Pugliese shatters boundaries in Kabul

Nick Pugliese ’12 was a four-year letterman and captain for the Ephs.
Nick Pugliese ’12 was a four-year letterman and captain for the Ephs.

On Feb. 9, ESPN’s SportsCenter premiered a feature presentation on Nick Pugliese ’12 and his time playing professional soccer in Kabul, Afghanistan. “SC Featured: A Faraway Goal” follows Pugliese’s story in Kabul, where he traveled following graduation in the spring of 2012 to work for an Afghan telecommunications firm. “Williams teaches you to have an awareness and a proper attitude about approaching new people and a new culture,” said Pugliese.

On the other side of the world, Pugliese, a four-year letterman and captain on the men’s varsity team during his time at the College, continued to show immense passion for his sport. “I always had an appreciation for soccer,” he said to the Record. Shortly after his arrival in Afghanistan, he began playing soccer with his co-workers on his company team.

His talent garnered attention from an Afghani soccer club, Ferozi FC, and before he knew it, Pugliese found himself at a pivotal crossroad. Facing a critical decision of whether to continue working for the telecommunication firm or to quit and play professional soccer in Kabul, Pugliese decided on the latter and never looked back. In his SportsCenter feature, Pugliese explained his decision, saying, “And the thought popped into my head, ‘when will you have this chance ever again?’”

Soon enough, Pugliese was playing for Ferozi FC as the only American to ever play professional soccer in Afghanistan. There has been little shortage of conflict between Afghanistan and the United States in recent years, but when Pugliese steps on the field, he doesn’t feel any animosity. “They find out I’m American, it doesn’t matter,” he told ESPN. In the fall of 2013, Pugliese’s club played in the finals of the Kabul Cup. Ferozi FC claimed the title in style, winning in penalty kicks.

“To be the best in Kabul, it’s the feeling that you are on top of the world,” explained Pugliese in the feature. His story is a prime example of how sport can create meaningful relationships between people from opposite sides of the world, while transcending volatile cultural and political differences. “At first I didn’t know if people would think my story was reckless or be inspired by it,” said Pugliese to the Record. “I just hoped that they would welcome the message of how soccer can bridge the barrier of divided cultures.”

Pugliese is still undecided as to whether or not he will return to Afghanistan to rejoin Ferozi FC. Pugliese does not know what is in store for his future but he is currently producing a documentary profiling the young Afghans who play pickup soccer in Kabul, and he has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund his production titled “Kings of the New City.” When asked about how much publicity his story has attracted, Pugliese commented to the Record, “I’m trying to keep it all in perspective.” He plans on applying for a joint Fulbright National Geographic Fellowship to expand upon his time in Afghanistan.

Pugliese’s feature can be found on the ESPN website as well as the Williams Athletics page. He will be visiting the College on Sunday to talk about his story at 7 p.m. in Griffin 3.