The Culture Club : Players From Eight Nations Make a Winning Soccer Team at Santiago

Times Staff Writer

Wonderment, anticipation . . . terror.

Yeng Heu will not forget his first day in American high school.

He had recently arrived in America from Laos, via France. He was told that the school he was to attend, Santiago, had a rather small student population.

Because the school he attended in France was considered large with 300 students, Heu thought he knew what to expect.


Santiago has an enrollment of 1,600 students.

First shock.

“They said it was going to be small,” Heu said. “But I had never seen that many people at a school.”

He also had prepared himself for the blond-haired, blue-eyed California surfers.

But Santiago has one of Orange County’s largest populations of Asian students.

Shock number two, and panic is setting in.

“I finally found the office and I asked them if I was in the right place,” he said. “I had never seen so many Asian faces outside of Laos. In France, there were three in my whole school.

“But everyone looked like me. I thought I had been put in a camp. I asked them if this was the school, and they said yes. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know what to expect.”


But he did know how to play soccer. And that’s all Miguel Vivanco, coach of Santiago’s “We Are The World,” soccer team, needed to know.

The Cavaliers’ soccer team this season was variously described as the United Nations in shorts, and Around the World in 80 Kicks.

Vivanco had 20 players on his team from eight different nations--and eight different cultures--which made every day this season a lesson in international relations.

“I guess I have different problems than most coaches,” Vivanco said. “I had to get a lot more involved with the players. I feel like they’re my own. We’ve gone through enough together.”


Santiago, after winning six games the previous four seasons, placed second in the Garden Grove League and earned a playoff berth in 1986.

Vivanco, in his second year at Santiago, teaches an ESL (English as Second Language) class. Before and after class he encourages students to come out for the team.

“I knew I had a well of talent in those classes,” Vivanco said. “It was just that a lot of them were afraid to play.”

But getting players out was the least of his problems. The trick was keeping them on the team.


Heu’s father, Nao Soa, injured his back in a car accident in France and is unable to work. It was up to Heu to find a job to help support the family. His job at a fast food restaurant six miles away endangered his chances of playing.

Vivanco presented Connie Meyer of the Garden Grove Unified School District with his problem. Meyer presented Vivanco with a solution.

The district would hire Heu as a coaches’ assistant and part-time custodian. Heu puts in about 20 hours a week, earning minimum wage. But most important, he’s playing soccer. Good soccer.

Heu was named the Garden Grove League’s Most Valuable Player.


Then there’s Dinh Truong and his father, Tam.

Tam sometimes works 20 hours in the make-shift tailoring shop he has fashioned in the garage of his Santa Ana home.

“I keep a cot in here,” he said. “I’ll start working at four in the morning and I’ll work through until 12 at night.”

When someone suggests Tam should consider his health and not work so hard, he stares in disbelief.


“The way to get ahead in this country is to work, work hard,” he said. “I want my kids to work hard in school. I don’t want them to work the long hours I have to.”

Truong, a junior at Santiago, is well above a 3.0 GPA, which always isn’t enough for the man sleeping in the garage.

“He wants me to work hard in school so I can become someone important,” Truong said. “But it’s hard sometimes. Living in America lets you do so many things.”

One of the things was soccer, and Tam thought it was a bit too much.


“He thought that soccer would take away from his studies,” Vivanco said. “I can understand how important it is for his father that Dinh succeed. Look how hard he works. I just had to convince him that soccer would make Dinh a better overall person that would help him later on.”

Dinh was named to the all-league team as a goalie and his grades stabilized.

“This team is what this country is about,” Vivanco said. “Working together. The Melting Pot.”

Santiago’s International Soccer Team


Name Position Country Anthony Alfaro Midfielder Mexico Richard Alfaro Midfielder Mexico Gabriel Bustos Midfielder Colombia Juan Bustos Midfielder Colombia Francis Chan Sweeper Malaysia Francisco Cortes Fullback Mexico Albert Godina Sweeper Mexico Roberto Gonzales Forward Mexico Ya Heu Midfielder Laos Yeng Heu Midfielder Laos Nghiep Huyuh Midfielder Vietnam Pablo Lara Fullback Mexico Antonio Mendez Midfielder Mexico Jose Reyes Midfielder El Salvador Jesus Tellez Fullback El Salvador Joe Torres Fullback Mexico Duc Cuong Tran Fullback Vietnam Dinh Truong Goalie Vietnam Loi Truong Forward Vietnam Huy Duc Pham Forward Vietnam