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FC Harlem proves inner city youth are committed to soccer in new mini-doc

Men’s soccer in the United States has a great deal of room to grow. Poor results have accumulated in recent years, most exemplified by the USA’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

As many have propounded, perhaps it is time to change up the way we look at youth soccer and develop the sport in this country. Maybe it is time to go down a different avenue in identifying and cultivating top-tier talent.

UNINTERRUPTED, the media company co-founded by LeBron James and Maverick Carter, has produced and premiered a new documentary titled “BECOMING MORE: FC Harlem.”

The mini-doc follows inner-city soccer program FC Harlem on its path to competing in its first major tournament.

The upstart football club from New York City, fields players from all five boroughs, from all different ethnicities and backgrounds. The players push the boundaries of what is possible off the field just as much as they do on it.

“The soccer world probably views FC Harlem as keeping kids off the street,” bluntly states Irv Smalls, Jr., FC Harlem Executive Director.

“Our kids are not thinking about drugs or crimes or breaking into cars or anything. They want to get better at soccer. They want to be empowered.”

Outside of training these kids at a high-level FC Harlem also focus on their L.I.O.N.S. –┬áLeaders In Our Neighborhoods.

The specialized program is designed for talented and committed youths of color who often do not get opportunities to pursue soccer development at the highest levels.

Their development model consists of licensed, competent coaches who use the small spaces of the inner cities, immigrant culture, and creativity of the neighborhoods to develop dynamic soccer players.

 

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There is a problem in the U.S. where many of the most competitive and illustrious youth clubs require families to pay for their children to play for the club.

The players that cannot pay, often ones from inner cities, are left out from the best trainers the country has to offer, the best competition, and the eyes of the top soccer scouts.

“Pay-to-play system absolutely leaves out inner-city kids, specifically black and brown kids. That’s what I want to solve,” said Smalls, Jr.

 

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FC Harlem is aiming to change the narrative, and UNINTERRUPTED’s doc is giving the club a platform to make this a reality.

“This is something much bigger than us,” said center back and captain Kaloka.

The players understand that they represent themselves, their club, and their communities. They represent New York, and they are so unabashedly true to their city.

“It felt like I wasn’t just playing for myself, it felt like I was playing for New York City itself,” said goalie Azul.

Seen in the doc is the parking lot where many of the players started playing soccer. Mo, an FC Harlem midfielder, stands outside of a Chinese cornerstone, eating a snack.

“This is fries, with chopped cheese, put pepper jack cheese, and you know white sauce/ranch and barbecue. I love this right here,” said Mo.

 

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New York is the melting pot of different cultures and different stories. While often renowned for being a basketball town, New York is deeply passionate about soccer, the most globally-recognized and beloved sport in the world.

“I’ve been in New York long enough that I’ve seen the players. The talent is there. The team that we have is not like any other team that we’ve had in the years that I’ve been here,” explained Smalls, Jr.

He continued to speak about the route FC Harlem took to enter the tournament, “And I just said, ‘You know what? Let’s find the top tournament in the country, and let’s go for it.'”

FC Harlem was invited to the most prestigious youth soccer tournament in the US: The Dallas Cup. “It is exposure, college scouts, professional scouts,” said Andy Swift, Executive Director of the Dallas Cup.

This exposure is what fuels an individual player’s chance to keep moving up the ranks of soccer in this country, and hopefully, one day play professionally. This truth is not lost on the FC Harlem players.

On a more macro level, the chance for these inner-city kids to be seen by top scouts in this country has the ability to change the pay-to-play system, and ultimately switch up the top youth players that are seen and then funneled up the pipeline to become professional footballers.

 

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“They deserve this exposure. They deserve this level of competition, ’cause they’ve worked hard to get to be the players that they are. But also that should just be the access that players have at that level, and it doesn’t happen often enough,” said Caetano, FC Harlem’s head coach.

The build-up to a soccer game is unlike any other. For 45 minutes straight you run, you slide, you battle, and there are no set prolonged stoppages.

You are out there with just your team, and the build-up to the first whistle is a very thrilling one.

FC Harlem lost its first match in the final few minutes, 3-2 to Liverpool Football College. The team showed extreme resolve in their next game, winning 2-1 against FC Tigres. In its final game, Harlem lost 2-0 to FC Dallas, sending the team home.

 

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Even though the team did not win like they would have liked, the entire club understands that success is measured in different ways.

Being scouted, supported, and proving that they belonged at this prestigious cup are respectable and significant milestones.

“I think they understand the bigger picture,” said Smalls, Jr.

He continued, “I personally believe the inner cities can help change soccer in the United States for the better.”