Soccer is taking over the streets of Philadelphia. Literally.
Street Soccer USA (SSUSA), the self-proclaimed biggest sport-for-social-change event in the country, is coming to Philly for Memorial Day Weekend. Three individual street-soccer stadiums will be temporarily installed at the Art Museum and Eakins Oval. A non-profit, SSUSA says its events solely benefit the communities in which they’re involved, by raising awareness for homelessness among teens and young adults, as well as creating after school programs for those in the community who don’t have access to them.
The centerpiece of the tournament will be the Sport for Social Change Cup, where teams of homeless teens and young adults who have advanced in the Street Soccer USA program in 14 cities across the country will travel to Philly to compete for a chance to reach the event finale on July 9th.
During a press conference at UNIQLO, a sponsor for the event, Street Soccer USA Founder and CEO Lawrence Cann said of the upcoming Street Soccer Cup, “[The Street Soccer Cup] takes the proceeds from the tournament and puts it toward building programming in underserved areas, targeting at risk youth, as well as homeless teens and young adults.
“One hundred percent of the proceeds go toward achieving this. Our goal is education and employment, and we use soccer as the tool.”
We asked Cann for additional background on Street Soccer USA and the ways in which they interact with the Philadelphia community.
“The purpose of the event is to raise awareness and funds for sport for social change programs in Philadelphia,” Cann offered. “Street Soccer USA is launching a youth initiative to build mini fields and after school programs for youth who don’t have access to these. Beyond sports programs, SSUSA has a curriculum of life skills and mindset teaching that focuses on improved outcomes in school.”
Cann pointed out that there’s more to this weekend’s event than just playing street soccer. There will be live play-by-play for each match, plus tons of food, music, free soccer clinics and games all weekend. Plus, the Adult and Youth champions will get to compete in a super cup in Times Square against the winner of the NYC tournament on July 9th.
While that may be a reason for locals to check out the event over the holiday weekend, it’s not Cann’s motivation for putting it on.
“The Street Soccer USA Philadelphia Cup also marks the launch of Street Soccer USA’s sport for social change initiative in Philadelphia,” Cann said. “One of the fields from the weekend’s events will be placed in a Philadelphia neighborhood, thanks to support from Comcast, where Street Soccer USA will support the ongoing program.”
Cann reiterated that all the proceeds are going to funding programs in Philadelphia.
“The event underlines SSUSA’s mission to extend the benefits of sports to all by building fields, providing coaching and training, as well as education and employment programs to underserved communities. Adopting this alternative to the pay-to-play model, Street Soccer USA has built ten soccer fields and worked with five thousand people, and in the next three years hopes to build 100 pitches, working with 50,000 directly and helping many more.”
Following the press conference last week, Heather Mitts, the Cup’s local spokesperson, talked about how the organization and the event itself benefits the community.
“Street Soccer gives the kids something to look forward to; something to work towards. It’s a positive thing that really influences their lives in a major way.”
Philadelphia Union defender Ray Gaddis also attended the pre-tournament event. We asked Gaddis what sets this event apart from other community outreach endeavors.
“A lot of players have gone on to do big things after Street Soccer,” Gaddis explained. “The game teaches so many lessons outside of soccer, that they can apply to anything and everything, with teamwork being a big one.”
SSUSA focuses a great deal on serving the community, and the homeless in particular. On the panel alongside Mitts and Gaddis was Andre Green, a former homeless young adult himself, who spoke about how much he benefitted from the presence of Street Soccer USA, serving as a player and spokesperson for the group for the last four years.
“It’s all about positive energy and consistency, that’s what helps the community.”
The event kicks off Friday with a celebrity match and the open play continues Saturday and Sunday. To sign up for the cup, visit the SSUSA registration page.