An Innovative Grassroots Soccer Tournament Takes on Homelessness

Timbers stars and community activists will kick off in the Portland Social Change Cup, harnessing street soccer for good causes.

By Sam Pape May 25, 2018

Local ballers suited up for Street Soccer USA's Portland affiliate.

Soccer may already be on your morning work-skipping radar given the upcoming FIFA World Cup (looking for a team to root for? Our handy flowchart will help you out). But from June 1–3, you can get hands ... er, feet on with the game alongside Timbers defender Zarek Valentin and ex-captain Jack "Salty Dog" Jewsbury—all for a good cause.

Portland’s branch of Street Soccer USA, a national nonprofit focused on addressing issues of poverty with community-level, sports-based programs, hosts the first-ever Portland Social Change Cup. Held at Portland Futsal (which is donating its facilities), aspiring player-activists can register teams of five for $225, or a team of three for $145. All proceeds go to Street Soccer USA-Portland and the Portland Community Football Club, which Portland Monthly recently covered for its inclusive approach to the sport.

The event’s big game, June 3's Unity Match, is bound to be especially cathartic. A team of youth experiencing houselessness from Street Soccer USA-Portland’s Homeless World Cup Program will face off against a slew of local celebrities, including soccer pros, local elected officials, and people involved with the criminal justice system, including circuit court judge Chris Ramras.

“This is one of the only times that people in the criminal justice system get to interact with the served population outside of the courtroom,” explains Adam Lewis, the founder of Street Soccer USA-Portland. “We’re making the game about more than just soccer by including people who quite literally sometimes decide where our participants sleep every night.”

Though Street Soccer USA formed in 2009, the Portland branch is still in its infancy after launching in January of last year with the help of Outside In. Lewis, who grew up playing soccer in various Portland and Corvallis leagues, was inspired by a chance run-in with a previous teammate who had since spent time in a correctional facility and fallen out of touch. The old friend greeted him with a hug—and an apology.

“He felt like he’d let us down,” Lewis says. “This seemingly silly game had meant that much to him, had that big of an impact. I realized it did for me too.”

Though Street Soccer USA-Portland works with participants on an individual basis to address issues like drug rehab, housing, and job placement, the team-building nature of sports is at the core of the organization’s mission. The hope is that the social and relational skills acquired through soccer will translate to the rest of the participants’ lives.

“Thanks to street soccer I became more social and friendly with people,” says Sergei, a team leader for the Portland branch who will compete in the Cup. “We all bring something unique to the team, no matter what we do or where we are.”

One of Lewis’s biggest goals for the Portland Social Change Cup is to unite Portland communities often isolated from each other, to increase awareness of issues like houselessness and poverty, but also just to have fun.

“We’re trying to provide an opportunity for community to interact with populations they normally wouldn’t,” Lewis says. “It’s a leveling of the playing field. It’s a way to get involved, just by playing soccer.”  

The Portland Social Change Cup

June 1–3, Portland Futsal, 3015 SE Berkeley Place

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