Latino Soccer Leagues help steer youth away from violence in Chicago

Diana Giambona

“Run!” “Kick!” “Pass it!,” shouted the players of the Cosmos and Club Marquenze teams during the game of the Latino Soccer League in Humboldt Park. The crowd cheered every time they scored goals, and there was an atmosphere of fun, community and sportsmanship.

The match ended with a 10-4 victory for Club Marquenze. However, this league is about more than scores.

The Latino Soccer League gathers more than 20 teams every weekend at the Miguel A. Barreto Boys and Girls Club in Humboldt Park, a space where people share their passion for soccer. 

One of the goals is to help young people steer clear of violence and the dangers of Chicago’s streets,said Fermín Juárez, owner and director of the soccer league.

Juárez, highlighted the importance of sports for young people, learning values such as discipline that team organizers consider fundamental for  personal growth and development. 

“With soccer, I have kept my sons and other young people entertained in something so that their minds don’t go down another path, and it fills me with satisfaction to see many guys like my sons fulfilled,” Juárez said. 

Chicago youth are among the prime victims of crimes and shooting deaths each year. However, while some of the city’s young people are plunged into violence, others escape it thanks to soccer.

Raúl Hernández, 55, is one of the players on the Cosmos team, a participant in the amateur league. He stressed that “the sport is very good and helps young people a lot because they avoid being in gangs.”

The Latino Soccer League has both male and female categories and players starting at 16 years old can participate. Although in its beginnings the league was made up only of Latino players, it now includes people from different cultures and races, promoting respect and team spirit.

Playing soccer and participating in competitions has also benefited young people in other aspects of their lives since it creates the habit of doing a physical activity that is healthy for their body and mind. 

Video by Diana Giambona

The Furia team beat Tuzla FC by 12 to 4 in the eighth matchday of the Latin Soccer League (Diana Giambona/Medill)

María Lorenzana, 43, is the goalkeeper for the Deportivo Unión team. She decided to play soccer with her daughter and other young women with the goal of motivating them to avoid being on the streets, staying on their cell phones all day, or suffering from depression. 

“Technology is absorbing young people and sports get them healthier and off the streets,” Lorenzanasaid.  

In the Chicago suburb of Glendale Heights anotherleague called the Latinos Chicago Soccer League is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Alejandro Guerrero, founder of this amateur competition, noted that young people participate to have fun and share their culture.

Guerrero said that “soccer is for playing and not for fighting. It is to unite the community and families.” 

In these competitions, the main objective is not to win, but to participate and enjoy soccer by sharing with family and friends. The Latino leagues seek to maintain their customs and transmit from parents to children the passion for soccer, a sport that isgrowing steadily in popularity in the United States. 

“We try to make sure the culture is not lost, that the players compete for the love of the sport and that they sweat the jersey,” Juárez said.

The amateur soccer leagues in Chicago provide an ideal space for young people to be part of a community away from violence while living a healthy life aligned with the values of sports, according to players.

Game schedule:

Cover Photo Credit: Cosmos and Club Marquenze are two of the 28 teams playing in the Latino Soccer League in the winter season (Diana Giambona/Medill)

Diana Giambona got a degree in journalism from Universidad de La Laguna (Tenerife, Spain). She is a graduate student at Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University specializing in sports media. She has experience covering topics such as politics, society, sports and culture.

IL Latino News partners with Medill School of Journalism and many schools of higher education in providing students mentoring and real work experiences.

© 2024 All Rights Reserved.