As a child living through the Bosnian War in the early 1990s, Edi Buro remembers going into a shelter to escape potential trouble and playing soccer to escape the stress.
Buro, now a 26-year-old midfielder with Minnesota United FC, said economic struggles remain, though the war ended almost 20 years ago. A friend who is a Bosnia and Herzegovina youth soccer coach told him that “to have soccer shoes there is a luxury.”
Drugs have replaced streaking warplanes and rumbling explosions as the chief concern to young people, Buro said. So he is again using soccer as a way to help. Last spring Buro paid to ship 50 pairs of soccer shoes, plus other equipment, to Vitez, a city near his hometown.
There is a special satisfaction for Buro about sending shoes, which were provided by the Kick It Back program through the Tony Sanneh Foundation. Sanneh, a St. Paul native, said he can’t recall another player taking such initiative.
Buro remembers as a child getting an aid package that contained mismatched shoes, by color and manufacturer. No matter. He spray-painted them blue, just like those of his favorite soccer player, Italy’s Roberto Baggio. He likewise hopes to inspire through charity and soccer dreams.
“For me to help those kids, if I can give back a little bit, it puts a smile on my face,” said Buro, who got his first start with United in its Aug. 3 game against Atlanta. “It makes you feel good because it’s a country with a lot of soul. People live for this game.”
‘Dropped from the sky’
Buro’s family members rode out the war, which took place from 1992-95, in their hometown of Zenica. They were more fortunate than some neighbors; some of them lost sons. Some of Buro’s friends lost one or both parents.
Seeking better opportunities, Buro, parents Vahdet and Mehlida and older sister Nera, moved in 2001 to St. Louis Park, where they knew people who had moved there.
“I felt like someone dropped me from the sky and said, ‘Go ahead. Find yourself a life,’ ” Buro said.
Unfamiliar with English, Buro struggled with the simplest of tasks as he adjusted to enormous change brought by the move across the world. As an eighth-grader, he began the school year waiting for the hallways to clear before trying to find his room.
But he and other ESL (English as a second language) students from Ethiopia and Somalia all spoke soccer.
“We used to make a soccer ball from our papers, tape it up and play right in the room,” Buro said.
When Buro joined the school’s soccer team, he marveled at how each player had his own ball and the team played on actual grass, a far cry from the gravel fields of his youth where backpacks or rocks marked the goal posts. In those days, he said, anything that was “circular and it doesn’t hurt when you kick” was considered a soccer ball.
To Bosnia and back
In 2005 Buro helped St. Louis Park take second in the Class 1A boys’ soccer state tournament. He played one season at Hamline before returning to Bosnia and Herzegovina to play professionally in the rugged Premier League from 2010-12.
“I’m not saying the soccer played in America is soft, don’t get me wrong,” Buro said. “But the soccer I played in Bosnia, you have to have mirrors on both sides like on a car because if you don’t look out, you’re going to get whacked.”
He brought back the physical style when he signed with the then-Minnesota Stars before the 2012 season. Teammates on the receiving end of his physical style in practice describe it as getting “Buro-ed.” Its namesake laughed about the term but did not deny its justification.
“If it’s a 50-50 ball, I don’t care who you are, it’s going to be mine and I’ll see you on the ground,” he said.
Healing and helping
Despite growing up surrounded by war, Buro said, “I would not trade my childhood for anything. It made me extremely humble. Whatever I have in life I appreciate.”
He said he matured faster and learned from his parents that despite the differences that lead the region to war, all people should be treated the same. Buro counts Serbians and Croatians among his best friends.
“You try to move on,” Buro said. “You forgive but don’t forget.”
Humility and a desire to help others, he said, are examples of “what can you take positive from it.”
Buro has not planned to make soccer shoe donations an annual event. But he said soccer fans can contact Sanneh’s foundation or bring their new or gently used shoes to United home games this fall at the National Sports Center in Blaine. The team plays Tampa Bay at 7 p.m. Saturday in Blaine.
The response from children in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Buro said, “has been amazing. Everybody has been thanking me over Facebook.”