By Dave Williamson / Guest Contributor
On the Westside of Atlanta, Soccer in the Streets recently unveiled its second metro station pitch in conjunction with Atlanta United and the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA). Aiming to provide a safe place for kids to play and develop regardless of their socioeconomic background, could this signal the future of grassroots soccer in the United States?
Soccer is taking over Atlanta, one community at a time. On Saturday, September 8, the city unveiled its second MARTA transit station pitch, which will provide the city’s Westside with a safe and consistent place to play.
Thanks to Soccer in the Streets, an organization that helps underprivileged youth build character, leadership skills and the tools to make responsible choices through the game, soccer and its surrounding culture will continue to thrive in Atlanta. A city which already embraces the beautiful game with a fervor unlike any other in the United States, these pitches will introduce the game at a grassroots level, instilling a cultural understanding and love for soccer to Atlanta’s youth.
“(These pitches) are giving life to the game that has already been there, but not in these communities,” said Sanjay Patel, a board member with Soccer in the Streets. “There are so many kids that when they get access to this game they love it. It brings joy to their lives and their families. Just historically because of the way soccer has been monetized in this country, they haven’t had access, and so we are (creating) a platform at Soccer in the Streets.”
Soccer in the Streets facilitated the opening of the first such pitch in 2016 at the Five Points station in the heart of the city, and there are plans to open more MARTA station pitches across Atlanta in the near future. Each pitch will a host youth team and compete against other MARTA station pitch teams, creating a league that is easily accessible in both financial and transportation means — two of the biggest hurdles faced in Atlanta’s underserved communities.
“I think this is going to be organic to the point, and that we are going to listen to the community,” Patel said. “We are going to see families come in and register their kids. We are very optimistic of a large turnout and representation from what we have already heard from the community. I think this club will be 200-deep.”
Present at the new pitch’s grand opening included Atlanta United players Andrew Wheeler-Ominu and Julian Gressel, last year’s MLS Rookie of the Year. The two pros played and coached alongside some of the Soccer in the Streets teams on the brand-new turf.
While we can’t be sure that the kids taking the field at the existing and future MARTA pitches will be a part of the next generation of great soccer talent, it represents a step in the right direction, allowing kids from all kinds of backgrounds the opportunity to discover the freedom that comes with playing the beautiful game.
Photography by Dave Williamson.
Born and raised in Atlanta, Dave Williamson is a freelance photographer and writer. He is also a high school soccer coach and continues to play soccer on a somewhat regular basis. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter.