Diverse Northwest soccer enthusiasts kick off their own World Cup

Gambia’s team is a favorite this year. (Photo by Sihanouk Mariona)

If you still had any doubts about how hyperdiverse the Puget Sound region has become, look no further than the All Nations Cup soccer tournament.

Over the next two weeks, 48 teams representing 36 different countries will battle it out at the Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila. Countries represented this year include El Salvador, Gambia, Iran, Burma, Palestine, Mexico, Colombia, Japan, Cameroon, Ukraine, Bosnia, and England.

To join a team players must either be immigrants from, or have some heritage in the country they play for.

Sam Hassan, the tournament’s executive director – and former coach of Team Brazil – says the tournament is a “Babel Tower that works.”

“Soccer is our common language,” he says.

While soccer has been growing in popularity in the U.S. in recent years, Hassan says people from outside the U.S. are still much more passionate about the game than Americans. He says it’s that passion on the field that allows him to put the tournament together on a shoestring budget. He can hire refs and recruit staff for much cheaper than others would.

“They want to do it because here, they see people who love the game with passion.”

Tournament organizer Sam Hassan (right) greets the Bosnian team's coach during the All Nations Cup Opening Ceremonies. (Photo by Sihanouk Mariona)

Tournament organizer Sam Hassan (right) greets the Bosnian team’s coach during the All Nations Cup Opening Ceremonies. (Photo by Sihanouk Mariona)

During the tournament, Hassan, who also owns Paratii Craft Bar in Ballard, is busy: bringing food and water to referees and coaches at halftime, overseeing a small team of volunteers handling security, and passing out team registrations to the coaches.

“Soccer is the great equalizer,” he said during a rare break in the referees’ room: you can be any size, have any body, and don’t need any money to be good at it.

What’s more, he says, “Soccer is a game of hope. It’s 90 minutes of hope, every time you play.”

And there’s still hope for countries whose Seattle-area populations are relatively small, such as Kenya, Nigeria and Turkey. They’re allowed to add up to four “foreign” players to help make them competitive.

The organizers use a handicapping system to determine how many foreign players a team can have, based on how well the team has done in the past, and the size of the community of people they have to draw from.

This year, the tenth anniversary of the tournament, it will cost about $50,000 to put on. Hassan says it once had big sponsors, including Fred Meyer, Children’s Hospital and Community Health Plan of Washington, but that they’ve lost over $80,000 in sponsorship money over the past four years. He says that the drop in sponsorship dollars has coincided with the economic downturn, but also alludes to the difficulties of securing sponsorship for a gathering of new arrivals to the region.

“Most of us speak the wrong language,” he says. “And most of us are the wrong color.”

The ceremonies will have fewer bells and whistles this year with reduced money – but that won’t stop the crowd from ferociously cheering on their favorite teams. Between games, cultural groups from all over the world will perform traditional music and dance from West Africa to Ukraine to Latin America.

This year, Hassan has his eyes on a few teams. “Cambodia and Ukraine are very strong. Also Iran, Mexico, Colombia. The US has a great team this year, and Gambia is always up there.” Whatever game you go to, he says, the All Nations Cup will be a truly passionate – and international – experience.

On opening night, El Salvador faced off against Iran. The game ended in a 0-0 tie. (Photo by Sihanouk Mariona)

On opening night, El Salvador faced off against Iran. The game ended in a 0-0 tie. (Photo by Sihanouk Mariona)

Current tournament standings are listed here. All games are held at the Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila, and are open to the public.

Upcoming matches:

July 20-22, Round of 16, Masters Division and Festival Weekend ($5 entry)
July 23-26: Quarterfinals and Semifinals ($5 entry)
July 27: Masters Final ($5 entry)
July 28; Championship Games and Closing/Trophy Ceremony ($10 entry)

Children under 12 admitted free.
Parking is $5 per day or $15 for a tournament pass.

More info at: www.allnationscup.org

The Globalist will be back with more photos and a report on the championship game.

Jessica is executive director and a co-founder of The Seattle Globalist. She is an international radio journalist whose work has been broadcast by dozens of public radio stations, networks and programs. She was a Knight New Media Fellow at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She has received two Edward R. Murrow Awards, regionally for her radio series Life on the Duwamish and nationally for Generation Putin, an hour-long public radio special on young people and political change in the former Soviet Union. Jessica also teaches journalism at the University of Washington.

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