Friday, December 12, 2008

Urban Street Soccer Festival

We are co-hosting an Urban Street Soccer Festival with Concrete2Green at Eastland Mall in Charlotte, NC.

The event flier is attached. Go check it out if you are in the area.

The field set up here in this photo is inside the mall and can be looked down on from 3 shopping levels. What a spectacular venue! Our street soccer court is replacing a defunct skating rink. The mall is letting us keep the pitch there indefinitely. Eastland Mall is in a "diverse" part of town as they say in Charlotte--in other words, it's an urban mall with lots of African American, Latinos, and Vietnamese clients. Posting up in Eastland is great way to give folks in this urban setting easy access to playing soccer in the exciting 4vs4 format.

True as well that homeless teens often hang out in malls, so it might be great progammatic outreach for us as well.eastlandflyr

Friday, December 5, 2008

Fair Play Award for Johnny Figueroa from NIKE

Johnny was one of only four players chosen by Nike as Fair Play winners from the entire tournament. Johnny joined players from Uganda, Scotland, and Finland. Each received 500 dollars credit to the Nike store. Johnny bought backpacks for his teammates.

Much credit to Johnny for his work off the field as well. Johnny started school last fall while in the emergency shelter. This spring he earned a scholarship to study abroad in Italy.

Get ready for a Street Soccer Festival in Charlotte

Concrete 2 Green and Street Soccer USA are kicking off the first of many more Street Soccer Festivals

A Few Recent Shots

The US Team has become more and more cohesive.

Tad Christie got his first goal against India.

Carlos has earned the nickname, "Chihuahau," after moving to goalie. He has save three key penalty kicks, earning the US three wins.

Jeremy has partnered with Johnny to create a formidable US defence. His concentration has been the glue for the US team.

Dick Gordon's The Story: Our own Corey Bracy-Cruz

Listen to Corey's warm heart and amazing story on Dick Gordon's stellar program, The Story.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Clinton Global University Initiative

Much credit and congratulations to a group of students at the University of Virginia led by Junior Garett Trent, a former high school intern of mine, and Sophomore Trigg Brown. The students applied and were accepted for the CGIU conference. The proposal was to bring the Univeristy together with the business community and homeless servce agencies to find solutions to the problem of homelessness in their immediate community. They proposed creat a Street Soccer USA team as key part of their strategy to bring the community together. We expect to see Charlottesville at the US Cup next July. Hopefully their efforts will establish a replicable model for other Univeristies and university students to engage in solving homelessness.

Check back for more updates from the students as they dive into their initiative.

P.S. Another high school intern, Lane Baldwin, at Chapel Hill has organized students groups in a similar fashion from the University of North Carolina. We will see how the Tar Heels and the Cavs do in DC next summer.

Action Shots!

Photo credits to the lovely Natja Rosner.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

New York Times Blog # 2

Link here for the second edition of our exclusivec content for the New York Times.
Much thanks to Jack Bell and editor Jeffery Marcus for this platform!

Monday, December 1, 2008

HWC DAY 1: Video Log

See some shots here from team USA's Day 1 experience at the Homeless World Cup.

Our team has shown great enthusiasm. We played one of the top teams and lost game one to Ireland.

In our second match we played Romania. Substitutions disrupted an even match and Romania cruised to victory in the second half by a comfortable margin.

I witnessed Alex Mwambi's Kenyan squad dispatch Germany 11-2, as well as Arcady's Russian squad get off to a 2-0 start with impressive passing and gentelmanly play as they beat Cambodia in their second match by 12 goals or so.

