Saturday, April 28, 2007

two in a row

Street Soccer 945 Newsletter 4-27-07

Richard (pictured here), Scott, and Rollon are members of Homeless Helping Homeless, a self-advocacy group faciliated by Liz Clasen at the Urban Ministry Center. Although we normally don’t take girlfriends or casual spectators etc. to games with the team, the coaches and the players were more than willing to make an exception and an extra squeeze to make room for these gentleman who everyone recognizes for having worked hard on behalf of the homeless community while themselves struggling with the affliction of being homeless.

Richard, the most vocal of the group, has a vioce like loose gravel, a handsome, weathered face, and the pure white hair of wisdom if not innocence. His body has been disabled but certainly not his spirit or wit. Although our squad featured one member in Mohammed Osman that approaches Richard’s age, most of our players clash with Richard on a generational and a cultural level. For this reason, Richard has been a vocal skeptic of what he styled our “street gang.” On Wednesday we transormed him into an ardent advocate of our “great soccer team” as Richard himself put it.

We transformed Richard through our hustle , earning a narrow 3-2 victory. Young Dave McGregor scored all three goals (picuted here between michael and amil). Notable performers were Pop Miller whose work on the track with Coach Rob showed marked improvement in his agressivemess and willingness to take the ball into space, and also, Mohammed Osman, whose stamina increases every match; Mohammed showed quick moves and smart play in the center of the field.

Although we dominated the game early, we only had a single goal to show for it; our frustration became apparent. Subsitute Honduran standouts Elmer and Jorge played skillfully but let their urgency take them out of position. As a result we relied on some good goal keeping to keep us in the lead at the half. In the second half our opponents stepped up their intensity and what looked like an inevitable victory turned into a dogfight. We attacked well but missed opporunties again and again. A nice give and go beat our defense and we had to rely on an idividual effort from Dave McGregor to pull us a head for a second time. A spinning rebound then fooled our keeper and he batted the ball in our own goal to bring the score level again. Finally the hustle of Michale McGregor and Amil Livingston led to a penalty call against our opponent. Dave converted his third goal from the spot to give us the lead for good in our 3-2 victory.

Coach Cann took some team members back to the track on Friday for a two-mile run test. The team worked out in new practice gear donated by the North Carolina Youth Soccer Association. Street Soccer Veteran and former national team member Ray Isaac gave a presentation to the NCYSA on Thursday about penetrating the inner city with the sport of soccer and he and Coach Rob brainstormed with NCYSA leadership about involving more youth in homeless soccer programming.

As the season gears up and national team traingin begins, Street Soccer 945 seems poised to seize the moment. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

What's it's like to Win.

(pictures--members of street soccer and the homeless community prepare art on the new street soccer field being built on site at the Urban Ministry Center as part of a design-build project at the UNCC College of Architecture. In the other photo, blurry Michael McGregor speeds past yet another defender.)

Street Soccer 945 Newsletter(4-17-07)

I am laying on the carpet in my old college soccer shorts with my head resting on two half full bottles of water. I am looking up at a 130 pound, twenty-year old Asian man who goes by the street name “c-white.” He’s telling a story about being challenged on the transit bus. He first hears something about a chinaman. A 6-3 guy a few rows back is looking at c-white out of the corner of his eye while talking to three giggling girls. The next thing "white," as we call him, knows the guys is asking him if he has change for a dollar. White says, no. Then in begins: Name calling, taunting. Then next thing white knows the guy has his put his own face so close to white’s that their noses touch. White finally pushes him off. It is his stop and he gets off. The fellow follows. This is the story white is telling. White has gotten up out of his chair in front of me. He starts describing how this altercation or scrap, those being the terms he applies to the incident, progresses. He side steps the pile of blue uniforms we all have worn in the game inorder to show how this fellow kept swinging at him and how he kept dodging low and the fellow kept hitting him in the arm. That’s what this from, white says. Sure enough white’s shoulder is black and blue--an impressive welt. I look at it in disbelief that I hadn’t notice it earlier. Like all of us there, white is shirtless and in his boxers. This is the timeless period of time after a victory that you just feel the blood tingling in your capilaries, enjoy the sweet fatigue of of your quadriceps and hamstrings while you swap stories and share laughs. On this day, white, who by his own admission is not a “people person,” is animated. He goes on and on philisophizing his way through stories of altercations that he, as a slight of build loner, has to face at night on the bus etc. He picks up themes of manhood, composure and eastern religion, and even the extent to which social services the Urban Ministry Center enable people. What does it do for you, I quickly as him. It keeps me out of trouble, keeps me from doing what I am trying not to do and more focused on what I am trying to do, you feel me?, he says.

