Two words most people would never put together are Kiowa and soccer. The town of Carnegie, Oklahoma, where the tribal complex is located, is not amongst the places one expects to see and hear fans of the world’s most beloved sport. Ironically, two of soccer’s best, one a coach and the other a player, are rooted in this area.
I first met Coach Arron Lujan, an enrolled member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma, while sitting at a restaurant with my wife’s family during the annual Kiowa Gourd Clan festivities in Carnegie. I overheard him talking soccer at the breakfast table and was shocked. As a former NCAA and NAIA soccer player, as well as head coach, I always viewed Indian Country as soccer’s literal black hole. This chance encounter quickly changed my mind. At the time, Arron was an assistant men’s soccer coach at Princeton University. Prior to this he served as an assistant at Virginia Wesleyan after bouncing around playing professional soccer for seven years with four different American clubs. He finished his collegiate playing career at Colorado College where he left as the school’s all-time leading scorer and a consensus All-American. In May of 2009 he was inducted into the school’s athletic Hall of Fame. Arron has been instrumental in promoting the game of soccer to Indian youth and is a founder of the annual Indigenous Soccer Cup held in New Mexico.
The top professional Indian athlete in the country, Chris Wondolowski, another enrolled Kiowa, isn’t throwing footballs in the NFL, hitting golf balls down the fairway, or living a life well known to most Indian people. And don’t let the surname fool you, his mom is Kiowa and his journey is indicative of the few Indian people who claw their way to the professional ranks.
Chris didn’t play for an NCAA D-I school in college and he wasn’t drafted in the Major League Soccer Super Draft. He showed up to an area camp tryout and wasn’t invited back for day two, so he appeared uninvited and impressed the coaches. The MLS supplemental draft is usually where “lesser” players are selected and being chosen at the tail end of the draft doesn’t exactly build one’s confidence. In his first five seasons in the MLS he tallied only seven goals, but in 2010 he placed eighteen in the back of the net during the 26 game season. Eight of these were game winners and ten were consecutive. He was chosen as the Golden Boot award winner and as a finalist for league MVP during the 2010 season while making the league minimum of $40,000 as a player for the San Jose Earthquakes. The Golden Boot is given to the top scorer in Major League Soccer.
To put that in context for many readers in the United States, that means that he is the equivalent of a Kobe Bryant in the NBA, Tiger Woods of three years ago, and Jose Canseco during his peak. Of course to put that in further context, he is all of these guys minus the infidelity, homophobic slurs, large egos, and steroids. He makes world renowned and MLS soccer star David Beckham look like a rookie. Professional soccer in the US is typically attained through Olympic Development programs, elite universities, white suburban money, and “who you know” type lobbying.
Wondo, as he is known by adoring soccer fans, had none of this privilege. As he said during his legendary run last season concerning his salary, “I ate a lot of macaroni and cheese.” Fortunately, he is from a people who understand the term commodities. His sacrifice turned into an undisclosed contract renegotiation in February, an invite to play on the U.S. National Team where he has already scored in a game against Chile, and four goals already during the beginning of the 2011 MLS season. Wondo is a direct descendant of Kiowa Chief Tdohasan and his Kiowa name Bau Daigh, translates as warrior coming over the hill. This is a truly fitting title for this remarkable young man.
So if you ever find your self down in the local park walking amongst the numerous tipis erected each year to celebrate the Kiowa way of life in Carnegie, Oklahoma, make sure you stop by the camps of their families and pay them a visit. And as for Coach Arron Lujan, he eventually left his assistant position at Princeton and accepted a head coaching position at another university where in his first two seasons he has lead them to a record of 31-6-2. And the name of the university … Carnegie-Mellon University. Go figure.