September 13, 2014 — A few days before Labor Day weekend, I loaded my soccer gear for the 1,000-mile drive from Denver to the International Friendship Cup of Iran in Irvine, California. I had 30 hours to find the path to the Deep Creek Hot Springs before picking up the manager and a few players at LAX. I saved the soak for the drive home.

Celebrating its 27th consecutive year, the International Friendship Cup of Iran draws teams to California from all over the United States. Players come from Iran and everywhere to reunite with old friends and play a high level of elder-ball. The tournament allows up to six non-Persian players per team, and I feel honored to be among this small group. Marco was our captain, another American currently working for NASA in Florida. I’m American, and the other four were Chino Melendez (Peru), Bulcha (Ethiopia), and Chollo and Robi from Mexico. Robi nicknamed me Lato after the tournament, a nice gesture.

Arya Colorado won the over-45 division in 2013, and we made it out of the group stage of the over-50 division at the Orange County Great Park this year. But we lost the first knockout contest, a 2-0 disappointment against the eventual cup champions, ASC Houston FC. They had Arash Noamouz, a former Iranian national team player who scored the first goal for the Los Angeles Galaxy in 1996. Arash is actually 47, one of five players allowed between the ages of 45 and 50. Tournament director Hosane Zama combined the over-45 and over-50 divisions this year with the five-youngster exemption.

A few notable players and coaches at the tournament include:

Karim Bagheri, former Iranian national team player. Check out these goals:

Goal against South Korea, 2000

Goal for Persepolis


Omid Namazi

Martin Vasquez played too.