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Homeless Portland Athletes Compete In Street Soccer Tourney

This weekend in Washington, DC, a soccer team representing Portland will play in a national tournament. It’s an unusual kind of soccer, and it’s played by unusual athletes. The Portland Torrents will join teams from 17 other cities playing in the Street Soccer USA Championship. The players are all young homeless adults.  You’ll meet a couple of them later. But first, a look at their intense, uptempo game.

Street Soccer is played not on grass, but on a hard surface, the size of a basketball court.  A team consists of four players.  The three who  aren’t the goaltender are always moving.

If you don’t like the low-scoring traditional game, this might be more for you.  It’s pretty common for a team to score eight goals or more in 15 minutes of play. 

The Portland Torrents practice ahead of a national tournament for young homeless adults.

Geoff Norcross / OPB

It’s very physical, which is a release for some of the players.

Toby Hendricks: “I think it helps me a lot to know that I can just go somewhere and be myself and have fun, and get all my anger out on the ball instead of on people.”

That’s 19-year-old Toby Hendricks, but he goes by Hybrid: a name he says he got on the streets. According to him, he’s been homeless since last December, when his mother kicked him out. 

But he says he’s been doing a lot better ever since then.

Toby Hendricks: “At my mom’s I used to just sit around, watch TV, and play video games all day. I never did anything. I didn’t even go to school. Since I’ve been out here, I’m getting my GED, doing this here, being active. It’s pretty fun.”

This weekend’s tournament is a big deal for Hybrid because it will be the first time he’s ever been out of the state of Oregon.

The Torrents are sponsored by Outside In. That’s a Portland organization that helps homeless youth find work and homes, and kick substance abuse. It also runs a shelter, where the players are staying.

Outside In also coaches the team, and two of the organization’s case managers are filling that role.

Geoff Norcross: “Have either of you coached soccer before?”

David Hanna: “No.”

Erin Swenson: “No, I haven’t coached soccer.”

Geoff Norcross: “How’s the learning curve been?”

Geoff Norcross / OPB
Coaches Erin Swenson (L) and David Hanna watch their team practice.

David Hanna: “It’s been a little rough in some ways. We don’t know a lot of drills or that kind of thing. But I think what we lack in some sort of soccer drills and stuff we make up for in forming relationship and having fun in a positive environment.”

Erin Swenson: “I come from a teaching background. I’ve always worked with youth. So I’m pretty good at understanding some of their needs, and I think the teaching role is similar to the coaching role. I think you just kind of deal with things as they come, and let the youth identify and be a part of that process.”

To inspire the team, the staff at Outside In showed them the documentary Kicking It, about the players around the world who participated in the 2006 Homeless World Cup. Actor Colin Farrell introduces the film.

Colin Farrell: “They were kicking drugs and alcohol, they were finding a new sense of community. They were also hoping to represent their country in the 4th annual Homeless World Cup in Cape Town, South Africa. 500 players, eight from each country would be chosen to play. And win or lose, it promised to be the journey of a lifetime.”

In the movie, Homeless World Cup founder Mel Young talks about how something as simple as getting a soccer team together can turn lives around.

Mel Young: “Homeless people generally have low self-confidence, low self-esteem. They’re isolated, feeling lonely. When you put them into a team, they start to build on it, and when they eventually make it to the homeless world cup, they can stand proud. And what I think we’re showing here is that sport, and football in particular, can be used to tackle some of the most difficult problems in society.”

The U.S. will send a team to the Homeless World Cup in Brazil in September. The 16 best male and female players will be chosen from this weekend’s national tournament. It’s a faint dream for Portland’s players, but a goal for one of them.

Ivan Zorman yells encouragement to his teammates during a recent practice. He’s 22 years old, former military, and he’s been playing soccer since he was nine. He’s wiry and physical, and he is driven.

Ivan Zorman: “I grew up playing a lot of sports and being competitive is just something I am. And when I play, I play all out and I don’t accept excuses. If I screw up, I screw up.”

Ivan would like to take that work ethic to the pros. He says he wants to try out for the Portland Timbers someday. Coach Erin Swenson says Outside In is all about setting and achieving goals, and street soccer is a great vehicle for that.

But this weekend, anything can happen.

Erin Swenson: “I don’t know what to expect. I think there will be anxiety, there’s going to be excitement. There’s definitely going to be nerves.  I think they got it down. We’ll just see how they do when it comes to being in front of a crowd and having some pressure on them.”