Varsity Extra

Soccer helps refugee, Idaho Rush’s Katanga settle into Boise

Idaho Rush U-18 boys soccer falls in Far West quarterfinals

Idaho Rush had several last-minute chances for a tying goal come up just short in a 2-1 loss to Crossfire Oregon in the U-18 boys quarterfinals at the Far West Regionals
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Idaho Rush had several last-minute chances for a tying goal come up just short in a 2-1 loss to Crossfire Oregon in the U-18 boys quarterfinals at the Far West Regionals

Muga Katanga flies all over the field for the Idaho Rush.

In the boys U-18 quarterfinals at the Far West Regionals on Friday, Katanga bombed down the wing. He attacked defenders one-on-one. And he fired dangerous volleys into Crossfire Oregon’s box.

“He does an awesome job, and you can always rely on him to come out and give it his all,” Idaho Rush coach Nathan Hamm said. “He’s almost like the Energizer Bunny.”

That boundless energy is infectious for Rush, which qualified for Far West as a wild card and made a surprise run to the quarterfinals before falling 2-1 on Friday after several late chances at an equalizer fell short. That energy has also allowed Katanga to transition from a Congolese refugee into an integrated part of Boise.

Katanga’s family — he’s the youngest of seven children — fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo for neighboring Rwanda in 2003 as part of a civil war that has waged off and on for 20 years. The series of wars have killed as many as 5.4 million people in the Congo, according to one estimate by the International Rescue Committee.

The final straw came when soldiers arrived at the family apartment one day, looking to conscript his older brothers. Luckily, they weren’t home.

“Soldiers would try to come into the apartments and try to take kids — 12 years old, 8 years old — and take them into the army,” Katanga said. “… No matter how old you were, they would just take you and you’d go work for them. Or fight.”

It was a bunch of killing, torturing. It was brutal. It was bad.

Muga Katanga, describing the civil war in the Congo his family fled when he was 5.

After seven years in Rwanda, Katanga and his family earned entrance into the United States, settling in Boise. But his father and his oldest sister remain in Africa.

Katanga said his most vivid first impression of Boise as a 12-year-old came from the abundance of food.

“Most of the things that were really bad in Africa, what people really needed was food,” he said. “Here, everything was free.

“It wasn’t free,” he quickly corrects himself. “But it was there. You just had to go and get it.”

Katanga started playing soccer as a 5-year-old in Africa and picked up the sport in Boise with the Boys & Girls Club of Ada County on a rec league team. By the time he turned 14, Rush coaches spotted him and recruited him to their competitive club, where he’s harassed defenses for years and led the charge into the Far West quarterfinals.

Katanga said soccer allowed him to meet more friends than he ever could have imagined when he first came to the U.S.

“I met better friends that helped me out with a lot of things that I wasn’t going to do myself,” he said. “They helped me out through school, financially. They shaped me up into a better person and the person that I am right now.”

That same energy that allows Katanga to run around the field like the Energizer Bunny allows him to put in countless hours practicing, working and supporting his family. Hamm said Katanga doesn’t get home some nights until midnight. But he added that tireless effort has rubbed off on his players when they see Katanga going full throttle at practice despite a litany of other responsibilities.

“It’s just school, getting his citizenship, then travel,” Hamm said. “He was riding his bike from home to practice through Downtown Boise to Willow Lane (Athletic Complex). His family has got to share a car. His brother is working. He’s working to help supply for the family.

“For him to just come out and put in the work and the time that he has for our club, the boys are able to see that. You do have to put a lot of time into it to be a great player, and a great person.”

Michael Lycklama: 208-377-6424, @MichaelLycklama

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