-People are starting to talk about our team, so we need a name, I say as Marco takes another shot.
The ball goes sailing over the goal and toward the creek. Ivan puts on his socks on the sideline.
-Los Immigrants, Adrian suggests.
-How 'bout HB-87s? Alan jokes.
-No. I got it. USA. It's simple, Omar says, looking around for any dissent. Heads nod around the circle of players as it forms. Like that, we become USA.
This takes place on a Tuesday. We are fresh off a win against a team that beat us twice before I took over coaching. While we gather around, kicking soccer balls, joking in Spanglish, getting ready to do our sprints, the feeling is that we can make this little neighborhood team into something good.
I'm still reeling from the fact that I'm even here. Guys on this team have made fun of us, written obscenities on our door, picked on kids in our afterschool program, and generally avoided us for peer pressure reasons.
Then, one night while they watched a police officer grill some of the neighbors on something, I asked Ivan and Bon Bon what was going on. They shrugged, then asked, Hey, you wanna coach our soccer team?
I showed up at the first practice, not sure how things were gonna go. Then Omar, the other coach, who supposedly couldn't coach anymore because of a job at QT, showed up too.
It's been a bit messy ever since. Our players go back to Mexico, get distracted when their parents go to prison, show up to practice under the influence, and sometimes burst into tears. There are alliances and insecurities and everyone has to watch his back most of the time.
But we've started playing like a team. We're learning to build each other up. We're taking some pride in who we are, and where we come from.
For the first three years in this neighborhood, I prayed that God would give me a way to connect with the middle and high school guys. They are at risk right now for gang involvement, drug use, incarceration, gun violence and deportation. It's a good time to show them love.
Now, living out God's answer as their coach is a confusing, turbulent, hilarious adventure. It demands about ten hours a week in addition to my writing and ministry work. But the time, sweat, and pain are well worth it, to be involved in the turnaround we're seeing, to get to play during scrimmages, and to see the development of pride they've taken in who we are together, as team USA.