Here is the box score on the USA's first match

Starting 5 USA players
-Tim (goalkeeper)

Sub-in included: Jeremy, Tad and Diego

Score Sheet/Tracker
1st Half
-Ireland scores (1-0), 49 seconds into match
-USA scores (1-1), 1:53 into the match (Cornelius: Goal 1, Penalty Shot)
-USA goalkeeper, excellent right shoulder save at 2:42
-USA goalkeeper, excellent diving save at 3:32
-Ireland scores (2-1), 4:04 into the match
-Ireland scores (3-1), 5:32 into the match
-Ireland scores (4-1), 6:59 into the match
Half time: Ireland 4 USA 1

2nd Half
-Ireland scores (5-1), 1:18
-Ireland scores (6-1), 1:49
-Ireland scores (7-1), 2:25
-Ireland scores (8-1), 3:24
-Ireland scores (9-1), 5:09
-Ireland scores (10-1), 6:01
-USA Scores (10-2), 6:49, (Cornelius: Goal 2)
-Ireland scores (11-2), 7:11

Final Score: Ireland 11 USA 2
USA (0-1) after first day of match play: 12/1/2008

Kim Milton Neilsen

Attention soccer buffs. I am pictured here with Kim Milton, the world class referee famous to some, infamous to others, for giving David Beckham a red card against Argentina in World Cup 1998. Kim refereed in Copenhagen last year and has traveled all the way to Melbourne to be a part of this years HWC.

HWC 2008: Weblog # 3, The Journey and the Draw

The long haul to the land down under began Thanksgiving Day at the Echo Park, CA home of Lawrence and Alice Purcell and their daughter Taylor. Lawrence is the first cousin of my Dad. It’s not often our family is out in LA, and the the visit to cousin Lawrence’s included not only immediate family but the Street Soccer Family as well.

Check out the photo of our feast above.

From cousin’s house we headed straight to LAX. The first leg of the trip would take us 13 hours to New Zealand before we traveled another 6 hours in the air to Melbourne. For Tim Cummings of Charlotte, this was the first flight he had ever taken. Tim is our forty year old goalie. He’s been drug free now for two year’s and been off the street longer than any other player on our team. For 24 year old Jeremy Wisham from Atlanta, flying was nothing new to him. Jeremy, who grew up homeless with his single mom, spent his his money and free time traveling, at least until the home he was buying burned to the ground. Although coaches had applied for all the player’s visa and seen full color copies of each one, we failed to inspect each individual passport. This almost turned out to be a tragic oversight. Jeremy’s passport was torn at the corner and at LAX the New Zealand Air officials refused to let him fly. You can see a picture of Jeremy here arriving a day late in Melbourne. We had to make an emergency meeting a the consulate and put Jeremy up for an additional night in LA so he could get a replacement passport. Jeremy arrived during team check in on Sunday at Melbourne University.

African drums from Ghana and Zambia sounded while Aussie’s in bright orange “Socceroo” soccer kits cheered arriving teams from Ethiopia, Argentina, Russia, Kenya, Italy, and many more. When Jeremy found our table, the squad erupted into a spontaneous, “YES WE CAN, YES WE CAN, YES WE CAN.” The other nations certainly didn’t grasp what had happened but they had heard the cheer and joined in.

I was able to visit with Alex Mwambi of Kenya, Arcady Tyurin of Russia, and Mick of Ireland, all stars of Kicking It who continue to work with their projects.

Later in the Evening, we gathered for the 2008 Homeless World Cup draw. The United States team found ourselves in group one with two of the tournament’s favorites, Alex’s Kenyan squad, and Mick’s Irish side. The entire group includes:

Kenya, Ireland, France, USA, Hong Kong, Romania.

We will play 5 games between Monday and Wednesday. Ireland, our toughest opponent is up first. The top three team in each group will advance to the top tier tournament, while the bottom three will play in the lower tier group. Whatever the case, each team will play 13 matches.

I will be giving updates on other teams and from Kicking It as well as other friends of our team from Melbourne. Otherwise visit for complete results and fixtures.

To date the organizers have provided the players with nothing short of first class treatment as athletes. A resounding opening event was capped by an Aboriginal Dance Ceremony, a challenge by HWC founder Mel Young to chose the hard, rocky path that leads to ending homelessness in the world, and Brazilian Samba band which released the 50 some countries present into raptures of fellowship and celebration. Tomorrow is the parade of nations. Viva el Futbol, let the games begin!