6-3 was not jus the height of white's assailant, but also 6-3 was the final tally of tonight’s game, a victory for Street Soccer 945. The game got off to an amazing start . . . for the opponents. About 45 seconds into the match they launched a long ball spinning backward into our end just outside the goal box. Their forward was well positioned, but our defender was still marking tight from the goal side. Their forward, rather than trapping the long ball ,volleyed a looping shot into the far side net of our goal to give them a lead. Three minutes later after we missed a pair of chances they scored a second goal on an excellent but isolated attack. As we pressured but couldn't find the net the game picked up it’s intensity. We got one back on an individual effort and played some nice combinations only to fall behind again 3-2, but notched a goal with just five seconds left to make it 3-3 at half. It was in the second half that Street Soccer really defined itself. As the game became more and more competative, both sides started to get into it. We preached play hard but fair and successfully walked away from several altercations. Just after we went up 4-3 on a Dave McGregor goal, the other team came out even more aggresively so much so that they received a red card and a two-minute penalty so that they played a man down for the ensuing five minutes and two men down for the following two minutes. Amazingly we hit the post, barely missed a long distance chip, and slammed two shots just wide during our power play, but could not put the ball away. Finally a Michael Mcgregor goal gave us some breathing room and we added another to coast to victory.

On the ride back we talked about how silly the other team looked foulding and complaining and about how our new formation really worked. Up till now we have kept on talking. The game was at 11pm and now it is 1:30. This is nice, I think to myself. We’ll sleep here for a few hours at the Urban Ministry Center and then head out when the sun comes up. Then this time will be over. Two guys are heading to labor pool at 4am, another to a construction sight, the other out to his job at Carowinds, but not till midday. The last one is just going to be first in line to do laundry at the Center in the morning. It’s back to normal, at least until next week.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

8-4 Victory in New Brixx Unis

Osman Mohammed (pictured in the very center), in our dealings with him, has comported himself at all times like a mild mannered gentleman, respectful and willing to help out in any manner necessary. In contrast to his greying beard and temples, Mohammed’s soft brown eyes seem childlike and innocent. He is from Sudan where he fondly remembers teaching school and coaching a youth soccer team. The details he gives of the past contrast with the vague nature of his present vagary. Having lived in North Carolina for 14 years, Mohammed, 65, can’t remember the names of his friends or how he lost his documents and belongings. He thinks he suffered an injury on the job, but he is not sure. A volunteer counselor at the Urban Ministry Center who also volunteers at the men’s shelter remembers him as someone who yelled at her, spit on the floor, and didn’t understand how a women could tell him what to do. Mohammed has no recollection of that and was as courteous as could be here. For his part he says he never stayed at the Shelter for lack of state ID, and has been living at the emergency winter shelter. Is he suffering from memory loss? Is the volunteer mistaken? We have worked with Mohammed to recover his documents, and he will pick up his new copy of driver’s liscense on Tuesday. He has no criminal history and has shown no signs of a dark side so far. In fact. he seems just to be a delightful character.

Since winter emergency shelter ends on Sunday, Mohammed will have to sleep rough for a few nights, he supposes, until he can claim social security benefits, and hopefully begin to work again, now that he has identification. Last week Mohammed started for Street Soccer 945 in their 8-4 victory over Fort Mill. After his first practice, Mohammed said his whole body ached, but it that it was a good ache. “This is very good for me, and it makes me feel normal again,” says Mohammed. At 65, his endurance isn’t excellent, but he still has quick feet, and showed flashes of brilliance with a few subtle touches in heavy traffic. He sent his best chance to score, a volley from 12 yards out, over the cross bar, but Mohammed was just happy to have an activity. "There is so much time that I must wait to get my documents. Often, I have nowhere to go."

Reaching out to someone like Mohammed who was otherwise disoriented and disconnected is what Street Soccer is all about. Additionally, in Wednesday’s victory, Street Soccer 945 saw the return of Ghanaian born “Prince” (pictured at left, reclining) to the roster. Like, Mohammed, Prince has a soccer-past. Suffering from mental illness, Prince has been living in uptown, Charlotte, and has cycled through good states and states of extreme delusions. When you have known someone as such a bright light, full of compassion and intelligence, to see them suffering form a mental disease is heartbreaking. As coach Rob put it, “To see Prince on the soccer field, you see a great player, making smart manuevers, reading the game, and rising to the occasion. For a moment he free from all that affliction.” As we build trust, Prince is more and more receptive to treatment. The team too, has rallied around him, especially after he pulled the ball behind his legs, gave a defence splitting pass, and got the ball back, danced (and I mean danced!) past once defender before beating the goal keeper with a sharp finish to reclaim the lead for our team in the second half.

Patrick is a 20-year old who watched the game last week. He poke frankly about his mistakes in life and feels joining the team will help him maintain his focus and get himself off the street. “Especially after watching him [Prince] last night, I mean, soccer is awesome.”

Another 20-year old was our man of the match. C-White, who has played soccer for less than a year, scored the first goal and our crucial 6th goal when he made a soft first touch into the space in front of him and shot the ball hard into the lower left corner of the goal. White’s relationship with the team has been protracted for several months, time of both personal struggle and growth. He has only been able to work temporary jobs and he hopes his interview this weekend at Carowinds (that teammate Tony Kelly secured for him) will give him regular employment even if the wage is not all he hoped for. You can see his interview posted on our blog coming this Wednesday. It is amazing to hear him talk and smile to a camera when before, he wouldn't even engage in conversation when spoken to directly.

Finally, no account of our jubilant victory would be complete without reference to our stylish new uniforms provided by sponsor Brixx Pizza. Our team was proud and inspired to be looking good on the field. Thanks to Rob of Brixx and all those with Brixx that help support our players in their efforts every week.

This week gametime is 6pm at the Sports Warehouse. Hope to see you there.