Soccer helping Doukoure adapt to life at Baumholder
Stars and Stripes May 1, 2008
BAUMHOLDER, Germany — To the average high school player, soccer falls somewhere between a diversion and a passion.
For Baumholder striker Alassane Doukoure, 16, who emigrated to Baumholder last year from the West African nation of Ivory Coast, soccer’s more than a passion. It’s a lifeboat.
“When I came here, everything was different,” he said Monday, speaking in French though his interpreter and temporary guardian, Armelle Johnson. “I wasn’t used to the climate and the food, and the people were different.”
Doukoure grew up playing soccer in tropical Abidjan, a coastal city of some 3 million people that serves as the country’s commercial center. His father, Moussa, a 13-year veteran of the U.S. Army, brought Alassanne to live with him in Baumholder last year in hopes of providing him with better educational and athletic opportunities.
For a while, at least.
As if a total cultural adjustment weren’t enough for a teen to have to make, the elder Doukoure deployed earlier this year.
“It’s very difficult,” the younger Doukoure said of having his next-to-last link to his past life go downrange.
Luckily, the last link, soccer, hung around.
“I was very happy to see soccer again,” he said with a smile when asked what landing in so rich a soccer culture meant to him. “It was like eating again.”
Doukoure dove right in, signing on with the Bucs and a local German club, VfR Baumholder. Playing under the radar last year because of an injury, Doukoure, a sophomore, has scored two goals in each of his last three high school games to fuel a three-game Baumholder winning streak. He was scoreless in Division III Baumholder’s opener at D-I Ramstein, a 2-0 loss, when injuries slowed a key teammate.
“Our central midfielder, Edgar Acosta, was out that day,” Bucs head soccer coach Jeff O’Neil said Monday. “There was no link between the back and the front. Alassane had to go deep downfield to receive the ball.”
On his German team, Doukoure has scored seven goals in his team’s five victories and lone tie, even though he speaks no German either.
“At the start, it was very difficult,” Doukoure said about his introduction to the German game. “In Africa, the game is much more physical. Here, it’s lots more technical.”
Luckily for Doukoure, the game’s patterns are the same in every language.
“He already knew how to play,” O’Neil said. “He knew how to position himself to receive the ball and he uses hand signals to his teammates.”
Doukoure also benefited from having O’Neil, who came to Germany as a youth, as a coach. O’Neil knows where his striker’s coming from.
“I played for a German team and I couldn’t speak German,” O’Neil recalled. “I didn’t know what to do. I’d get in the back of the line so I could see what we were supposed to be doing before it was my turn.”
O’Neil said he drew up a list of useful French phrases to help convey his points to Doukoure and added that the teenager is catching on to the technical phrases he uses on the practice field.
“I’m very happy when what little I can tell my teammates to do helps them,” Doukoure said.
“I’m feeling more free, although I still have a language barrier.”
Not for much longer, O’Neil predicted.
“In soccer, he’s admired,” O’Neil said. “If you have some kind of context like that, you learn the language quicker.”
And according to Acosta, the midfielder responsible for organizing the Bucs’ attack, there’s no language barrier on the field.
“We appreciate having him,” Acosta said Wednesday by telephone. “He’s a great teammate. It doesn’t matter that he doesn’t speak English. We all speak soccer.”