Secretly Awesome: Mission Bay's Street Soccer Park

In the shadow of AT&T Park, across McCovey Cove, the crumbling piers of Mission Bay transform into expensive game day parking lots for Giants fans during baseball season. The Mission Bay neighborhood is rapidly evolving, and one new feature may surprise you: tucked behind the Yard at Mission Rock's shipping container complex is a tiny new sports complex making a big impact.

The Street Soccer USA park, complete with a pair of turf mini-soccer fields, stadium lights, electronic scoreboards and a locker room, opened on April 26th of this year with local food and drink partnerships, a view of the Bay and an influx of soccer enthusiasts knocking on its doors.

The facility is the crown jewel for an organization fighting to teach at-risk youth and the homeless how to build important life skills and cultivate long-term positive change through teamwork on the soccer field. Some proceeds from the corporate, competitive and coed leagues at the SSUSA Park get routed back into the program’s social initiatives and will help generate revenue for its social program, while expanding its overall profile.

“One of the most amazing things about the park is that it’s an otherwise non-utilized urban space in a parking lot, being put to use to better the community,” said SSUSA Park GM Christian Martin. “It’s also a proof of concept, in that the community our type of programs and style of soccer help form can transcend into an everyday person’s life.”

SSUSA, which operates in 16 cities nationwide, provides free services every year to more than 1,000 participants in San Francisco. Each team is given a safe place to play, coached by a trained volunteer, and taught a simple, evidence-based curriculum to build skills like communication, collaboration, mutual respect and self-confidence.  

“The Street Soccer USA Park captures that excitement of a four-on-four game while also facilitating relationships that brings our community closer together,” said SSUSA co-founder Rob Cann. “Players who come to the park are having fun, while also learning about Street Soccer USA and its solutions for the most impoverished communities.”

Street Soccer is an emerging version of soccer developed specifically to be played in small spaces offered by urban communities. Walls around the field mean constant movement and a premium on ball control and touch passing. Four-on-four matchups and 15-minute game clocks put a necessary emphasis on speed, teamwork and communication.

The park will be hosting its first major tournament today, allowing teams to try their hand at street soccer in a ladder-style format (teams are ranked, and must beat teams above them to move up). Also on Saturday, SSUSA will run a Tenderloin Street Soccer Fest a few miles west of Mission Bay, a balance that points to organization's mission, with the money generated from the SSUSA Park giving youth and at-risk players opportunities around the Bay. 

The Tenderloin event.

Opening the park hasn’t been an easy task for SSUSA. Building the facility itself took multiple location approvals, and turned into a lengthy undertaking. Spreading the word to the public about a must-see mini-soccer park in such a lightly trafficked neighborhood also proved difficult. Once players arrived, the next hurdle was convincing them to try a new style of soccer.

But the fast-paced street soccer style caught on quickly, and players began streaming into Mission Bay during and after work hours. Now, the SSUSA Park is drawing enough attention that they’re scheduling events seven days a week in 2017.

If you'd like to start playing, check out SSUSA's drop-in tournament schedule and adult leagues. You can also contribute toward the organization's end-of-year #IPlayForGiving campaign.

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