Following a dream can take you places you never thought you’d go. Ryan Roushandel, a professional soccer player from the United States, never envisioned his dream would take him where he is now: Desamparados, Costa Rica, playing for a team known as the “witches,” or Brujas FC.
Growing up in a soccer family – his father, Massoud, is a longtime Atlanta, Georgia, youth and professional coach – Roushandel, 24, said playing professional soccer was a dream of his “since I was born”.
After graduating from high school, Roushandel went on to play college soccer at Clemson University in South Carolina and at the University of Central Florida in Orlando before returning to Atlanta to play semi-professionally with the FC Atlanta Blackhawks, a team that competes in the U.S. Premier Development League. During that time, Roushandel, a midfielder, trained with the team, kept fit and hoped for a better opportunity to come his way.
The opportunity that knocked came from Costa Rica.
The Blackhawks visited Costa Rica last summer to play a series of scrimmage matches against some of the country’s professional teams. Among them was Brujas FC.
“We saw (Roushandel) play and were impressed with his size, his speed and his knowledge of the game,” said Brujas FC coach Mauricio Wright. “After the game I talked with him and his father, the coach (of the Blackhawks), and we talked about the possibility of him coming to play here. A couple of weeks later, he arrived here and began training with us.”
Following his dream to play professionally, Roushandel packed his bags and moved in with family friends in San José in October of last year. He immediately began training with the Brujas at Cuty Monge Stadium in Desamparados, south of San José. While Roushandel was given the chance to train with the team, he had not signed a contract. The uncertainty of his signing, the transition to a new country and joining a new team posed some early challenges.
“I studied Spanish in college, but the first couple of months it was pretty tough getting used to the different dialect and making sure I knew what the coaches were saying,” said Roushandel. “But Coach Wright speaks a lot of English and everyone here has been very patient and welcoming, making sure that I know exactly what is going on and is expected of me.”
As Roushandel progressed in training, the Brujas also made progress in pursuit of the team’s first-ever league title. In December 2009, in only their fifth year in existence, the Brujas beat Puntarenas FC in a penalty-kick tie-breaker to claim the First Division Championship.
“It was pretty exciting to know I was going to be a part of something headed in the right direction,” Roushandel said. “I wasn’t officially on the team yet, but I got to rush the field and celebrate with the guys after we made the last penalty kick.”
Before the glow of the championship had worn off, Roushandel reached another milestone. The Brujas signed him to a one-year contract in January of this year. With the signing, Roushandel became only the fifth U.S. player ever to play in Costa Rica’s First Division. Of these, perhaps the best known is former U.S. national team forward Roy Lassiter, who was named the First Division’s “Foreign Player of the Year” in 1995 while playing with LD Alajuelense.
On Saturday, in Roushandel’s fourth appearance with the Brujas, the team beat Club Sport Herediano by a score of 4-2 to earn its second win of the season. In the first half, Roushandel recorded the first assist of his professional career, as he sent a header to teammate Olman Vargas, who scored the second goal of the match. Roushandel played the entire game for the Brujas.
Sometimes, Roushandel has to pinch himself to make sure he isn’t dreaming.
“When the day came that I signed my first professional contract, I just sat back and thought, ‘This is unbelievable’,” Roushandel said. “It was a long road getting here. I had a couple of bad injuries and some tough times, but now I get to come here and play soccer every day and I get paid for it. Sometimes I’m out here practicing and just smiling. It can’t get much better than living in a country like this and playing professional soccer.”
Roushandel then put his hands on his hips and watched some of his teammates run by him, their shadows dancing on the turf of Cuty Monge.
“I mean, I’m at work right now,” he grinned.