Championship-caliber teams are usually full of characters who come from a variety of backgrounds. It’s hard not to find a player with a unique personality. For this year’s undefeated men’s soccer team, one of these characters is freshman defenseman Andrew Farrell.
Ask his teammates what distinguishes Farrell, who can play piano by ear and sported shoulder-length dreadlocks for most of the 2010 season, and there seems to be a consensus: He is prone to shout in Spanish.
“He’s always shouting something in Spanish when he’s out there,” said freshman midfielder Dylan Mares. “We can never understand what he’s saying.”
But, for Farrell, the bilingualism on the pitch comes more as a habit than as a tool of deception.
“Everybody’s always asking me what I’m yelling, but it all comes naturally for me,” said Farrell. “No one can really understand what I’m saying. But that’s a lot more of how the game is played down there. There’s a lot more communication.”
The “down there” that Farrell refers to is Lima, Peru where he spent most of his childhood, from the time he was five until his sophomore year of high school. Farrell’s parents, Hunter and Ruth Farrell, worked as Presbyterian missionaries in Peru. They moved back to Louisville when Hunter got a job as director of the Presbyterian World Mission.
Starting with his sophomore year, Farrell attended Louisville’s Atherton High School, where he said fitting in wasn’t as hard as some might think.
“The transition was obviously pretty hard at first, coming to Louisville after living in Peru for that long,” said Farrell. “But Atherton is a really diverse school. We had guys from a lot of different backgrounds on the soccer team. And they were a pretty easy group to fit in with.”
Farrell learned to play soccer in a way that might seem foreign to many American soccer players. But, for him, this was part of the reality of growing up in Lima.
“You know, we played every day in the streets,” said Farrell. “We’d just set up four rocks for goals.”
But Farrell said the greatest part of his Peruvian background is not limited to the game of soccer.
“The best part about being from Peru is that I can relate to lots of different cultures,” said Farrell. “You know, I can speak Spanish. And I know what it’s like to come to the United States from somewhere else.”
Ken Lolla, men’s soccer head coach, agreed, saying that this sense of cultural recognition in Farrell was easy to see, even while he was still a recruit.
“I think, culturally, it really broadened his perspective and experience in life,” said Lolla. “I think Andrew has a great appreciation for what he has, having seen the poverty there. And he has a great understanding of diversity. It’s pretty easy to see that in him. His parents are wonderful people and you can see how they’ve shaped him.”
Many around Farrell have praised his character. Early this season Farrell came down with a bout of mononucleosis, which kept him out of action for three weeks near the beginning of the season. Such a setback would be devastating to many players, hoping to start their college career on the right foot, but Farrell took it in stride.
“Andrew’s got probably the best attitude on the team,” said Mares. “He got over the sickness really quick. It was like it didn’t faze him at all. It seems like he’s always in a great mood.”
Farrell said he couldn’t even believe the doctor when he heard that he had mono. He still wanted to play soccer, despite his illness.
“Man, the sickness was tough because I didn’t really feel that bad – just really tired,” said Farrell. “But I love to play soccer. So it was really hard not to for three weeks.”
According to Lolla, Farrell’s love for the game might be his best asset on the field.
“Coming from South America, Andrew got to see a culture that cares and is passionate about the game, that you don’t really get to see here,” said Lolla. “And you can see that in how Andrew plays the game. He is passionate and serious about it.”
Although Farrell is well known for his accomplishments on the soccer field, his qualities off the field have become his distinguishing attribute, according to Lolla.
“His character and personality are amazing,” said Lolla. “His values, his work ethic, his attitude are all high end. He’s a generally good kid.”
Farrell’s climb back from his illness was capped off when he scored the game-winning goal on a breakaway in a game against Rutgers University in Piscataway, N.J. It was his first goal in college, something he knows is pretty special, as goals do not come often for defensemen.
“It was such a rush, and means a lot as my first collegiate goal,” said Farrell. “I just got a chance on a breakaway. As a defensive mid, I know I don’t have a whole lot of chances to score. So I got really nervous when I got close. But, fortunately, I put it away.”
Even in his limited playing time this season, Farrell has shown glimpses of the promise that Lolla saw when recruiting him at Atherton.
“As a local product, we heard of him pretty quick,” said Lolla. “We went and saw him play with his club team and he was obviously pretty special. We met with his coaches and his family and the more we learned, the more we liked about him. We learned what a quality person he is.”
For Farrell, coming to the University of Louisville made sense after meeting Lolla. It was clear the admiration was mutual.
“U of L’s never been the best school in terms of soccer,” said Farrell. “But after I met with Coach Lolla I was sure he is the best coach in college soccer. So I thought, ‘I might as well go and try to build something under him.’ And it looks like it’s turned out pretty well with the guys we’ve got here.”
Another important factor for Farrell was being able to have his parents at games. He believes they helped him get to this level.
“It’s really nice to have my parents come to all the games,” said Farrell. “I think they’ve been to almost all the games, even when I wasn’t playing. So it really means a lot.”
For Farrell and the Cardinals, the 2010 season could hardly be going any better. At 14-0-2 on the season, the team has not only eclipsed the school record for wins, but has remained at the No. 1 or 2 spot in every national poll for several weeks. Many on the team say the success has been more a corollary of their cohesiveness than any star players or outstanding talent.
“It has been a really special season,” said Mares. “Our chemistry is really good, better than any team I’ve ever been on. Even if [losing a game] happens, we’ll handle it well. I’m so confident in our composure because we’re like brothers.”
Lolla agreed, saying this team has a very special connection, something Farrell is right in the middle of.
“I think Andrew is wonderful,” said Lolla. “He fits in with these guys very well. He is really easy to get along with. We’re encouraged with where we’re at right now, even more knowing that there is more growth to be had.”
Farrell, who said he won’t rule out returning to Peru one day, aspires to a career either playing or coaching soccer. For now, he said a run at the national championship is a realistic goal for this team and would make for a great ending to another chapter in his story.
“It just seems like we keep finding a way to win,” said Farrell. “Every game has been a fight. They’ve been close. And I think that’s why we’re in such a great position to succeed. Who knows where we can go?”