When Philadelphia Union midfielder Maurice Edu was named to the U.S. men’s national team’s preliminary World Cup roster on Monday, it meant the city could have an on-field presence on the sport’s greatest international stage.
Even if Edu is named to the final roster, he won’t be the lone local soccer player in Brazil next month, though.
Heading to South America
Starfinder Foundation — a Manayunk-based non-profit which offers “soccer, educational and personal development programs [to] inspire young people from underserved communities” — has been selected to represent the United States at the Football for Hope Festival 2014 in Rio.
Six players — Sierra Drummond, 14; Cydney Pennick, 16; David Madrid, Tahir Mohammed and Imeasha Robinson, all 17; and Erick Cerrada, 18 — and three adults will participate in an event which brings teens together from 24 countries in an intercultural exchange focused on “using soccer as a tool for social change.”
The six were chosen on the basis of “character, commitment to the program and demonstrated leadership skills,” said Heidi Warren, executive director of an organization which contributes to a 100-percent high-school graduation rate for its youths.
She said the trip (the cost of which is mostly covered by FIFA, soccer’s governing body) will offer the contingent more than just a chance to watch a World Cup quarterfinal match live.
The cultural interactions of meeting, and playing with or against, youths from across the globe is steeped in a fair-play framework.
That means the players work out the rules of the match themselves, and sportsmanship is highlighted by the lack of referees.
“This doesn’t just benefit six kids,” Warren said. “We want all kids to have a sense that ‘Starfinder is going to Brazil.'”
The 1994 murder of Andrés Escobar, a Colombian soccer player whose death was linked to him scoring on his own goal at the World Cup in South Korea, was the impetus for the festival, which was helmed by German player Jürgen Griesbeck.
A return trip
Starfinder alumna Nury Ortiz, 20, was one of two delegates from the program to attend the festival at the World Cup in South Africa four years ago.
Now coaching in Starfinder’s girls program, Ortiz will serve as this delegation’s “young leader.”
Ortiz said Monday that she started at Starfinder when she was just six years old. From Feltonville, she said her Colombian roots meant that “soccer was just embedded in my genes.”
She said that she shed some wallflower tendencies during the South African experience, and will pass that along to the youths she accompanies to Brazil.
“I thought ‘one day I’ll look back and realize I could’ve done more,'” she said. “[T]he trip to South Africa … was the closest I was ever going to get to playing in the World Cup. I felt like, as a soccer player, I achieved my dream.
“It was good for me. I developed confidence, and I was forced to speak in front of cameras, and in front of people, and it helped me get out of my shell. I was very shy growing up, and little by little, I came out of it.”
At Starfinder’s facilities for practice on Wednesday, Cerrada and Madrid spoke about what the trip means to them.
Cerrada said that even though it is “one of the most exciting things to happen” in his young life, he tells friends about the trip’s overarching message rather than the fact that he’ll soon attend a World Cup match in Brazil.
Madrid — who, like Cerrada, attends Northeast High School — said Brazil will be his first trip outside the United States besides visiting Honduras, from where his family roots grow.
Bound for Arcadia University in the fall, he said it might inspire enrollment in a study-abroad program.
“This trip is not just about soccer. It’s about using soccer for social change,” said Madrid. “I never thought I’d be going to Brazil, and this may be the only time I do in my life.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It’s amazing. I’ll remember this forever.”