Tuesday, December 25, 2007

End of Year Banquet and Christmas Party

Zenas Fewell claimed the Outstanding Achievment Award for his successful exploits since particiapting in the 2006 Capetown World Cup. Zenas has maintained his apartment for 18 months and recentely got back into classes at the community college. Despite a hearing disability and a mental health disability, Zenas has escaped homelessness. He addressed head on all his disablilties and additionally finished anger management courses. Although he does not train with the team regularly anymore, he checks in from time to time and is an inspiration to others.

The Spirit Award went to new team member Tim Cummings (pictured above) who has been all about supporting his teammates, helping them find jobs, encouraging them in their battles against drugs, and being a general force of good energy. Tim is an invaluable resource for his teammates in their struggles because he has been there himself. With over a year of sobriety, Tim says he has never felt better. Outside of Street Soccer Tim plays goalie in the Latino league where he won an award for outstanding goalkeeping. We are greatful for his efforts on and off the field.

The Fair Play Award went to US Copenhagen World Cup captain Daniel Martinez, whose calm demeanor, excellent hustle and talent earned him praise from coaches of all nations. Most importantly he demands the respect of his teammates. When he, Elmer, and Jorge decided to come to Charlotte, they changed their address and their attitude. Daniel was catalyst for their change and subsequent success.

The Hustle Award went to Craig Holley who has returned to Charlotte and street soccer with more purpose and drive than ever. Craig’s determination is worthy of singling out as an example for all of the players, especially since Craig had never played soccer before training with Street Soccer 945.

While we would have liked to give an award to all players, these were some areas that we felt were important to emphasize for our program. Congrats to everyone. We are thankful for the opportunities afforded us in 2007 and proud of how all of us seized these opportunities.

Stars Shine

Street Soccer Stars ended a two game losing streak to move into second place in the league standings on Tuesday night, winning 5-3. The competition was not as stiff as previous weeks and Jorge’s return in the back was welcomed. The story of the match was Dwayne’s goal (Dwayne is pictured above), the 4th that put us in the lead for good after the half. Why is it the story? Because it extended Dwayne’s streak of goals. He has now scored in every match he has played in for Street Soccer 945 and the Street Soccer Stars. That is 6 games straight and a total of 9 goals. The other nice moment was when 24 year-old volunteer Chris scored our team’s fifth goal with just under 5 minutes to play. The two-goal lead took the pressure of the defense a bit. From a game that saw us miss many chances, we will build positively off the good hustle and improved team play. In another kudos to big Dwayne, known affectionately as D-bone to his teammates, we are happy to congratulate him on passing a drug test and receiving out patient recommendation from the McCleod Center. Dwayne is 6 weeks into his sobriety and has maintained it since leaving a 28 day program. The Stars are back in action after the holiday.

Hectic Day, Hectic Game

J. lost his job when he made the mistake of cashing a false check. Someone approached him with the idea and Jesse went along with it for a number of sympathetic reasons, none that justified what he did of course. The amount was less than 500 dollars so it didn’t register as a felony. Still, it has kept him from getting the jobs he wants. J. is a trained cook, but that charge keeps popping up. Last time they told me, said Jesse, that it showed a lack of trustworthiness. After many years working at the soup kitchen you start to develop a gut instinct about people’s trustworthiness. Everyone is in need, so you factor that in, and sometimes for the sake of what might come of it, you trust people even though your gut tells you not too. Sometimes you get burned on the risk, but the rewards when someone responds to trust are invaluable. Jesse, however, is the type of guy you let hold your wallet; you get that feeling from him right off. So you think, this guys’ greatest asset is his loyalty and trustworthiness, but come to find out that is what’s keeping him where he is right now.