HWC 2008: Weblog # 2, Los Angeles

Jeff Werner is the co-director and editor of Kicking IT, the Ted Leonsis film which aired on ESPN this fall. Like director of the film, Susan Koch, Jeff and his wife Elyse, remain passionate about and personally involved in the causes they document well after the life of the movie is finished; so much so that Jeff and Elyse hosted our entire entourage of 16 players, coaches, and one embedded writer from Harper’s Magazine in their Sherman Oaks home, just 20 minutes from downtown LA. This photo is of breakfast in their home. Coach Sara and the team take over the kitchen.

The experience of staying in the Werner home provided just what we wanted for our training camp: a close-knit family feeling. In fact, 13 of the players and coaches slept shoulder to shoulder on the floor in the living room. Some slept on cots that Jovenes, Inc., our LA street soccer partner, provided.

I talk often about the power of our program to build social skills necessary in the work place, and with relating to larger society in general. Well, I am not so sure Street Soccer USA can take full credit this year’s sweet talkers. I am hoping they can turn on the charm with the referees to the degree they have with our hosts all week in LA.

Tad Christie is most gifted with the gab of all. A former bull rider before having his face kicked, Tad has been around. In fact, he has been on his own since the age of 12. The first period of stability in his life was a 10 year marriage. It was also his last period of stability. Once divorced Tad fell into a deep depression, turned to alcohol and the drugs of his youth. He has spent the last five year’s homeless, mostly outdoors. Reclusive a year ago, Tad is now the most likely to reach out and tease you. When our hostess asked him at the breakfast table where he was from, Tad launched into a his personal history which ended with the words, “ so they think I am most likely Charlies Manson’s son, which explain some the urges I feel late at night.”

“Well, that is really a . . .surprising story,” our hostess commented nervously before we all cracked the silence with boisterous laughter. The more nervous Tad jokes, the faster the jokes come. By the end of our LA adventure Tad felt so well liked that he even shared a comfortable silence with the group in the van on the way to the airport. If you know Tad at all, you realize what singular achievement this is.

As much as Tad’s humor and good nature has won over his teammates, and as much as we all eagerly await in whose jacket pocket Tad’s false teeth are going to show up next, I think Tad’s obvious dedication to training has been the real key factor in winning the respect of his teammates.

During our first team training session we ran up Fryerman trail. It’s a steep quarter mile up the Hollywood hillside before it continues to climb another half mile before culminating in a level trail along the spine of the hills with impressive vistas to either side.

At 37 Tad is one of the older members of the squad. His wiry build belies his fitness. As we charged up the hillside in a run designed to see who had been following our recommend fitness schedule, tad led from the beginning, and finished the training run together with Diego and Cornelius of Santa Rosa, California ahead of the pack.

Equally if not more impressive is Tad’s advancement on the ball since June. He scavenged four goals against our scrimmage opponents at the Soccer Arena Soccerplex in Orange on Wednesday, tying Cornelius for top scorer. Unlikely to start, Tad could provide a big lift for the team off the bench.

In our team meeting we asked everyone what this team was all about. Tad said that the organizers saw something in him that he failed to see in himself. He continued, “This team is about the good in all of us and we can’t ever lose site of that.

. . .

If Tad will provide the team with goals off the bench, Cornelius will be key to scoring goals for us as a started. He and his coach from the San Francisco area, Julius Ujeh, joined us at the MLS Cup where we were guests of the league. We watched Columbus Crew play a disciplined game to beat the New York Red Bulls. While Tad’s transformation was not obvious, Cornelius’s announced itself at the MLS Cup. His physique was hardened. He was quiet, but spoke with confidence. Gone was the chubbiness and self doubt that lingered I June in DC. In our first scrimmage against youth from the Disney Goals program in Anaheim, Cornelius stood out as our biggest hope for Homeless World Cup success.

