From Grassroots to FieldTurf: Bridging the Soccer Gap for Immigrant Youth

14 Feb 2018 9:40 AM | Scott Jeffries (Administrator)

Ever since that first magical Saturday at Rose City Futsal where 107ist paid for kids from the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO) to play, we have dreamed of something greater: of seeing them play not on a court, not just amongst themselves, but in the green and gold at Providence Park.

This past Saturday, that dream came just a little bit closer to fruition. Using a small portion of the funds raised from Diego Valeri’s Lanus jersey raffle, the Timbers Army/107ist rented the beautiful new turf field at Lents Park for the kids on an unseasonably sunny afternoon. Timbers fan and Washington Timbers coach Reece Scragg lent his time to run the show, putting the kids through training drills before setting them loose on a full-field scrimmage. Most significantly, in attendance were Larry Sunderland, Timbers youth director, and Matt Dacey, US Soccer scout.

Larry Sunderland, Timbers youth director, and Matt Dacey, US Soccer scout, talk with Omar Omar of IRCO

IRCO youth run through training drills led by coach Reece Scragg under the watchful eye of Larry Sunderland and Matt Dacey

While it might be ambitious to expect a kid to get plucked straight from the city park into the Timbers system, we made some important connections and laid the groundwork for a longer-term vision of channeling our immigrant and refugee neighbors into youth soccer and, hopefully, to the Timbers academy. These kids arrive here with so much talent but face so many barriers, from being able to speak the language to navigating the complex club networks, filling out applications, and paying fees. We aim to establish a relationship with IRCO and some of the Timbers-affiliated club teams like Eastside and Washington Timbers. We will get them into official academy tryouts. We will help pay their expenses with the Gisele Currier Scholarship Fund. We’re even looking to build them their own futsal court on IRCO property, but that’s a blog post for another time.

Do you remember Handwalla Bwana, the 18-year-old phenom who scored the winning goal for S****le against us this preseason? His cousin works for IRCO and has told me all about him. Bwana was a refugee from Kenya. Spending six years in a refugee camp, he could do little else but kick a ball made from wadded-up socks or whatever else he could find. After his family was resettled in the fishing village up north, he was playing by himself in a park one day when a parent spotted him. Immediately seeing his talent, he asked him if he played for a youth team, which he did not. After speaking to his parents, this person paid for him to play on his kid’s team, then later for a competitive traveling team. He was recruited by the University of Washington, then signed as a homegrown player. All it took was one person seeing him play and giving him an opportunity. To be honest, I couldn’t be mad when Handwalla scored. That was a great moment for him and a realization for me of just how attainable this is.

For these immigrant youth who arrive in a new country with unfamiliar customs and a language most of them don't fully understand, it can be hard to find your way, to feel a part of a larger community. If there's one thing that can connect them to this city, it's our shared love of soccer. And I remain fully convinced that one day, a Timber will take the field who played as a child on a field that 107ist built or rented, wearing equipment that 107ist donated, having played for a youth team 107ist paid for. The Timbers Army coming together to help newcomers to our city play soccer with the ultimate goal of playing for the Timbers. I can think of no better example of "Team, Town, TA" than this. And we're just getting started.

IRCO kids in open play

IRCO kids track down a ball in open play

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