While the U.S. Olympic teams battled for gold in London over the weekend, a completely different sort of national sport competition took place in NYC. Street Soccer USA's 2012 National Cup brought together teams from 20 cities for a 4v4 street soccer tournament culminating in a final on Sunday afternoon in Times Square. The catch? Every athlete in the competition is homeless.
Street Soccer's year-long program culminates in four days games and activities around NYC, providing structure and support to men and women who are otherwise stuck on the street. The program proudly notes that 75% of those participating manage to get off the streets, finding jobs, housing, or further education within a year of joining the program.
The finals took place right in the heart of Times Square, with a soccer court thrown up next to the TKTS booth. Tourists filtered in and out from the bleachers, but the crowd remained lively all afternoon. Times Square regulars occasionally pressed their way up to the nets, including a group of Circle Line ticket sellers, as well as a pair in Mario and Luigi costumes, who gladly took a break from photos with tourists to take in some soccer.
Donnie Nicholson, an Air Force veteran who became homeless after battling depression, captained the New York team, "I never thought a year ago that I would be employed and enjoying playing on a team. I just didn’t believe I could make it outside the shelter. This soccer team has changed everything. Now I know I can achieve the goals I set." And NYC Homeless Services Commissioner Seth Diamond said, "Street soccer is an important tool that builds not only self‐esteem and physical strength, but helps shelter residents recognize the value in committing to a project and seeing it through. The life skills shelter men and women learn on the field translate off the field and help make them more effective as they strive towards employment and housing."
Every team got to be in the final in some capacity, with pairing of teams competing for some sort of cup. The men's team from New York finished 10th, falling to Chicago. Minneapolis was victorious in both of the lively final championship matches, with the men defeating Charlotte 7-2 and the women defeating Los Angeles 8-4.
A full replay of the event (provided by Dailymotion.com) is available below - the finals start about five hours in:
Street Soccer USA Cup Finals Time Square Coverageby streetsoccerusa