Spanish music.
"I have American hips, so I’m not the best dancer," Daniel de Feu said. "But I hear my teammates singing, and it’s beautiful. It gets them pumped up, and it gets me pumped up, too."
Scott de Feu said he enjoys his team of diverse cultures, but having players with families spread out around the globe can cause problems.
"It makes it very hard to practice during winter break," he said, "and then start the postseason in two weeks."
Despite that obstacle, Palmer made a respectable playoff run before losing to Hillel 2-0 earlier this month in the Class 1A regional semifinals.
Palmer T-shirts proclaimed the team motto — "16 nationalities, one goal" — and assistant coach Graeme Griffith of Guyana said it’s a philosophy the players live by.
"[Every year], we bring the kids together with a common goal: to make it to the state playoffs," he said. "You remind them that soccer is a universal sport that knows no boundaries."
Scott De Feu said Palmer gets its diversity naturally and doesn’t advertise in other countries.
"We have an ESL (English as a second language) program, but I don’t think you could say we cater to international students," he said. "The school just has a good reputation, and families recommend it to other families.
"I rarely get a student who is in the ESL program, which is fairly small. And we have never recruited a soccer player, either overseas or locally."
Once this school year is complete, Palmer players will again scatter.
Scott Du Feu said he believes as many as six of his players will travel to Brazil to watch the World Cup, which begins June 12.
Sophomore midfielder Vitor Pagano and senior defender Josh Reid are among those going to Brazil. Both went to the World Cup in Germany, but that was eight years ago before they really understood the intricacies of the game.
"I just remember how crazy it was to be in that atmosphere," said Reid, whose mother is from Mexico and father from Jamaica. "I’ve been to big football and basketball games, but it doesn’t compare to the World Cup. Even outside the stadium, fans are singing and dressed in team colors."
Reid will be rooting for the U.S., Mexico and Spain. Pagano, who was born in Sao Paulo, will be cheering for Brazil even though he believes Germany has the best chance of winning.
As for Palmer, both Pagano and Reid said the players are close, despite their diversity.
"The arguments about soccer keep things lively," Pagano said.
Added Reid: "I don’t feel any separation on the team. I think being so diverse actually brings us together. We’re united by soccer."