During his Ramadan fast, Red Bulls goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul is not allowed to eat from sunrise to sunset. (Byron Hetzler-USA TODAY)
Since February is Black History Month, FrontRowSoccer.com will post one story a day about soccer players of color from the United States and the rest of the world. This multi-part series we will feature players from Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti, U.S. Virgin Islands, Ghana, Bermuda, Brazil, Trinidad & Tobago, Senegal and the United States. Today, we feature former Red Bulls goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul. This story was posted on BigAppleSoccer.com Sept. 11, 2009.
By Michael Lewis
Red Bulls goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul wouldn’t tip his hand to a reporter on whether he eat and drink during the day on Saturday.
If he did, the former Martin Luther King High School standout would be tipping his hand on whether he would start against the Kansas City Wizards at Giants Stadium that night. If he doesn’t, that would mean Coundoul will start on the bench.
For the past three weeks, Coundoul has been observing the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, which started Aug. 22 and runs through Sept. 20.
“It’s not easy to train and play at the highest level without food or drink,” Coundoul said Friday.
During Ramadan, Muslims ask forgiveness for past sins and pray for guidance.
For the past eight years, the 27-year-old Coundoul said that he has observed Ramadan “at the highest level.”
From sunrise to sunset for a month, Muslims are required not to eat, drink, smoke or do anything in excess.
When he started fasting on Aug. 22, Coundoul said he was fasting from 4:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. But since sunset is not as early and sunset not as late, the span has shrunk to 5 a.m. to 7:15 p.m.
There are challenges, such as training in extreme heat. Every player at every practice has to hydrate himself due to the loss of water. But Coundoul can’t drink.
So, he does the next best thing — he either throws a pail of water on his hit or puts a cold towel on top of it.
“It hasn’t affected by training,” Coundoul said, although he admitted that “I’m not as strong as usually am.”
That’s why he prefers not to play during Ramadan. If he does suit up against the Wizards — Danny Cepero is the other option — he could eat.
“If I’m not playing, I’m not going to fast,” he said.
“When Ramadan is over, I have to make up that day that I miss.”
Coundoul remembered one time in which he played during a fast — for the Colorado Rapids reserve team, which captured the MLS Reserve Division championship with a win over the Red Bulls that day in 2006.
He will eat after sunset, but Coundoul said that he hardly binges. He usually breaks his fast by eating dates.
“People think that I have some good healthy meals during Ramadan, that when I break the fast, I eat a lot,” Coundoul said. “I normally eat a lot.”
Coundoul’s normal routine would be to go to sleep, wake-up before 5 a.m. and drink a little.
He said that has been following Ramadan religiously for eight years, although he started when he was around six-years-old.
“It’s very restricted,” he said.
At 12-13 is when children start fasting as much as adults do, Coundoul said.
By the time Ramadan is over, Coundoul, who is listed at 6-2, 197 lbs., usually loses around 10 lbs.
“As soon as I start eating again, I’ll gain weight quickly,” he said.
Even though he has played only three games since joining the club in late June, Coundoul is content. He has a 2.00 goals-against average and a 1-2 record.
“Everything is good,” he said. “I’m really happy with the way things are going. I’m having the best training. I want to improve to be the best player I can be. What I’m really happy about is that I’m getting the best training under Des.”
That is Des McAleenan, the goalkeeping coach.
“I can’t complain,” Coundoul said. “I’m really happy with the way things are going.”
Coundoul could be coming and going to and from the Red Bulls soon — to play for the Senegal National Team in a friendly or two during the next international playing window from Oct. 10-14.
He had been asked to join the team for a friendly in China last week, but Coundoul declined.
“It was going to be in China, far away,” he said. “I told them to give me a couple of games under my belt.”