For thousands of Bosnians living in the United States, the friendly match between their home country of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and their new, adopted country of America is not just another meaningless sparring event, its more than that. With a population unofficially at over two hundred thousand in America, Bosnians have carved out their home in the once decrepit neighborhoods of St. Louis, Chicago, Bowling Green, and elsewhere, and made it thriving communities. A friendly match between these two countries embodies the very spirit of the friendly match concept, beyond tactical planning.
On opposite sides of the field on the 14th, Vedad Ibisevic
(Stuttgart) and Tim Ream
(Bolton Wanderers) share a lot more in common than on first sight. Ibisevic and Ream share a home town (St. Louis, Missouri), and more than that, similar football career paths.
Ibisevic, who went to Roosevelt High, played one season at SLU, 2003, before going pro with Paris St.-Germain. Ream, who went to St. Dominic, was at SLU from 2006 to 2009 before going pro with the New York Red Bulls.
Indeed St. Louis boasts a large Bosnian population, the largest in the U.S. with over 70,000 Bosnians inhabiting primarily the Bevo Mill area of the city. Unlike other waves of immigrants in the United States, most Bosnians came in a single large wave, fleeing the ethnic hatred and cleansing in their home country in the brutal war of the early 1990s.
And while the older generation struggled with loss of family, psychological trauma, and other barriers stemming from the war, as well as the issues that come with immigration such as language barriers, the younger generation has essentially Americanized and grown to be an essential part of the vibrant communities all over the U.S. In St. Louis, the Cardinals, an MLB franchise recently celebrated Bosnian-American Heritage Day at the ballpark, in honor of the city’s young community.
Today Bosnian-Americans are getting educated, finding success in all career paths, and contributing on the sports front as well, especially in their beloved football or soccer as it’s known in America. Bosnian-American talents can be found at high schools all over the United States, with ten of them being in the Top 15 of differing regions of the country in their particular age group. The latest such talent is Ismar Tandir, a towering 6’4 striker, currently playing at French side Sochaux, who graduated from the MLS’s Red Bulls Academy.
At the current path, it seems that Tandir will represent Bosnia, having already been called up to the country’s youth teams. However, what the future holds for other football talents across the country, remains up for debate, and varying from family to family. Even within families, loyalties are divided, which should make for fun watching the friendly between the two countries.
The older generation of Bosnians still holds on to their home ties, while the younger generation identifies much more with the American lifestyle.
However, one thing rings true among all the differing age groups in the Bosnian-American community, they are all crazy about football. Cafes, halls, anything that can hold a large gathering of people often find themselves full to the brink with Bosnian fans on game-day. When Bosnia played in the qualification playoffs in 2009 and 2012 against Portugal, St. Louis saw mini parades all over the city, all local Bosnian support.
When Bosnia came to visit the United States for a friendly match against Mexico, first in 2011 in Atlanta, and again in 2012 in Chicago, the tour saw sold out stadiums, dominated by Bosnian fans, a rare sight in America, where Mexicans can just as easily pack the house. When Manchester City, the club of the country’s most popular player, Edin Dzeko, came for a pre-season tour, America saw Bosnians traveling from far and wide, just to catch a glimpse of the striker.
The support isn’t exclusively confined to the old country however. Most Bosnians see The United States as their “second national team,” so to speak. In 2010, when Bosnia narrowly missed out on the World Cup, many donned the USMNT colors in support of the country they now call home, and screamed equally as loud for the Donovan last gasp goal against Algeria, as for the Dzeko opener against Belgium in 2009.
Therefore, for the Bosnians in America, this won’t be just another meaningless friendly, it’ll be a day to celebrate the two worlds they have known and loved their entire life.
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