BUENOS AIRES — The essence of Argentine soccer might be found late at night, within the circuit of games in barrios outside Buenos Aires.
There, young players for generations have cut their teeth, perhaps dreaming of suiting up for the country’s national team, but primarily entertaining late-night and early-morning crowds with an intense, wild talent for the sport, playing on whatever patch of ground.
“Potrero” is the term that sums up this technique and magnificence, rooted within the informal and improvised games born within the earthy, amateur fields of the nineteenth century, long before soccer became a career with billion-dollar clubs and multimillion-dollar salaries. Every Argentine legend has had it in his blood: Alfredo Di Stéfano, Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi. All of them kicked around in potreros, and when someone dribbles impressively or scores a tremendous goal, it’s common for people to say, “That’s potrero.”
Now, the games have taken a contemporary twist.
Today’s young players have expanded the reach of their circuit by streaming the games, and Argentina’s win within the World Cup final this month in Qatar could bring them much more attention.
Even before then, by word of mouth, WhatsApp and Instagram, interest within the circuit’s games had mushroomed from only a couple of dozen followers before the coronavirus pandemic — mostly coming from the teams’ neighborhoods within the cities ringing Buenos Aires — to hundreds of individuals connected across the country and beyond. Last June, even a Mexican soccer fan page shared a video of La Sub 21, a respected potrero team, and the clip reached 4.4 million views.
La Sub 21, El Ciclón de Burzaco and other teams sell lots of of their uniforms each time they release a latest one. Potrero jerseys are increasingly visible on Buenos Aires buses and subways.
“Some people write us on social media asking us to play in Patagonia or Córdoba province, but we are able to’t afford the transportation,” said Franco Roldán, 26, who’s referred to as Franquito and plays for La Sub 21.
While he was unemployed, playing for the club helped sustain his family.
“Through the time I had no job, I knew if my team won games I could buy milk for my son,” Roldán, who has a 1-year-old, said.
As a teen, he played for Atlanta, a standard second division team. However the club didn’t offer him knowledgeable contract when he turned 18 and Roldán needed to quit the dream.
For Alan Matijasevic, 29, and plenty of of his neighbors from Burzaco, a Buenos Aires suburb, El Ciclón is the barrio’s heart. The club was founded by a bunch of families in 1989 and ever since has offered recreational soccer for everybody 5 to 80 years old, including Matijasevic’s 7-year-old son Gio.
The potrero system works like this: Teams arrange a five-on-five match, compete for a pot, typically around $1,000 put up by the players or sponsors, and the winner takes all. Generally, a team organizes a potrero night, which features 4 or five games starting at 11 p.m. and ending around 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. Over time, the players have gotten to know one another and plenty of of them might play for a distinct team every week, depending on which club is brief a player.
The games never appear to lack an audience and it is not uncommon to see children, even toddlers, playing on the sphere during halftime of a match, even in early morning hours. The potrero games have turn into an hourslong social event.
A recent potrero match for Matijasevic began at 7 a.m. and, by the point all of the games and cleanup finished, 24 hours had passed.
Susana Andrade Acuña, the ticket seller at every El Ciclón de Burzaco event, has watched players grow up.
“Our club is sort of a family and I do know a number of the players since they were shorter than the table I sit at,’’ she said.
Roldán performance in potrero clubs got the interest of the futsal division of Huracán, a premier Argentina soccer club that hired him in January.
Jeremías Píriz, 26, said participating in potrero soccer gave him stability after a trying time in his life.
He played potrero while training for a primary division team’s junior squad to get extra cash. But in 2019 the club dismissed him for showing up late after potrero games and a few months later his 12-year-old brother died of a heart attack.
“It was the top for me. I didn’t wish to don’t have anything to do with anything,” Píriz said.
After hardly doing anything for months, he began running and training again and located his way back to potrero.
“I got here back and located a variety of people joyful simply to see me on the sphere,” he said. “That was a relief and I promised my brother I’d keep playing for him.”
Recently, the primary women’s teams have begun competing within the potrero circuit, including Las Ñeris, Las Flores and Chingolo.
In the long run, that “family vibe,” Matijasevic said, is what, after 24 hours within the club, keeps him playing.
Last summer, he recalled, he was away on vacation in a distant province and coming out of a river along with his Ciclón de Burzaco jersey on.
Suddenly someone shouted at him: ‘Hey, El Ciclón de Burzaco!”
Locals recognized him as a player and asked him for an image.
“I used to be touched and pleased with how far our work has gone,” he said. “My club is the very best place to refresh my mind and my barrio is the place where I like living.”