SOCCER: Star adjusting

Joanie Baker

At the age of 10, Richard Mupfudze started playing soccer with a homemade ball made from layers of newspaper and plastic. In his hometown of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, soccer was a way for the neighborhood kids to get together and play.

Two years ago, Mupfudze left that neighborhood for a chance to play soccer at Western.

Before coming to the United States, Mupfudze was playing on Olympic- level basketball and rugby teams for Zimbabwe. He was so into them, in fact, that when the recruiters for Western first approached him, he declined to play soccer.

But as the economy started looking worse, and as he realized his options after high school would be limited at home, Mupfudze took the recruiter’s second offer to come to the United States.

After redshirting in 2001, Mupfudze has since scored three goals and collected five assists in 23 games. He has a goal and assist in four games this year.

But before he was comfortable on the soccer field, he had to adjust to the American culture.

At first, the differences were overwhelming.

“My first day in America was amazing and shocking,” Mupfudze said.”There was a lot of things I hadn’t been exposed to.

“The major thing was highways – we only had two lane highways and getting to the airport was like ‘whoa.’? It was really humid when I got here, and I was not used to humidity at all.?The air was very dry at home.”

Mupfudze was very surprised by the accessibility of things such as water, electricity, food and transportation. He said food in Zimbabwe is rationed, and people park cars for up to three miles waiting for gas that simply isn’t there.

“When I went home, we had to line up for everything,” Mupfudze said. “You get up in the morning at 5:30 to probably not even get bread that day. Things like macaroni are a delicacy there. We would not eat it but maybe twice a month.”

Even the game of soccer differs slightly between the two countries.

“People at home concentrate on skill,” he said. “Over here, it’s how you help the team out.”

Coach David Holmes said Mupfudze is one of the best players in the Missouri Valley Conference.?He said his personality is good-natured, he’s quiet and leads by example.

“Sometimes he’s maybe even a little too nice out there,” Holmes said. “It doesn’t come natural for him to scrape and fight, and you come into those situations sometimes in games.?But if he ever did get mad enough to fight, I wouldn’t want to be in the ring with him.”

Junior defender Brad Benz said there’s not anything Mupfudze can’t do.

“He’s good at everything he does,” Benz said. “He’s unbelievable at soccer. He can sing, he’s an artist and even tries to cook a little bit.”

Younger players look up to Mupfudze as well.?Freshman Alex Sheikh plays midfield with Mupfudze and said he has learned a lot from watching him.

“I’ve learned from watching his composure in the middle and watching him in there distributing, knowing when to run at people and when to give it off,” Sheikh said. “He helps me out in practice, always encouraging me.?He only encourages on the field, I have never heard him say anything negative.”

Mupfudze has received several awards since he got to Western. Twice he’s been picked an all-MVC honorable mention.

He is studying computer science and management in hopes of one day being able to send things such as computers back to Zimbabwe to make lives easier.?

Before then, he’s working to be a role model.

“When I want people to recognize me, I don’t want them to see this guy as a talented athlete, but I want them to see the God in me,” he said. “I want them to know my source and strength come from Him.”

Reach Joanie Baker at [email protected]