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Opinion | Don’t Let the Pandemic End a 100-Year-Old Soccer Legacy

The Parks Department seems to think that because some leagues are “for profit” that we’re elitist. Quite the opposite. Our teams represent the diversity of the city. We play in all five boroughs, from Soundview Park in the Bronx to Corporal Thompson Park in Staten Island. Our players are bakers and bankers, construction workers and real estate agents, cops and lawyers, teachers and students, even journalists.

And New York’s soccer leagues are still proudly upholding their heritage as the sport of immigrants. As soon as 11 guys arrive in New York from somewhere new, they form a soccer team. In recent seasons, we’ve added players from Afghanistan and our first Chinese-American team. Our teams proudly celebrate their European, Asian and North, South and Central American heritages. Over the years, I have been cursed at in many, many languages.

Wherever you’re from, you step on the field and everyone has the same status: teammate and competitor. That’s the real beauty of the beautiful game in New York City.

Not having wider access to these fields is also a financial waste. When I first started playing, the pitches in McCarren Park, on Randalls Island and in Red Hook were patches of dirt and rocks with dirty hypodermic needles strewn about. But over the last two decades, the Parks Department, along with civic groups such as the Randalls Island Park Alliance, have replaced these urban smudges with first-rate fields through the magic of artificial turf. Soccer players are also taxpayers and helped fund these fields; why can’t we use them?

In 1919, multiple teams from New York City reached the later rounds of the U.S. Open Cup, then soccer’s national championship. The team from Brooklyn’s Morse Dry Dock reached the semifinals. A war had just ended and the flu pandemic was spreading in New York, but soccer was too important to the community to stop playing.

Today, we have no global war, but we do have a pandemic, and the city’s health authorities are learning each day how to better cope with it. Museums and gyms are now open, with limits. We’re sending our kids back to classrooms. The city needs to get off the bench, so New Yorkers can kick it around just as we’ve been doing for the last century.

Bill Saporito is a contributor to the editorial board and a member of the Cosmopolitan Soccer League.

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