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Goalkeeper saves his best for New York fans

From Isha Sesay, CNN
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Tue September 6, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bouna Coundoul is New York Red Bulls' Senegalese goalkeeper
  • He moved to the U.S. aged 14, where his talents were spotted in high school
  • He's created the 'Bouna Time Academy' in Senegal

New York (CNN) -- Now goalkeeper for the New York Red Bulls, as a child growing up in Senegal, Bouna Coundoul could only dream of being a professional footballer.

At the age of 14 Coundoul was sent to study in the unfamiliar surroundings of New York. But his passion for football followed him across the Atlantic.

"When I moved from Senegal to the United States in 1997, I didn't know that in the United States they played soccer -- all I thought is basketball or whatever," he says. "So coming here and seeing that soccer is well developed here, I went to high school."

Coundoul's shot-stopping talents started flourishing in his new environment. He soon made a splash on the local football scene as a talented goalie while playing in high school.

Goalkeeper saves memories of Senegal
Coundoul's Senegalese pride

"In the United States, education can open the doors of any opportunity that you want, so when I went to high school, people started seeing, 'oh this guy has some talent, this guy can make it.'"

In 2005 he fulfilled his dream of competing at the top level by signing for American Major League Soccer (MLS) team the Colorado Rapids.

These days he sports the red and white colors of the New York Red Bulls, whose fans have taken him to their hearts. On match days, a certain catch phrase can often be heard echoing around the team's imposing stadium: "It's Bouna Time."

It's a phrase Coundoul lives by, defining his attitude toward both football and life.

"The way I see it, the way I kind of come up with it (is to) be the best on the field," he explains. "Whatever you do in life, as long as it's positive, it can be Bouna Time."

"Try to do everything at your max so after, later on, you don't regret anything. That's why Bouna Time is all about (being) positive."

Coundoul says he's developed a special relationship with his team's fans: "As soon as I step on the field ... you can hear it. 'What time is it? It's Bouna Time.' And that really makes me feel like, OK, these guys are on my side, they really believe in me.

Once you get your education, anything is possible -- even if you don't become a professional soccer player, you can become the next president.
Bouna Coundoul

"I make sure I give them a good show so every time they come, they know it's going to be Bouna Time."

Now a teammate of French football legend Thierry Henry, Coundoul says he cherishes the moments he's on the same field as some of the sport's biggest names.

"Thierry Henry, David Beckham, Rafael Marquez, Samuel Eto'o -- all those guys that back in the day I used to sit and dream and watch those guys play, now we're in the same field, playing with those guys, or against them," he says.

"I think that's a dream come true. Any soccer player would love to have that opportunity."

Coundoul's eye-catching performances in the MLS have also earned him a place in Senegal's national team.

"I represent it with pride, with honor," he says. "I want to serve the country the best way possible, which is playing soccer."

In 2007 he found another way to help his country on a deeper level, with the creation of the Bouna Time Academy, which provides after-school football training for some 60 children, and organizes matches for them at the weekend.

But Coundoul says that only top students are accepted by the academy. He wants the young athletes to understand that while few of them will have the chance to be professional footballers, their education can take them anywhere.

"I tell them, once you get your education, anything is possible," he says. "Even if you don't become a professional soccer player, you can become the next president.

"If you get your education, you can travel, you can read, you can do everything you want to do, and you can carry yourself in a way that they say, 'this guy is professional all the time.'"

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