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First Steps into a Larger World

(Photo: Street Soccer 658/Johnny Wakefield)

 

by Johnny Wakefield

At an event last Friday, MLS Charlotte's Tom Glick said, "We're not bringing soccer to Charlotte. It's been here for decades. We're just the lucky folks who get to unleash the power of soccer that's already been here." Amen to that. 

Nowhere is that more evident than on the city's East Side, where Street Soccer 658 makes its home near the intersection of Central and Eastway. The organization is an offshoot of the national Street Soccer USA, a nonprofit whose stated mission is "to fight poverty and empower underserved communities through soccer." 

Every Tuesday night, appropriately at 6:58 p.m., residents of East Charlotte communities gather at the Project 658 building to play pickup in the massive main hall. Last week, over 50 participants attended, ranging from early teens to late 20's, just to play the beautiful game. 

What's unique (and indicative) about Street Soccer's gathering is the demographics of the athletes in attendance: Director Peter Fink told me that among the 50 or so players that evening, over 25 countries were represented. Recent refugees from East Asia and Africa, immigrants from Central and South America, and yes, "Charlotte-born unicorns" too, all gathered to play and get to know each other. The meetup is their "third place," a chance to get away from home and work and do something they love, together.  

As the MLS team has already touted, soccer is "the universal language," and now Charlotte has its best chance yet to be united by it. The Street Soccer guys know this well: Many who come to play on Tuesday nights don't speak English, but they speak soccer

And they use this common language to access the larger world outside their smaller, tight-knit communities. Soccer intertwines the Spanish-speaking community in East Charlotte with the French-speaking immigrants from Africa. It brings African American athletes from Grier Heights into relationship with white athletes from Myers Park. It puts everyone in the same room, on the same pitch (in this case, a court), and eliminates the boundaries they face outside these walls.  

That's good stuff.

And, it's where the Mint City Collective has a chance to join in the goodness that's already happening.

Thursday, January 23 is "Mint City Volta Night" at Project 658. (We've made a Facebook event for it, so get in there and RSVP.) The Collective's first meetup is a chance to join with the Street Soccer 658 guys and play the beautiful game on their turf, hang out with them (and with each other), have beers, pickup merch and membership packets, play FIFA on PlayStation and Xbox, and build the connections that make the arrival of MLS in Charlotte so promising for our community.

We'll have a 4-on-4 tournament on the official Street Soccer court in the main hall too: Grab some friends and make your teams now or join one when you arrive. This is where "Volta" comes in... it's the name for Street Soccer in FIFA20. So whether you call it Volta or futsal or street soccer or basketball court pickup, you're welcome to join in.

We're inviting everyone to bring winter clothes to donate too. After dropping scarves around the city on our first #ScarfSaturday, members asked if we could organize a warm clothes drop off for people who actually need more warm clothes, and the answer, of course, is yes. Bring donations that night and we'll find them a good home.

This is just the first Collective event we have planned in 2020. We're already organizing a Mint City group to attend a Checkers game on February 8 alongside hockey supporters' groups Red Eye Rowdies and the Balcony Crew. We have a Hornets watch party on March 9 at Hooligans in Uptown for the away game against Atl*nta. We have a massive game in Charlotte when the Mexican national team arrives on March 26. We're going to a Hornets game together as a group in April when Atl*nta arrives in town April 5.

And this week, we'll have details on our first two away trips for Collective members: to see Nashville SC on February 29 and Atl*nta United on May 24. Members, watch for those details in your email. You won't want to miss these trips.

As Tom Glick knows, soccer is already here; it's been here for decades.

As Street Soccer 658 knows, soccer is a universal language, loved by an active and vibrant community of Charlotteans.

And as the Mint City Collective knows, it's now time for us to strike – time to join in on the goodness that's happening here, time to take our first big collective steps into the Charlotte soccer world, and time to build relationships that will make 2021 an inaugural season to remember.

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