For 20-year-old Angie Garcia, soccer is not just a sport. Through her 10 years of playing she has learned a lot about herself and those around her. Her time on the field is a visceral experience where she is able to be free. Her passion for the sport is much more reflective of who she is than her exterior struggles, and because of programs such as Street Soccer USA (SSUSA), she is able to continue to play the sport she loves despite financial circumstances.
“I love it because I’m able to play with people from around the world, and I get close with my teammates,” said Garcia. “We watch each other grow, and we learn about each other’s struggles. If it weren’t for soccer, I’d probably be somewhere else getting in trouble, but this sport has helped me stay on track. It motivates me.”
Garcia has been involved with SSUSA for about a year, and she isn’t the only one deeply impacted by the organization’s efforts. SSUSA has made it its mission to bring street soccer to underprivileged youth and adults and leverage the power of football to connect and inspire people from diverse backgrounds. For many involved with SSUSA, playing helps create a safe haven from daily struggles and personal issues. The organization also provides tangible pathways to education and employment, as well as access to medical services.
In fact, the nonprofit strives to not only foster a positive community through programs in the states, but also worldwide. Over the past few weeks, SSUSA hosted its annual Street Soccer Cup, a celebration and fundraising event for the program. Benjamin Anderson, Bay Area Program Director for SSUSA, said the tournament is a way to reward the program’s participants for their hard work.
Street soccer is a very positive community, and it can be highly transformational for our participants.
“These young people have been through a lot, so the tournament is not only to raise awareness about who we are, but display their hard work center stage,” Anderson said. “It gets the community involved as well, and shows them what the street soccer community is about.”
Anderson noted that youth soccer can be a very expensive scene. Uniforms, team fees, tournament fees and other costly amenities are often hard to afford. SSUSA, he said, is a way for everyone to have access to soccer, and the program provides young people with an alternative to the pay-to-play leagues. It also offers participants the chance to grow as individuals.
“Street soccer is a very positive community, and it can be highly transformational for our participants,” Anderson said. “They develop skills that can be useful in other aspects of their lives. Here you can see the children face their problems while playing.”
The tournament was held in three cities across the U.S.—Philadelphia, New York, and San Francisco. San Francisco’s tournament wrapped up the event and bolstered 64 teams for a two-day event held in Union Square. The event also included mini-challenges for individual players and a celebrity match with local notables, including Fox Sports analyst and former U.S. women’s national soccer team player Danielle Slaton.
Slaton, who played for the women’s team from 2000-2005, said it was an honor to participate in such a positive event.
“Street Soccer is an awesome organization,” Slaton said. “I love the game. Soccer has given me so much, so any time I have the opportunity to give back to something that gave me so much, I’m going to step through it no matter what. “
Slaton said that although it was her first time participating in an SSUSA event, she could see the effect it has on participants.
“Seeing them reminds me of when I was a kid,” she said. “It’s so great to get back to why we began to play the game and where it all starts. To see them running around and having fun is awesome.”
Starting these kids off at a young age, it teaches them soccer and valuable life skills. It also brings them out of their everyday life scenarios, whatever that may be, and gives them something to look forward to.
Jaydee Perez, an SSUSA participant since 2011, said the program has provided a safe and positive environment. In 2012, Perez transitioned from player to coach. That year he was selected to attend the Homeless World Cup in Mexico City, where he met people from around the world. Perez grew up in foster care, and when he came to SSUSA, he was struggling financially and fighting drug and alcohol addiction.
“Going to Mexico was unexplainable,” Perez said. “Street Soccer has helped me so much. It has helped me to stay focused and I’m now participating in the program, going to school and holding down a job.”
Perhaps most importantly, his new role has given him the opportunity to help younger kids avoid going down the wrong path.
“Starting these kids off at a young age, it teaches them soccer and valuable life skills,” he said. “It also brings them out of their everyday life scenarios, whatever that may be, and gives them something to look forward to.”
As for Garcia, she said she hopes to keep participating in SSUSA for as long as possible, and that she wants to share her experience with loved ones.
“I’ll keep playing until I physically can’t,” Garcia said. “I’m going to bring my goddaughter to the program when she’s old enough too. I want her to start off on the right foot and not have to go through the struggles I have had with drug addiction and getting in trouble.”
For more about SSUSA or Street Soccer Cup, visit www.streetsoccerusa.org.
Photography by Patricia Sanchez.