(KMSP) - A local soccer team has faced some of life’s biggest obstacles all before the age of 24. Now, the team is heading for the 2017 Street Soccer USA Cup next week.
Roughly two dozen players make up the Up Top team, aimed at homeless and at-risk young people.
“Soccer is my favorite thing,” said Mohamed Ahmed. “When I was young, I was dreaming of being a soccer player like a professional.”
Ahmed said he’s excited for his first game and that he’s especially looking forward to traveling.
Organized by the YouthLink drop-in center, the team gives teens something to do to stay out of trouble while learning life skills like teamwork, sportsmanship and setting goals that can help them both on and off the field.
“We have a lot of people we put in a box because their situation is difficult right now,” said Coach Jose Acuna. "But, they are human beings and have dreams just like you and I and anyone else. All they need is an opportunity to shine.”
Every year, Up Top competes against 18 other teams in a 4-on-4 national tournament - the Street Soccer USA Cup, which the team has won five times and will try to win for a sixth in Philadelphia next week.
Several players have also represented the U.S. in the Homeless World Cup, traveling to places like Brazil, France and Mexico.
“It’s an experience that is great because for our youth, those opportunities don't show up every day,” Acuna said.
Ahmed said his team feels like a family and having fun with them is the ultimate goal.
“We're good,” he said. “We'll go there and show them what we got.”
YouthLink struggles to keep up with equipment like shoes and shin guards and to pay for trips like this. If you'd like to help, we've added a link here.