Twice a week, Mohamed Ahmed gets his kicks practicing his favorite sport. But soon, his love of soccer will play out on a national stage.
“I’m very, very excited to go play [for] the first time. I’ve never traveled. This is the first time I’m traveling with my teammates,” Ahmed said.
Ahmed is one of roughly two dozen players on a soccer team for homeless and at-risk young people called Up Top.
The activity – organized by the Youth League Drop-in Center – gives the teens something to do to stay out of trouble, while learning life skills like teamwork, sportsmanship and setting goals that can help them off the field as well as on it.
“We have a lot of people that we put in the box because the situation is very difficult right now. These are human beings. They have dreams like you and I, just like everybody else. All they need is an opportunity…an opportunity to shine.”
Every year, Up Top competes against 18 other teams in a four-on-four national tournament, the Street Soccer USA Cup – which the team has won five times and will try to win for a sixth in Philadelphia.
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, you know? Because, especially for our youth, those opportunities don’t show up every day.”
But Ahmed says his team feels like a family, and having fun with them is the ultimate goal.
“It’s good…We’ll go there, and we’ll show them what we got.”