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The Golden Age League

Wealth has its advantages. The European soccer leagues are loaded with the best young talent from South America. But what about the older players, those who came through the ranks before big money hit the game?

The demand for "golden age" players brings some Latinos to the states, where an airplane ticket and an offer of a day job allows them to play in leagues for old-timers. From The New York Times:

They call this over-40 soccer league of Central and South American players the Golden Age League. It has several teams made up of players who mostly live in New York City. Now that the league is in its playoffs, many former soccer stars who are legends in their countries and among soccer fans come out of the woodwork to play. Romerito, who lives mostly in Paraguay, spends October here, staying with friends in Astoria, Queens. Mr. Cabañas, who lives in White Plains and is busy raising a family and running a soccer school, takes more evenings off than he can really afford, for Sol de América.

Both Mr. Cabañas and Romerito are retired and have lost a step or two in the open field, but their legs are still taut and their skills remain sharp. Though slightly past their prime, the men are hardly weekend warriors. The play is rugged. There are daring diving headers and savage sliding tackles. Passes are crisp, and the men execute plays with the strategic cunning of a chess grandmaster.

...Miguel González, a Paraguayan immigrant who plays for Sol de América, stood watching in street clothes and shook his head in disbelief.

"I grew up like everyone in my country, watching these guys playing on television as national heroes," he said. "It's exciting but it's strange. You have some of the best soccer players in history playing in this park, and no one knows it."

...Mr. Cabañas said that even after his distinguished 21-year professional playing career, he is not set for life.

"I can't retire," he said. "American athletes make a lot of money, but soccer players have to keep working."

"I have played with Pelé and Maradona," Mr. Cabañas said. "I scored 380 goals in my career, but when someone recognizes me playing in the park and thanks me for what I've done for soccer, it's as thrilling as playing in Giants Stadium in front of 75,000 fans."

Thanks to Nick Ebinger for the link.