ALOHA, Ore. – The trip wasn’t so long for Marco Farfan. After all, during the Major League Soccer season, he traverses east to west each day, across the width of Portland’s metropolitan footprint, from his home in Gresham to the team’s adidas Timbers Training Center in Beaverton. Extending that trip slightly west from the 217 freeway, to Aloha, was nothing, even if he was still, technically, in his offseason.
Five days before Timbers players end their vacations and report for their preseason medical examinations, Farfan is on the campus of Aloha High School, less than two years removed from time at his own alma mater, Gresham’s Centennial High. On this day, though, instead of walking through the requisite florescent-lit halls and poster-clad walls as a student, the 20-year-old is a type of teacher, speaking in front of a group of Latina students gathered for the occasion.
“I’m not really that good at talking,” he said, sheepishly, one minute into the session. It would be 10 more minutes before the group of 15 was done listening.
“Everybody here is Latin, so it means a lot for me to come out and meet with them …,” the Timbers Academy product says, afterward. Within his speech, the connection was explicit.
“It’s just nice to be one of the Latin guys (on the Timbers),” he told the group, “to be a Homegrown, and to the be one of the first Homegrowns for the Portland Timbers.”
Farfan’s appearance was in conjunction with a donation from MLS WORKS’ Every Save Makes a Difference program, one that gave $2,500 worth of soccer equipment to the Adelante Chicas Soccer Academy. The 15 young women in room are part of that academy, an offshoot of an Adeleante Mujeres program whose goal is to address the needs of marginalized, immigrant Latinas.
“It’s such an empowering experience for the girls, because we work with low income, unrepresented youth," Leticia Aguilar, who has worked with Adelante Mujeres since 2009, said of Farfan’s appearance. “Having somebody who is that young and that is doing amazing things already, at a young age, is so invigorating and empowering, for them.”
It’s an organization with an obvious appeal to Farfan, on multiple levels. But during his short conversation with a group of young women whose age is only a few years removed from his, his story takes on a special appeal. Where do you play? (“Lateral izquierdo,” he says.) Are you still going to school? (“Voy a universidad - no fisicamente; por la computadora”) What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done? (“Signing my pro contract.”)
Even when questions touch on soccer, they tend to a broader, more important vision, one that began with a student’s question about Farfan’s family, and its connections to Mexico. How has young a Latino navigated the Portland landscape, gotten to where he’s at, right now? And, implicitly, how can Farfan’s experiences help this group meet their own challenges?
The fact the session began in English before, quickly, switching to Spanish told a story of its own. One Farfan’s connection was established in Spanish, the questions started to flow "sin pena," as implored by Aguilar.
“I know if I were in high school, I’d want to see a (Diego) Valeri or a (Sebastián) Blanco come and talk to me, as well,” Farfan explains, “and maybe even a Homegrown come talk to me, to see what the journey was like, trying to get to the Timbers.”
In terms of the group’s soccer needs, the MLS WORKS donation will be a huge help. As Aguilar explained afterward, the opportunities Adelante Chicas present are only part of giving young Latinas access to the game:
“We have had our soccer academy for seven years, and for example last year, about 80 percent of our students didn’t have any shin guards. Something just as simple as a shin guard, you would think being able to go to the store, as a parent, you can buy that for a student. But the reality is a lot of our parents don’t have the funds to do that, because they have to pay the mortgage, or they have to pay rent, and they have to bring food home.
“Just as simple as being able to bring that to our students, and having them have shin guards to play and practice the sport, is huge, for us … It’s just a couple of dollars, but for us to be able to bring that to our girls? It’s amazing.”
Adelante Chicas addresses a part of the Portland community that is particularly important to Stand Together, the Portland Timbers’ community outreach arm. As evidenced by the place of Girls, Inc. of the Pacific Northwest, along with organizations like the Boys & Girls Clubs, among the club’s core, community partners, emboldening young women of the Portland area is part of ST’s primary goals. That Adelante Chicas, as a soccer academy, complements the club’s core business makes it a natural point of contribution.
“Just having the opportunity to provide rewarding experiences to these girls,” Aguilar explains, of Farfan’s appearance, “who might not have the opportunity to be part of such a thing – having somebody like Marco come and speak to them – is amazing.”
Farfan, understandably, had a different perspective on the day, describing his appearance as, “like I’m still in high school.” In terms of what he represented, though, his presence was indicative of something more. Though the Timbers and Thorns FC players are well into their offseasons, initiatives like Stand Together and MLS WORKS operate year-round. It’s programs like Adelante Chicas, when all goes well, which can benefit from that work.