J. jumps to the forefront because we had to take him to the hospital after the game on Wednesday night. His asthma flared up. On the van ride to the hospital we made him laugh which made it even harder for him to breath. J. had started the game at midfield for Street Soccer 945. He is a stolid man, built like a cannonball. He seemed to be shot out from cannon early on as he surprised the opponent, stole the ball, and passed to Junior for our team’s first shot on goal. On a similar play four minutes later he stole the ball again and dished to Tony who powered the ball at the keeper such that the keeper couldn’t handle it and bobbled it over the line for our first goal. The referee however was in a bad position and didn’t call it a goal. Even though all the players had stopped to return the ball to midfield for a kickoff, the referee waved his arms to signal no goal and the play resumed awkwardly. That was J.’s last effort of the first half. He trotted off the field calling for his inhaler. Sweat beaded so heavily on his shaved head that it splashed when his teammates patted him on his head to congratulate him on his effort. While J. regained his breath, goalie Tim Cummings was throwing himself around like he was 18 all over again. Tim made around 20 saves in the first half before finally letting a header bounce past him. The score finished 1-0 at the half.

With J. out, first time player and 17 year old Jones played lots of minutes. Our senior players struggled. Craig had a bad day at work and barely made it to the van after getting off work. Tony came trotting down Tryon Street to catch us just before we got on the on ramp to the highway. Pop hadn’t slept after working night shift. Junior said he had a stomach-ache. Nassir who made his debut last week didn’t even try to come after he was stabbed in the leg by a man who blamed Nassir for his lost bags. Nassir is fine, only a handful of stiches. A calm, non-violent man, Nassir has his taxicab liscense, but is awaiting his greencard replacement to arrive. He managed to convince a cab owner to let him work as a driver. That was until he got stabbed in his right leg. “I was just about crying,’ said Nassir, ‘not from the pain in my leg, but because it was my right leg and he would not let me drive anymore.’

Other new faces included Lamont Harrel and John Oliver. In the end, we lacked cohesion. Despite good hustle we gave up a bevy of goals during a 5 minute period and found ourselves down 5-0 with a minute to go in the game. We gave up one more right at the end.

The most important result was hearing from J. at 1am, telling us he was fine. He said a lot of people asked questions about his uniform in the emergency room. He also said the doctor said he was getting better not worse. Jessie responded well to the treatment and was blowing with above average breath strength of 700 after just one treatment. In the past it has taken him 2 treatments to reach that level. Jess also noticed that even during the asthma attack he was blowing at a level that was above what used to be his average. The doctor told him this was surely a result of laying off cigarettes (he hasn’t smoked since joining the team) and running at games and at practice. Get back out there was the main message the doctor had for J.

The whole team will do that the week following Christmas. Happy Holiday from Street Soccer 945.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

945 rallies!

Pictured: William, 44, Amadeus, 19, Junior, 16, Tony Kelly celebrating (see article)

13 players crowded the bench to fill only six spots on the field at the Charlotte Sports Connection on Wednesday night.

First timers Jesse and Nassir had not played competative soccer since they were in high school. For Jesse that was 23 years ago. For Nassir it was 20. They would have to shake off a combined 53 years of rustiness quickly if they were going to make an impact on the match. William, 44, alone had 44 years of soccer inaction to contribute to the match. William was galvanized after his first practice two weeks ago and had been anticipating this his second game all week. William is a calm man with stern mien which belies a warm, gregarious personality. While 16 year old Junior McGregor, or 19 year old Amadeus don’t look like what we typically think of when we think “homeless,” William might come closer in appearance to one’s expectations. Originally from South Carolina, William has worked hard all his life. He is a private man, humble and friendly. He is the type you meet and think, wow, there is a story there. I hope I earn his trust enough to hear it.

In contrast to the previous night with the Street Soccer Starts, Wednesday’s squad arrived early, warmed up, and had time to meet as a team to talk pre-game strategy. Coaches Cann, neither in uniform, combined brains to come up with a successful new strategy. The major move was to play with a sweeper instead of two backs. Craig Holley’s improved skills combined with his speeed and hustle and natural defensive instinct inspired the thought. We explained Craig his role just minutes before the game, but it proved to be a natural fit and Craig was a standout all match, showcasing his athleticism and ability to read the play.

