San Francisco lands Street Soccer USA Cup

August 3, 2009
By Ethan Donaldson

WASHINGTON -- The 2009 Street Soccer USA Cup was a smashing success by every possible measure. Captured in its three days of encouragement, camaraderie and, at times, scintillating soccer was an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment for everyone involved.

Other / Fran MecklerSan Francisco overcame Minneapolis in the final to lift the Ted Leonsis Cup.

Amid the persistent cheers, goals and good will were smiles as bright as the D.C. sun from organizers, volunteers and players alike.

In a city where displays of kindness are often received with suspicion, the event achieved an honest-to-goodness, selfless, no-strings-attached, feel-good story of feel-good stories. But don't just take my word for it.

"My goal was to make sure we got some coverage, got some [people] in the seats, and I think with the help of the team that we have, we accomplished that and got these guys the recognition they deserved," said founder and CEO of Street Soccer USA, Lawrence Cann.

"Personally, I really wanted to get people out to this event," he added. "This program really shows the best of the human spirit, and we really wanted to get people out to see it."

Squads representing every corner of the country took part in the 16-team tournament. And among the 160 participants, there were more than a few who were pleased with their adventures in the capital city.

"I actually got to play!" gushed Matthew Evans of Ann Arbor, Mich. "I thought I would sit the bench the whole time. … And the people were awesome. I didn't think they would be nice, but they were. I had a lot of fun."

And that was just the tip of the iceberg.

"I'm having a blast," said 22-year-old Vincente Flores of Sacramento, Calif. "This is my first time out of the state of California. I made a lot of new friends. And this was a whole new experience for me because I've only been six months out of the youth authority."

Having admitted to bouncing around group and foster homes since he was 11, Flores, who says he wishes he could stay in D.C. longer but his parole limitations won't allow it, credits the Street Soccer USA Cup as the crowning achievement, thus far, on his mission to change his life and become a better person.

"I've had the time of my life, and I'm so honored to be here in Washington, D.C., today," he added. "I saw this as an opportunity to change my lifestyle, and I've made a ton of new friends during this event."

"My goal was for all the players to come down and have their needs met," revealed national program coordinator and coach of the U.S. Homeless World Cup squad, Rob Cann. "The event ran smoothly and all the players had an amazing time."

Especially for those who -- in addition to being admirable socialites -- stood out even more for their on-field prowess.

"My philosophy is whenever you get to travel around, you get to meet people. You learn from people and from places, and situations. And that's what I did here. It was great, and I feel good I came," said Senegalese scoring machine, Mouhamed Diaw, whose San Francisco team defeated Minneapolis in the final for the Ted Leonsis Cup.

And the organizers wouldn't have it any other way.

"I was hoping the participants would take away a greater sense of self-worth and the knowledge that they can accomplish the things they want to set out for," reflected Jeremy Goldberg, Street Soccer USA chief operating officer. "And if we could provide a space for them to demonstrate their ability and their talent, we had hoped to create an environment and a place that they can, in some ways, call home. Through Street Soccer and our organization, we hope they feel really connected and feel it is a place they can always come to for friends, for support and consistency."

Next up for Street Soccer USA: the Homeless World Cup in Milan Sept. 6-13. The eight players who will represent the U.S. in Italy have yet to be announced, with the selection deadline slated for Friday.

Ethan Donaldson is an assistant editor for ESPN.com.