Photo of a soccer ball laying in the grass.
Image by Andy03 from Pixabay

Street Soccer tournament returns to D.C.-Russia, though, takes the win 

Teams from 20 U.S. cities and Russia arrived in the District last week to kick off the fourth annual Street Soccer U.S.A Cup. Only in its fourth year, the tournament featured a program that combined athletics, music and social change for an event that offered a little something for everyone.  

The SSUSA Cup began on the evening of Friday, July 31, with a parade and an appearance by Mayor Adrian Fenty. Players dressed to represent their respective cities, while the drumming of the all-female samba/reggae percussion group Batala set an exciting and intense tone.  

In the wake of the FIFA World Cup, the SSUSA Cup gave soccer enthusiasts a chance to watch live games while lending support to an organization that seeks to kick out homelessness – one player at a time. Members from La Barra Brava, known for their passionate cheering, came out for the opening match featuring D.C. and San Francisco. Complete with a pupusería stand and hip-hop and Latin beats provided by volunteer Tyler Hall, the tournament appealed to an impressive array of people. Among the audience were families, youngsters and individuals from a range of cultures.  

While the rules of street soccer, played four-on-four in 15-minute games, allow for a fast-paced and dynamic game, a clear emphasis was placed on sportsmanship and camaraderie. Even in the middle of a tough game, smiles could be found on the faces in the crowd and on players alike. As many volunteers and fans said, the positive atmosphere was due largely in part to the enthusiasm of announcers Chris Lodgson and Joe Tripodo. Though soccer was undoubtedly the focal point of the tournament, Saturday’s events included a dance contest, skills clinic and performance from multi-platinum producer Kevin “Khao” Cates.  

As much fun as the SSUSA Cup is for both fans and players, the event’s organizers hope to see different faces every year. The 2010 New York team, for example, featured only a handful of its 2009 players. As Andres Garvey, one of the tournament’s directors will tell you, that is a good thing. When a player does not come back, it means that he or she has found a way off the streets.  

“You don’t want to see [the players] next year,” says Garvey. “You want them to make it.”  

The Street Soccer program provides its participants with access to a variety of resources, including workplace readiness, pro bono legal services and substance abuse and trauma counseling. Additionally, the program’s emphasis on teamwork and goal-setting builds a sense of trust and community that many individuals experiencing homelessness lack. Within a year of joining the program, 75 percent of Street Soccer players will have moved off the streets – a testament to Street Soccer’s innovative, holistic approach.  

For more information about Street Soccer and photos of the tournament, visit www.streetsoccer.org.