US Hosts Homeless World Cup for the First Time, Winning More Than Just Matches for the Players

by Madison Thomas
Homeless World Cup

Former college soccer athlete, Lisa Wrightsman, whose life took a downward spiral due to drug addiction, rediscovered her passion for the sport through a global tournament meant for individuals who’ve experienced homelessness.

Qualifying for the Homeless World Cup held in Brazil was a transformative moment for Wrightsman. Upon her return to Sacramento, her friends at the sober living facility where she resided were inspired by her renewed sense of self-worth, expressed in her newfound glow.

“The whole tournament kind of instills you with that,” Wrightsman recalled.

Wrightsman has since become the coach for the U.S. women’s team in the Homeless World Cup. The tournament took place for the first time in the United States on July 8 in Sacramento, California, a state with the highest number of homeless individuals in the country. It concludes on Saturday, right before the start of next week’s Women’s World Cup.

After a three-year break due to the pandemic, during which homelessness increased dramatically in several U.S. cities, the tournament is back in action. In Sacramento, there was a 68% increase in homelessness between 2020 and 2022.

The tournament brings together teams from thirty countries, comprising people with diverse backgrounds, from individuals who have lived on the streets to refugees and foster children. Among them is Yuli Pineda, a young woman from Honduras now living with a foster family in California, who has found a sense of belonging with the U.S. team.

“This gives you a natural way to connect to the largest community in the world, which is the soccer community,” says Lawrence Cann, founder of Street Soccer USA, the organization managing the U.S. men’s and women’s teams.

The tournament’s objective is more than just athletic competition. Mel Young, co-founder of the organization conducting the tournament, explains that their aim is to empower players to achieve their ambitions beyond the field. While some athletes have pursued professional soccer careers, the focus is on personal transformation and life improvement.

Wrightsman, now a resident of Sacramento, was a forward for California State University, Sacramento, also known as Sac State. Struggling with drug addiction, she ended up in a sober living facility, which provided her an opportunity to qualify for the Homeless World Cup. The tournament rekindled her love for soccer, boosting her self-confidence and enabling her to pass on her knowledge to less experienced players.

This year, the tournament is contending with the extreme summer heat of Sacramento, with temperatures expected to exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) by the end of the week. Matches are shorter than traditional soccer games, at seven minutes per half, allowing maximum participation.

The crowd’s enthusiasm in Sac State’s Hornet Stadium is palpable as they cheer for their respective country’s team. For Sienna Jackson, a 24-year-old local player on the U.S. women’s team, soccer has always been a sanctuary from the stress of life.

Today, Jackson, who experienced homelessness for four years starting at the age of 19, lives in an apartment, works at a pediatric dental office, and is studying to become a dental assistant at Carrington College, a career-training school in Sacramento.

Big Big News journalist Haven Daley contributed to this report.

Sophie Austin is a member of the Big Big News/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. You can follow Austin on Twitter: @sophieadanna.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Homeless World Cup

Where did the Homeless World Cup debut in the US?

The Homeless World Cup debuted in the US in Sacramento, California.

Who is Lisa Wrightsman?

Lisa Wrightsman is a former college soccer player who struggled with drug addiction and subsequently experienced homelessness. She has since turned her life around and is now the coach of the U.S. women’s team for the Homeless World Cup.

What is the aim of the Homeless World Cup?

The aim of the Homeless World Cup is not only to conduct a competitive soccer event but also to empower its players to achieve their goals beyond the games. It seeks to facilitate personal transformation and life improvement for those who have experienced homelessness.

How many countries are participating in the Homeless World Cup?

Thirty countries are participating in the Homeless World Cup.

How has the Homeless World Cup impacted players’ lives?

The Homeless World Cup has greatly impacted players’ lives by instilling a sense of self-worth, community, and achievement. Some players, like Lisa Wrightsman, have used their experience in the tournament as a stepping stone to personal transformation and career progression.

More about Homeless World Cup

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FootyFanatic July 14, 2023 - 12:58 pm

so proud of the U.S. hosting the homeless World Cup! Soccer really is a global sport that anyone can enjoy. Best of luck to all the players!!

Homerun22 July 14, 2023 - 1:19 pm

thats what I call a victory…overcoming addiction and then becoming a coach…Hats off to Lisa.. U GO GIRL!

CaliGuy July 14, 2023 - 5:44 pm

Reading about the increasing homelessness in Sacramento really hits home. Glad to see something positive in the midst of it all… Keep it up, Lisa and team!

SoccerMom101 July 14, 2023 - 6:10 pm

This is just inspiring!! Lisa’s story just proves that its never too late to turn things around… and it’s amazing how soccer can bring everyone together, irrespective of their past and present situations.

FieldGoal July 14, 2023 - 6:14 pm

What an amazing event! This shows how sports can unite and empower people… Hats off to everyone involved in this.

James_B July 14, 2023 - 7:20 pm

Wow this is amazing!! It’s not just about the sport, but how it can change people’s lives! Go Lisa and the U.S. team!


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