Showcasing the power to overcome homelessness in Times Square? The beauty of Street Soccer USA
The mission is as simple as it is admirable: “scoring goals on the field, and achieving their goals in life.” The non-profit organization Street Soccer USA believes in the beautiful game’s power to promote social change. In an annual tournament, teams from cities all over the country come together. 100% of the players are homeless, but through a systematic approach, SSUSA is able to get 75% of players off of the streets within a year.
As remarkable as the numbers are, I decided to take in the tournament firsthand. Last weekend, the teams from over 20 cities met in New York City, setting up in Chinatown and Times Square. I stopped by both venues, and actually managed to get in a game in the tournament’s corporate cup. Functioning with its own set of rules, perhaps the best nuance to SSUSA matches is the fact that in addition to giving out cards for disciplinary purposes, there is a green card, which reinforces clean play and encourages teams to compete for a Fair Play trophy.
Teams represent their cities, but in addition each team is also associated with a term aligning with SSUSA’s focus on self-empowerment (i.e. Dignity FC, Change, Respect, Family, etc…). The final set of matches took place in Times Square, the universe’s center for commercialization. Alongside advertisements for Coke and shows on Broadway, the power and novelty of the tournament was unmistakeable.
Basking in this epicenter of capitalism, the genuine joy and determination on show starkly portrayed the superfluousness of that which surrounded it. Tourists lined up to watch, only to be knocked entirely out of their respective comfort zones when hearing that this fantastic display was supplied by the homeless. As New York Red Bulls striker Kenny Cooper gave medals to the winners (all the participants), a German woman asked me, “But is it true that they’re all homeless?” Before I could respond, a photographer replied, “Not for long.”
To learn more about Street Soccer USA and the associated Homeless World Cup, click here and here. [photos and words by EB]