Please link here to read about Cornelius’s amazing life turn around. At nationally recognized youth player, Cornelius was recruited nationally and accepted a scholarship to Howard in DC. He never made it to campus. Cornelius got involved in gangs and drugs. He ended up addicted and homeless for three years. When coach Julius showed up at the Rescue Mission talking about soccer, Cornelius’s heart soared. At first Julius did not belief all of Corey’s talk, but Corey proved it on the field. When Cornelius got permission from his probation officer to travel abroad, the judge turned to the other folks in custody and said, “I want you to take a good look at this young man. He is an example to all of you, of what you can do if you make a decision to improve your life.”

HWC 2008: Weblog # 1

Above players Diego, Carlos, Tad, and Jeremy wait for the opening ceremonies with the stars and stripes. It was a long journey to get here. After making the national team and securing travel documents, each player still had to get on the plane and meet the squad in LA. For me and Diego it began in New York:

I carry the warmth of my apartment with me into the cold. Before I arrive at 14th street Union Square, I’ve turned my coat collar up and sped up my pace. I’m blowing big white clouds every fourth step. The warmth I carried with me lasted about block.

The subway station is completely empty. 5 or 6 trains rumble in and and lumber off. No sign of Diego. I walk above ground into the wind and the dark, call Diego’s cell again, more to kill time than in hopes of actually reaching him. 5:30am was the appointed meeting time.

6:10. The phone rings and I walk out again, “Hello.”

“Hello . . . Lorenzo, why don’t you have a warm coat on?”

“Because we are going to Australia,” I say, hanging the up the phone and embracing Diego, who is putting down his phone too.

7 hours later, we relax our shoulders in the LA warmth. We put our jackets in our bags and dig around for our sunglasses.

The LA cabby says, “Diego, that’s my son’s favorite name. He always says, Papa, why you don’t call me Diego?”

“Yeah,” Diego says, “everyone loves my name. They ask me. ‘are you good at soccer like Diego Maradona?’ I say, ‘Yes.Actually I am better. He is old and fat and I am fast and young” Diego laughs and smiles winningly.

In a tight white t-shirt, loose fitting leather jacket and oversize shades, our Diego looks more like a men’s fashion model than a poster boy for homelessness. His eyes are soft and he knows how to communicate familiarity with a friendly wrinkle of the brow. “People look at me and think I’m black,” he expresses. “Then I start speaking Spanish and they are like, ‘What?!’ They don’t know that there a like millions of people like me in Latin America.

At 17 Diego left his relatives’ home and dropped out of high school. For the next 10 years he lived on his own. He ended up a mortgage broker until he lost his job over a year ago. Then he was robbed of all his documents. Without documents even his old employers wouldn’t hire him. He had to check into a shelter. Things went from bad to worse as you might imagine.

Frustrated, Diego’s hackles pricked up at the slightest criticism. He wanted respect, but instead he felt like he was grouped with the rest of the crowd. He was told he had an anger management problem. This made him angry.

In the beginning, Diego said he had better things to do than play soccer. He needed to look for work. Two months later he had only found day labor jobs. Finally he gave into the coach and joined the team for practice. At the Homeless USA Cup in DC this past June, Diego’s off the field frustrations showed up on the field. He complained to referees, yelled at teammates, so much so that I had to pull him aside as organizer. I told him that his attitude was outshining his talent, that it was pity to see. Impressively Diego reversed course. Even the referees singled him out for praise as someone who transformed during the course of the tournament. When Diego was chosen for the national team, he said that the tournament had been a revelation to him: he had no idea how negative and defeatist he had become.

Since the tournament Street Soccer USA fronted Diego the money for his green card application and helped him secure a temporary work permit while he waits for the application to process. Things have been going well. In fact he moved out of the shelter and into small studio just two weeks before the Homeless World Cup competition.

Diego missed much of the action with the team in LA due to a bruised bone in his foot. His immediate challenge is to manage the frustration of being injured. If he recovers he could be a key play in the attack for the US coming opening day of the tournament.