Teriann Agana has a match to watch, but she keeps getting interrupted. She’s standing on the sidelines of a soccer field at Delta Park.
“Do you have one of those Chinese patch things?” says a lean teenager in a soccer jersey.
“You have those extra gloves?” asks the coach, a young man barely older than the high school players.
A moment later, another player asks for some black medical tape.
Agana keeps one eye on the pink and white jerseys on the field as she hands out gear and medicinals. She’s watching one of her soccer teams play in the Portland World Cup Tournament. The two-day competition, organized by Portland Parks and Recreation targets young immigrants and underserved youth in the community. For many of the players, this is their first tournament experience.
Eder Mutura is a refugee from the Congo and one of the organizers of the event. He says young immigrants are playing soccer all the time in parks and backyards across the city.
“We don’t have a lot of players who have money to play to any clubs. But this tournament is helping a lot of youths to play for free,” says Mutura. The tournament taps into the informal networks where matches are organized organically in parks and backyards.
Agana also realized the potential of those loose networks of soccer players, so she started the Santos United Football Club two years ago. She wanted young people from diverse or low-income backgrounds to grow from being on a team.
“There are different soccer clubs in Portland but a lot of these kids felt like they didn’t belong. Maybe financially they couldn’t afford it, or it was a non-diverse club,” says Agana.
She now organizes three teams and 36 players who practice at least twice a week. All of the coaches are volunteers, and the equipment is donated. They don’t have their own field, but they practice at one of Portland’s parks. There’s no fence around the field, so players often have to chase balls into the street. Sometimes the soccer balls get run over by passing cars, which means practice is over for the day.
“We’re always sad to lose another ball,” says Eulogia Garcia, one of the seniors on the team.
“Corre corre corre!” yells Agana from the sidelines, cupping her hands around her mouth. Agana is all of 4-foot-11 inches tall. The leggy teenage boys surrounding her look like beanstalks next to her small frame. When Agana started the league, she paid for all the team expenses herself. Now, she and her coaches are searching for sponsors to help cover costs of equipment, travel, and uniforms. Agana doesn’t play soccer herself. But she loves how the team experience builds confidence and camaraderie among the teenagers.
“She’s like our second mom, she’s been there from the start,” says Ofelia Jimenez.
The 17-year-old Jimenez smiles shyly now, but when she’s on the field she chases her opponents with fierce concentration. She plays on the Santos United women’s team. Jimenez was one of the first players on the young league two years ago. She recruited several of her friends to play, and she now mentors younger players.
Most of her teammates are Mexican, so they call out to each other in Spanish on the field. Jimenez says her family couldn’t afford to pay for a soccer club, so being able to play here for free is special. She feels closer to her teammates.
“We’re not just like friends but it seems like more of a family now,” says Jimenez. “We try our best even though we don’t always win.”
Santos United lost their first match 3-1. “But we played well and I’m proud of our team,” says Jimenez. They’ll have a chance to redeem themselves in the semi-finals and finals Friday.