In most of the world, from the favelas of Brazil to the working-class streets of London and Lagos, soccer is seen as the people’s game. A sport in which all you need to play is a ball and flat ground.
In the US, however, it is often seen as a hobby for wealthy suburban kids, who can afford expensive training and the high fees required to join youth teams. Therefore, we see soccer in the United States as it is today: serving primarily white, wealthy, and well-connected people. What Zlatan Ibrahimovic said during his brief time with the LA Galaxy, “… not everyone has the money and sport should be something for everyone, because it unites races and people.”
But there is always a chance for change, and Queensboro FC hopes to bring back the community nature of soccer. The club was founded in 2019 and will join the USL Championship, effectively the second tier of the US soccer pyramid, in 2022. Based in the New York City borough of Queens, it is already representative. of a more diverse soccer model in the United States. It is based in one of the most diverse urban areas in the world: more than 130 languages are spoken in the municipality, and its stadium is currently being built on the campus of a public university. These early developments suggest that the team will encapsulate Queens’ multicultural identity.
The Queensboro property, which includes soccer legends David Villa and Aly Wagner, only raises expectations. But big-name sponsors don’t mean the club is disconnected from its roots. Players like Piero Elias, of Peruvian descent, and José López, a recent addition to Puerto Rico’s senior national team, reflect the Latino communities that make Queens a stronghold for soccer fans.
Club President Adam Schneider is dedicated to creating a place that soccer fans in Queens can call home. “It’s about creating an environment, a physical space, in a community for people of diverse backgrounds to come together and support a local institution,” he tells The Guardian. “Sport brings people together and that is the guiding principle.”
Even in its early stages, Queensboro FC is working to materially connect with the people it represents. The club launched an initiative that raised money for hospitals throughout Queens, helping the community in “ground zero” of the Covid-19 pandemic in the US.
Queensboro FC is also creating the first dedicated soccer stadium in New York City, and its place on the CUNY York College campus is more than symbolic. “We have complementary goals with CUNY,” says Schneider. “Our goal is to generate sustainable and multigenerational benefits for the community. For example, the stadium will be home to college kicks, sports activities, and community events. We are going to develop class seminars, clinics for underprivileged children in the neighborhood … We are a facility for the use of students and the community in general. “
When asked about Queensboro FC’s dedication to increasing equity in American soccer, Schneider is emphatic: “If a person can’t pay $ 30 for testing, that doesn’t deter us. Our mission is to get the best footballers ”, he says. “Our goal is to build a strong academy, a strong team that plays well, that Queens can be proud of. Queens is a gateway to the world. “
This is far from the richness and whiteness typically associated with American soccer. Players credit the Queensboro staff with pushing the club forward, in tune with a goal of inclusion.
“Everyone is international. We speak a lot of Spanish in the team, everyone gets along very well with everyone. It’s been like family, ”says López, who was seen at a test for the team in Puerto Rico and was soon the team’s forward. “Queensboro FC reflects the base of Queens. All the players are from everywhere. Everyone is treated like family … The coaching staff supports you in every way. “
Meanwhile, Elias is a native of Queens. The midfielder trained with Peru’s U-20 team a year before joining Queensboro. He learned about the tryouts for Queensboro FC from a pamphlet and was called to the team shortly after.
“It is like a family. I’m from here, it’s the first team that ever existed in Queens and I was one of the first players to sign. It’s very special to me, ”he says. “It also helps on the field, all the different styles of play from different countries… When we play against teams that are only from here, they see something that they haven’t really seen before. It gives us a little advantage. “
In keeping with the club’s philosophy of developing players for careers outside of the US, players are connected with professional clubs abroad. Elias has already been in contact with clubs in Europe. “Instead of winning games, they worry that we develop first,” he says. “Queens are very talented. The talent will keep coming. “
Queensboro coach Josep Gombau is no stranger to the international reach of soccer. He worked with the Barcelona youth team before passing through Australia and India. It also emphasizes the club’s focus on elevating players.
“I work a lot with youth players. I come from FC Barcelona, I work with young people, I always try to improve my players ”. Gombau says. “It is not just about winning games. We try to focus on the development of the players ”.
Gombau and his team began working a year ago, in early 2020, looking for young players from Queens to form the first team roster. “We want to try to have as many players from Queens as possible,” he says.
And Gombau knows that in a place like Queens that means a diverse roster. “In this club there will be people from all over the world and I have already worked with many people from all over the world,” he says.
The club participates in outreach activities outside of New York, and testing is also held in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. And you also want to make sure that money is not a barrier to entry.
“There are many, many academies that charge a lot of money to play soccer,” says Gombau. “Our club is different. This means that our programs are fully funded. In Queensboro II [the club’s academy team], for example … Everything is fully funded. We pay for everything, for the facilities, the clothes, the trips ”.
There will also be opportunities for the players. Queensboro FC was recently named a member of the USL W League, which is scheduled to begin in May. “Men and women [teams] receive the same treatment. In less than a year we will have our first team, the women’s team, Queensboro II. And I hope that by September 2022, we will have U-15, U-17, we will have the facilities on both sides, women and men ”, says Gombau.
Of course building a club takes time, something Gombau is aware of. “We are ambitious. We would like to be one of the biggest clubs. But we have to go slowly, things don’t happen in a day, ”says Gombau. “We are in a place, Queens, where people love our game, and we are in a place where people have passion.”
Passion is a cornerstone of a successful soccer club, and Queensboro FC has already taken steps to capture fans in its community by building a team that resembles the district. Queensboro FC looks forward to enriching American soccer with passionate and diverse talent.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism