At an undisclosed location in Northwest D.C., a group of soccer players gather for an early-morning pickup game. The group calls itself "Sunday Soccer," and it's comprised of a rainbow of nationalities. Players hail from New Delhi, England, Germany, Lebanon, Iran, Russia, Spain and many more countries, too numerous to list. Week in and out, and even in the snow, the group gathers early Sunday mornings for a scrimmage.
Massimo Gigli founded the group roughly 15 years ago. He and some other dads were kicking around a ball, killing time while waiting for their kids to finish playing. They decided to meet up for a game, and thus, a tradition was born.
Olafur Gudmundsson, originally from Iceland, says meeting on Sunday mornings can be tricky, with the pressure family and household obligations. But, after 7 years of attending, his family now recognizes it as his own personal religion. As Gudmundsson puts it, he never misses a Sunday morning at "the Temple of the Round Ball."
Babak Rizagi, from Iran, says he plans his life around Sunday Soccer. When he travels for work, he makes sure to catch a flight in time for the game.
"I landed at 6:40 a.m.," he says, talking about recent trip home from Brazil. "I was on the pitch at 8:30 a.m. playing with these guys."
Those who are born and raised in the United States, like Timothy Schwartz, a D.C.- based teacher, originally from Manhattan, say playing with an international crowd toughens them up.
"Our one friend broke his nose in the game, sat up and set his nose, and kept playing," Schwartz recalls. In America, he says, we sit still and wait for the paramedics to arrive. "It's just fascinating to see how they deal with adversity and getting injured."
Though they're competitive while playing, off the field, the players show tenderness and love for one another. Schwartz confides, these are his best friends. "We have our families, we have our jobs, we have our wives, but it's coming here and seeing these guys--it's the highlight!"
This story was informed by WAMU's Public Insight Network. Read more about the Public Insight Network.
[Music: "Wavin' Flag (Celebration Mix)" by K'naan from Wavin' Flag]
Soccer Goes International in D.C.