The scruffy players in brick-red jerseys and secondhand shoes hailed from Haiti, Togo, Mexico, Honduras and Harlem. The fresh-faced team in black had neatly trimmed hair, new gear and degrees from Carnegie Mellon, Syracuse, Pace and universities in China and Australia.
Most of the players in black work together at the Royal Bank of Canada, bonded by the financial cloud hanging over their industry. The reds, too, are united by financial circumstance, sharing a temporary address, 1 Wards Island: a homeless shelter.
They faced off the other night at Chelsea Piers, perhaps Manhattan’s premier soccer spot for young professionals, and this spring also the base for the newest team in Street Soccer USA, a 16-city network of homeless players that started in 2005 in Charlotte, N.C., and is under the umbrella of Help USA, a national homeless services provider.
The idea behind homeless soccer is something like this: Take a group of poor people, disconnected from the regular rhythms of life, lacking both physical exercise and much to look forward to. Add soccer.