In front of Craig we played Two midfielders, Tony Kelly and Junior McGregor. Junior we hoped could be the link in the middle of the field to our forward pair, Pop and Dwayne. Tim who missed Tuesday because of his recovery house meeting was in the net. The first goal we gave up would prove costly. Excellent defenisve organization had kept the score level until Tim muffed a low shot to the near post. It was keeper error that Tim would later atone for. Craig’s only mistake of the game proved costly as well. He made a great dribble move in the middle of the field. When he found no teammtates readily available he made poor pass which resulted in a breakaway. 2-0. Dwayne who showed great leadership and hustle as he showed signs of improved fitness, pulled a goal back, taking a pass from Junior, fooling a defender and suprising the goalie with low powerful blast. Despite excellence defenisve communication and competant role playing of our substitutions, we tired towards the end of the half, yeilding two more goals. 4-1 was the score at the half.

Two things were clear. Craig had found his natural position and we were playing too much defense as a team. At half time we made it clear that we need to leave Craig back to defend and to attack with all four of the remaining players. That way we would keep the ball in the offensive end. Likewise we needed to defend with four, but we must leave one of the forwards up to keep us dangerous. To their credit, the team listened and responded. We kept the ball in the attack and gave up no goals in the second half. Dwayne and Tony each added to our tally to bring us within one goal. Pop came tantalizinly close and Junior missed several chances. Just as we seemed about to score, our opponents turned a quick counter attack. William had come on and found himself all alone facing two attackers and a lofted ball coming his way. William bravely stepped up to the ball which his chest and then the opponents hand. What looked like a clear break and perhaps goal ended up as a free kick for the good guys.

The crowd began cheering as we kept pressing for a tying goal. Finally Tony Kelly made some magic happen. He was called for a foul and turned to run back up the field on defense. The other team made a quick restart, one defender touching the ball to over to the other. Tony sensed this and made a lighning about face turn. Relaxing with their heads down, believing Tony was retreating, the other team was slow to move to the ball. Tony got there first, and with one touch to his left foot he fired a second touch shot past the keepr who was also asleep on the play. Before we all realized what happened, the score was level. Perhaps a bigger distraction than the euphoria of the tie score was Tony’s bizarre celebration. He jumped into a squat and did a self invented dance that was a strange as it was hilarious. He deserved the celebration. The score stayed levelafter that despite our push for a winning goal.

Debbie, a yoga instructor who volunteers at the center, was there watching our game while she waited for her son’s team to play. Her son is a hig school senior who organized a drive amongst his fellow players to supply our team with outdoor cleats last year. Debbie said she was watching the game and got very excited cheering for our comback. Then she thought Tony looked familiar. But where do I know him from. They she said, I put it together. I looked on the sideline and there you were, Lawrence and Rob, and I said, oh, it’s the homeless team. I elbowed my hustband and said, It’s the homeless team! Wow, they are really good.

Many congrats to the 13 players, 12 of whom got in the game, for their well deserved tie, and inspiring performance.

Street Soccer Stars Struggle after 2-0 start

Brothers Dave and Michael have had a tumultous week. The family had seemed the most stable they had ever been. Dave upon turning 18 had signed on to work with Michael. Each of them were logging a minumum of 40 hours a week. Their sister Yolanda too found a job, plus their mother still had a part time job on the weekends. The burden of a large family had suddenly tranformed into an assest. Additionally Dave continued to train with the Charlotte United U-18 club. After showing off his speed and skills for the lower level team, Dave was given the chance to train with the premier squad. Hesitant, and even fearful of failure, Dave agreed to practice with the premeir team only when Street Soccer Coach Rob offered to practicce with him. Rob put on his cleats and trained with the team. The rest was history. Dave, according the coach, improves by leaps and bounds each time he comes out. He was too good of talent to pass up on, the coach continued. Dave has been invited to play in the club’s January tournament in Raleigh.

