Soccer may not be the most popular sport in the United States, but it still serves as a safe haven and an escape from stress for millions of fans across the country. Boston Street Soccer provides a space for more recreational players from different backgrounds to enjoy the sport they love.
The group began in 2012 as a small Facebook page that included the group’s founder and some personal friends. It wouldn’t be until Juan Cardenas joined as a co-owner and manager of the social media pages that the group began to expand into what it is today. Nine years after it was created, the group organizes soccer tournaments and pick-up games open to anyone in the Boston area. Cardenas sees the group as a chance to get more people involved in the sport.
“Boston Street Soccer is a community-based group that focuses on offering all ages an opportunity to play soccer in the community,” Cardenas said in a Zoom interview with mSports. “We've been around since 2012 and since then, our main goal is just offering people just a committee base knowledge of how to play, how we can play and how we can unite. The goal is basically to make people do what they enjoy.”
The amateur soccer scene in Boston struggles greatly with organization and finding space to play, which can limit the availability of tournaments and games. Since Cardenas’ arrival to the group, there has been a push to make the community more inclusive.
“We started now, making it into more of a business, trying to market more, trying to attract more players appealing to new audiences, different ages, ethnicities and diversities.” Cardenas said. “And we brought it all together, so now what we do is we organize games in different types of rental areas. We create contracts with different rental properties, and what we do is create tournaments, league teams, pickup games, and, for the future, we're planning to open up our own indoor facility here in Massachusetts.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, several facilities and businesses were forced to close due to safety protocols and quarantine. Boston Street Soccer was no exception, as the organization was forced to suspend all activities until later in the year.
The pandemic denied many community members the opportunity to play, and the extended periods of isolation only increased stress. Cardenas noticed the rising stress levels were affecting many people in Boston and across the country.
“Once December started kicking in, we started noticing that a lot of people are dealing with internal conflicts such as mental health, and soccer is a way to get away from all these problems,” Carednas said. “People use soccer as a way to distract themselves for ongoing day-to-day stresses.”
When they were finally able to organize matches in June, they began with a limited number of people, usually totaling around ten masked players. However, the response from the community was clear. People were showing up. They wanted to get back on the field and play the sport that they loved.
Boston Street Soccer was able to start organizing matches again while simultaneously keeping their community aware of health guidelines and advising players to stay safe off the field.
“Currently, with COVID, we have a capacity of 26 people, a hard limit,” Cardenas added. “Everyone must wear masks at all times, even off the field or on the field. And when you're not playing, we recommend that you socially distance from each other. Try to stay away from touching your face, handshakes, things like that to minimize contact but soccer is a full contact sport at the end of the day.”
Regulations have eased in some parts of Massachusetts as COVID-19 vaccine distribution increases. However, the matches and tournaments organized by the group remain heavily regulated, allowing players to truly express themselves on the field while staying safe.
“We would encourage players to go get tested, we would encourage the community to wear masks whenever they're playing with others,” Cardenas said. “And then, I would post out announcements or places where you could get tested and get your results pretty quickly and things like that. And, as time went on, it seemed to become a normal thing for soccer, it just continued.”
As 2021 continues, there is hope that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is slowly coming to an end and that more people will join the Boston Street Soccer community.
“We do expect, having many more people join the community, much more people trying to play, looking for opportunities to meet others and socialize,” Cardenas said. “We're expecting the summer is coming around that we're going to have a lot of tournaments, a lot of open availability to play, it just means more playing time.”