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USA

Lisa Wrightsman is head of the Street Soccer USA chapter in Sacramento and a former semi-professional footballer. Located in cities across the country, Street Soccer USA uses sports to connect homeless young people and adults to jobs and education opportunities that help them lead a better life. 

 USA

Lisa Wrightsman is head of the Street Soccer USA chapter in Sacramento and a former semi-professional footballer. Located in cities across the country, Street Soccer USA uses sports to connect homeless young people and adults to jobs and education opportunities that help them lead a better life. 

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Can you tell us about your life in football?

I have played football (soccer) since I was four and have been addicted to the game ever since. I had a lot of success playing at the collegiate level D-1 (at Sacramento State) and went on to play semi-pro for many years striving to make it as a pro. When I didn’t make it pro, I didn’t take it so well. I found myself feeling very lost and getting hooked on drugs and alcohol to fill the void of missing soccer in my life. I reconnected with soccer through Street Soccer USA after I got sober and was able to fall in love with the game and it’s power all over again. I now run the Street Soccer USA chapter in Sacramento.

What did you try to show with the photos? Was there any wider meaning with the photos?

The photos were taken in Mexico City at the Homeless World Cup 2018. I was hoping to capture a few things…one was the size of the venue and how incredible the venue was to be in for a week and to play in. We were surrounded by amazing architecture and some really rich history. 

I really wanted to try to capture the toughness of the young women who were on the team; they were all great soccer players, but more warrior-like than anything else. What they have overcome in their lives, how they push through life, and the toughness that they play with really made them more like warriors than athletes - but they are also very sweet young girls and I was hoping to capture that too. This team really came together with a lot of camaraderie and showed a lot of respect for each other, as well as support, and that isn’t always the case when you get seven women together for the first time and in a new place.

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Are there any good stories connected with the people or teams you photographed?

All the players from the USA, men and women, had incredible stories. Most of the women’s team players were refugees with really heart-breaking experiences of adjusting to American culture and how they have been treated and bullied by peers, but it didn’t break them. The ladies who are from the US have some pretty amazing resilience in overcoming trauma, addiction, losing parents and family to drugs and alcohol.  But you wouldn’t know this hardship from any of them by how they carry themselves and how they play football.

How was your experience of the Homeless World Cup in Mexico?

The Homeless World Cup experience is always amazing. It is impossible not to be inspired by the event.  We had a great men’s team and women’s team representing the USA, an incredibly diverse group of men and women. For us as coaches, it is always a bit of a challenge to get to know all of the players, learn about them, their stories and how the players will play together in such a short amount of time (seven days). By the end of the trip the players feel like family and you feel like you have known everyone for years.  

The sportsmanship of the event is very fun and meaningful - the days are long so it is important to be surrounded by positive people. Everyone at the event is playing for more than wins on the field, the majority of the players have such amazing stories of resilience and survival, and it is hard to believe they are all there playing a game. Overall, it is an experience I look forward to every year. It re-energises me to do the work we do, it reminds me how important football is, and how much it can impact a person and what they choose to do in their life.

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What are the opportunities for female footballers in USA?

We have a lot of opportunities, but to play competitively as a youth it costs a lot of money.  We have some great college level opportunities and semi pro and pro team, but they do not pay very much money. It is hard to make a living out of it and it is nothing compared to the commitment to play at the highest level. While we have more opportunities for females than many countries, it is a pay-to-play system, leaving out many girls and women who may have lower incomes.

Why is football so important for the USA and American people?

Football to me is love, hope, joy and community.It connects us to the rest of the world and allows us to celebrate and be empowered by our diversity.

What is the future for football in the USA?

I hope the future of football is more accessible, more urban and something everyone can play, not just those who can pay for it.  I think Street Soccer USA is delivering and creating football in the right way in the USA and using it to empower and connect people, not create barriers and separation.

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