But all that was last week. When one of the two bread factories that Dave and Michael clean at night was shut down due to rennovations, the workforce was downsized by four. Dave the most recent hire was cut first. Michael was cut fourth. They are scheduled to return to work in Febuary, but for the moment they are jobless all over again.

On top of that news, there was death in the family back in Panama and Dave and Michael’s mother is putting her income towards a ticket to Panama for the funeral. In short, the family is staring homelessness in the face once again. Still, Dave and Mike are confident they will find work within the week ahead.

So the above was the backdrop for the McGregor’s when we drove up in the van to pick them up for Tuesday’s game. Yolanda was at work and their mother was heading to Panama, so they were alone with Yolanda's son, Xavier. We drove around the neighborhood to find their brother Junior to watch the baby as the green digits on dashboard counted closer and closer to game time.

We arrived in time, but without much time to get settled and talk about the match ahead. Our opponents were the top team in the league (our league is the premier adult division in Charlotte) and featured a MLS player who is training to make it back and others who have played for the local professional team, the Charlotte Eagles.

Although we showed talent, speed, and proved to be dangerous offensively. We lacked concentration, poise, and desire. Dave played an excellent game, but failed to find a tight mark in the back just 3 minutes into the game. We found ourselves down one-nil. Elmer then missed a tap in that would have tied it up five minutes later. That was the last chance we would have of getting back into the game. We consistently lost our marks and conceded easy goals. While we were dangerous when we attacked, we were unprecise. As the total against us mountained we found a few minutes of intensiy that saw us score three unanswered goals. The final tally was 11-4 or there abouts. Our oppents get all the credit. They even scored two full field shots from the goalkeeper who read our keepr being of his line. He struck two perfect knuckle balls over the head of goals and just beneath the cross bar on two shots, one in each half. You can’t even say our goalies were that far out of position. It was that kind of day.

On the postive side, three playeres stood out. Craig Holley, Dwayne Gourzong, and Pop Miller. These three are rubber players that contribute to bothe the Street Soccer Stars and the 945 squad. Dwayne scored once again. He has now scored in every match he has played for Street Soccer. Craig’s hustle was unmatched. He proved a tough defender for even the most talented of our opponents to get around. Pop as well showed a new agressiveness and more confidence on the ball, although his playing time was limited with this squad.

The message after the game was that we joined this league to challenge ourselves, and that we were facing this challenge right now. Next week we will look forward to playing with more intenstiy. We have an opportunity with this team to change people’s minds. Win or lose, if we play with intensity and fair play, we can achive that in every match.

Record for the season is now 2-2.

Pop Miller is pictured above.

Sundance FIlm Festival!!

“Kicking it” at Sundance

Susan Koch’s film about the Homeless World Cup will premeir at the Sundance Film Festival this January. Street Soccer 945’s Craig Holley is the featured player from the US. The film follows seven players from six countries who competed in the 2006 Homeless World Cup in Capetown, South Africa.

http://www.sundance.org/festival/ is the link to sundance.

http://www.homelessworldcup.org/zine/news/homeless-world-cup-documentary-to-premiere-at-sundance is the link to an brief article about the film and the "film-anthropy" group headed by Ted Leonsis which is backing it.

An update on Craig: After the World Cup Craig went to live with his mother and sister in New York. He hadn't seen them since he was 16. The reunion was good on some levels, but ultimately Craig and his sister decided to move out. After spending a couple months in Pennsylvania with his sister, Craig came back to Charlotte where he has excelled for Street Soccer 945. He works at Mert's Heart and Sole restaurant in Uptown and is officially off the street, renting an apartment with a coworker from Mert's. Craig is studying to finish his high school equivalency and has already to talked to the fire department about entering fireman training when he completes receives his equivalency.