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Homeless Youth to Compete in National Street Soccer USA Cup June 9-11

Via a May 31 News Release:

It’s more than a game for Minneapolis homeless youth competing in National Street Soccer USA

Overcoming all odds, local YouthLink’s team sets out to win 6th national championship

Sports have always been a means for young people to play and compete, while teaching them how to win and how to lose. Sports build character through team-building, comradery, trust and friendship through practice, competition and lots of hard work. But for youth experiencing homelessness, opportunities to participate in high-level organized sports are minimal.

Enter Street Soccer USA, a national organization that uses soccer as part of social change to help transition homeless teens and young adults into safer, healthier communities. Each year, Street Soccer USA holds a national series featuring teams consisting of homeless youth and at-risk young adults.  And a Minneapolis team is on its way to this year’s tournament in Philadelphia. 

The 2017 Street Soccer USA Cup Series kicks off with the “National Cup” in Philadelphia June 9-11, followed by the “Times Square Cup” in New York City on July 15 with the final tournament in San Francisco on August 5-6.

The Minneapolis team is named Up Top and is sponsored by YouthLink, a local nonprofit that helps young people between the ages of 16 and 24 on their journeys from homeless to hopeful. The team has participated in the tournament for nine years. Last May, Up Top won its fifth national championship with a come-from-behind victory to clinch the title.

Up Top’s team was created in 2008, led by Coach Jose Acuna, YouthLink’s outreach manager and longest-serving employee.

“Street Soccer USA is a program that uses soccer to help youth achieve their goals,” says Coach Jose. “The same rules we use on the soccer field, we use in real life. We also find that team sports are a special way to help build a critical support system needed by these kids.”

Up Top was named by a former player as a nod to Minnesota’s placement on the map. It also represents where the team wanted to be in the league. Up Top is unique among the United States teams because of its diverse mixture of religions, nationalities and experiences. The team includes members of the Twin Cities’ large Somali population and others who are refugees and asylum seekers. The one common thread among all team members is that they have experienced homelessness prior to joining the team.

The team’s diversity uses its differences to learn and grow together. 

“We practice indoors at Gethsemane Episcopal Church’s basketball court. Many of our players are Muslim and some are Catholics,” said Coach Jose. “We have great discussions about theology and religion as a unique way to learn and to create an inclusive environment. Soccer really is an international language.”

No matter what’s happening on or off the court, Coach Jose marvels about how they work together and support each other.

“We’ve worked very hard to create harmony.  In last year’s national tournament, we were losing 4–1,” recalled Coach Jose. “It would have been so easy for a team to get discouraged, but these guys knew their opportunities would come. We teach them to be patient and stick with the plan – and that you cannot give up.”

Coach Jose is hopeful that he and YouthLink can restart the Street Soccer USA women’s team, which was suspended due to lack of funding. The women’s team claimed the national championship title all three years it competed.

After this month’s tournament in Philadelphia, players will be chosen to represent the United States in the Homeless World Cup to be held August 29 – September 5, 2017 in Oslo, Norway. In past years, Up Top players were selected to play in World Cups in Brazil, Italy, Poland, France, Mexico, Netherlands and Scotland.

About YouthLink

For over 40 years, YouthLink ( has provided a safe and supportive refuge, along with the resources needed by young people experiencing homelessness. Last year, more than 2,200 young people from the Twin Cities accessed YouthLink—which is also home of the Youth Opportunity Center (YOC)—in downtown Minneapolis. At the YOC, YouthLink and over 30 community partner agencies come together to provide a holistic array of services to help young people become educated, employable, and stably housed. 

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