As we get ready to head into 2019 and Minnesota United's first season in Allianz Field, we're taking an opportunity to look back at some of our favorite stories from 2018.
In our lives, there are moments we’re unprepared for, no matter how much we’ve planned for or dreamed of them. These are the moments when we’re swallowed up into something much bigger than ourselves: getting that college acceptance letter, the birth of your child, hoisting a championship trophy — whether it’s in Little League or high school or beyond. For a professional soccer player like Francisco Calvo, being named to his country’s World Cup squad was the start of one of those moments. He was in his apartment making lunch on an offday from training when he got the news that he would be part of the 23-man roster that would travel to Russia and represent Costa Rica.
He didn’t want to watch the announcement on TV, so he put it out of his mind and waited for the text. When he got it, his mother called him right away, then his father and then his little brother.
“My mom has always been with me since I was six years old,” says Calvo. “If I have to go and train 40 minutes away and take a bus after she gets out of work, she would do it for me. She always followed my dreams, she always believed in me. For my little brother, he is excited. For my grandma, it is amazing.”
It’s all maybe still a little surreal for the 25-year-old defender, even though it’s something he’s been working toward for years now. Sixteen, to be exact.
“The first World Cup I watched on TV was 2002,” he says. “Costa Rica went to the World Cup and were pretty good. I was really excited. I have loved soccer since I was born. When you watch your country playing in that, you say, ‘One day I want to be there. I want to go and fight for it.’
“Always when Costa Rica goes to the World Cup, the whole country is going to be excited, you know,” he continues, “because it is hard to get there. The whole country was a party. Everybody was crazy and everybody wants to watch the games and support the team.”
By 2002, Calvo was already at Saprissa Elite, the academy of Costa Rica’s biggest team. Every nine-year-old at the academy probably envisioned himself on Costa Rica’s World Cup team that year, but for Calvo, there was a point where World Cup dreams turned into a tangible goal, a thing to actively work toward.
“When I was 19, I think I started playing pro in 2011?” he says when asked about when it became a serious aspiration. “You don’t play professionally just for play. You want to represent your country and want to get your personal goals. That’s what I did. I followed my dream and followed my instinct to get to where I am now.”
Of course, as exciting as it is for your country to make it to the World Cup, heartbreak can be as much a part of the qualifying process as jubilation, as U.S. fans know all too well. There’s one World Cup disappointment in particular that stands out for Calvo.
“I was unhappy when we didn’t qualify in 2010 for South Africa,” he says. “Actually, the U.S. scored a goal and they kicked us out of the World Cup. I was watching the game and I cried that day. I cried that day. I was not playing professionally yet. I cried like a baby that day. For me it was a shock because we were 30 seconds from the World Cup and then the U.S. scored and we were out.”
He can’t help but flash an impish smile when he adds: “This year is a different thing, huh?”
When a kid imagines himself at the World Cup, it’s necessarily abstract. He won’t — and probably shouldn’t — fully understand all the hours of training and work that go into it, the things you have to give up. His motivation at that point when the dream begins is most likely a hard-to-express mix of the desire to represent one’s country, the desire for fame and other only half-understood things. But now that Calvo finds himself there, at the age of 25, the most personal and direct motivation is the same one he has every time he steps on the pitch: his son, Gael.
“He’s my motor,” he says. “He’s my heart. So every time I get onto the field, I’m hungry. I want to do my best because he needs me. My son is only eight months old, so he doesn’t understand, but I hope when he grows up and sees his dad in pictures he will feel proud of me. Everything I do is for him.”
The World Cup is huge. It’s one of those rare events that lives up to its billing as a true worldwide event, engaging entire nations and billions of viewers. In the face of such enormity, players almost have to focus on the little things, have to keep in mind what drives them. For Calvo, it’s his family, and especially his son, his little motor.