New program kick-starts soccer on the ‘Loisaida’


By Judith Stiles

Loisaida…. Games of dominoes on sidewalk tables and cool “poragieros,” snow cones with flavored syrups at every corner. Neighbors socialize on front stoops and fire escapes and in the parks to beat the summer heat. But where are the soccer games or “futbol” as it is called on the Lower East Side? Fathers and sons can always be found on corners of asphalt parks kicking the ball around but for years there have been no organized soccer clubs for children.

As Downtown United and the Manhattan Kickers were growing in the early ’90s, there were no teams or soccer opportunities for children on the Lower East Side. DUSC and the Kickers welcomed all children with full scholarships, but for the kids on the Lower East Side to go crosstown three times a week to play at Pier 40 was just about as difficult as getting to New Jersey. Having a dream of creating teams and bringing soccer programs to children on the Lower East Side has been the one-man mission of community activist and Loisaida Youth Soccer founder Orlando Gil.

“I have a passion for soccer that was instilled in me growing up in Uruguay and I have a strong desire to pass that on to future generations,” says Gil, neurobiologist by day and soccer aficionado by night (and on weekends). “I have a keen interest in improving the quality of life for all children in my community. The sport of soccer builds character and improves physical and mental health and should definitely be available to children regardless of sex, race or financial resources.”

With the help of Fiohdna O’ Grady, another neighborhood activist, and the support of Councilmember Margarita Lopez, the Loisaida Youth Soccer Program began in the summer of 2002. With a small start-up grant from the U.S. Youth Soccer Association and the U.S. Soccer Federation, L.Y.S. was able to purchase balls and basic equipment for the children. Last summer, through the L.Y.S. Recreational Soccer Program, children played games every day at the E. Sixth St. Field, finally having organized skill building with excellent coaches like other children in the city. Volunteer coach Manny d’Almeida especially enjoyed coaching the young enthusiasts from the neighborhood Oasis Summer Program and the Henry St. Settlement House.

“Watching kids from different income backgrounds, countries, cultures and religions having fun without limits and everyone united through a soccer ball was a great feeling,” recounts Coach Gustavo Pamomino.

Every day the coaches transported players to the East River fields, drawing from existing summer programs at the local schools such as Henry St. Settlement House, Boys and Girls Republic, Oasis and the Educational Alliance. “I coached them in dribbling, passing, shooting and during the scrimmage I explained the rules of the game. I always kept in mind that most of these kids have not been coached before, but I was amazed that in one summer they really improved a lot. There was a great deal of talent in that group,” adds Coach Palomino.

Cassandra Flowers who started in the program summer in 2002 developed so well in a year at L.Y.S. that she has joined Ariana Gil and Robin Giordani on the prestigious citywide C.J.S.L. Select Team.

“Loisada Youth Soccer now faces great financial challenges,” acknowledges O’Grady, who was instrumental in setting up L.Y.S. as a nonprofit corporation. Other soccer clubs depend on sponsors but rely heavily on player club fees, which run about $700 per player for the fall, winter and spring seasons. Most of the children who play in this program have trouble affording cleats and shin guards, let alone high club fees. L.Y.S. provides its members with the opportunity to participate in a fun, healthy team sport.

“It is sad to see children without green fields to play on or visit schools that have small yards and barely have gyms. I love to see our children in East River Park work up a sweat and play enthusiastically, smiling, laughing and making new friends,” says O’Grady. Because it is a nonprofit organization any contribution to L.Y.S. is tax-deductible and you can sponsor an individual player or an entire team.

For further information on being a Loisada sponsor, call 212-473-1258 or e-mail loisaidayouth@hotmail.com. And if you know kids who are looking for a place to play soccer, Loisaida has a team for them.