After five years, the All Nations Cup keeps growing with local athletes representing 43 countries competing for the title. And local soccer devotees continue to cheer them on.
One sport brings together the diverse colors, languages and talents of dozens of cultures in the Pacific Northwest: soccer.
For two weeks, local athletes representing 43 countries — from El Salvador to Cambodia to Tanzania — have competed on the soccer field and celebrated their multicultural community at the fifth annual All Nations Cup in Tukwila.
“The whole world plays soccer,” said Jessica Breznau, All Nations Cup co-director and founder of Sister Communities, the South King County nonprofit organization that hosts the event. “That’s why it’s such a great way to get everyone together.”
Four fields at the Starfire Sports Soccer Complex take constant abuse of pounding cleats. The stands are full of enthusiastic supporters with drums and noisemakers. Players scuffle; fans argue with the referees; live music plays in the background.
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Soccer professionals from Brazil were amazed at the environment.
“I never thought a tournament like this would happen [in the U.S.],” Sao Paolo, Brazil, native Thiago Silva said. “It’s very nice for the U.S. people to see how soccer is around the world.”
Silva, who has played in Brazil with some of the best soccer players in the world, also was impressed with the tournament’s level of play.
“I have seen some good teams and good players here, even when you compare them to high-level soccer, which I can,” Silva said.
Another ex-pro from Brazil compared it to an actual World Cup setting.
“This is fantastic,” said Sidney Zanin, who also played for the Seattle Sounders. “Every state should have something like this. This is what soccer is all about.”
But don’t be fooled into thinking that the action on the field has been peaceful and neighborly. Teams have done what they must to win.
One Columbian nearly got away with punching the ball into the goal with his hand, reminiscent of the famous “Hand of God” goal by Argentina’s Diego Maradona in the 1986 World Cup.
A vicious tackle in the Bosnia-Mexico match nearly led to an altercation on the field. Fans of the Balkan country rushed to defend the Bosnian player, prompting one supporter to explain: “You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us.”
But for every tiff, there were a hundred smiles and handshakes. After games, players enjoyed meals or coffee together.
Food was just one of the many ways Sister Communities added more culture to the festival, which began five years ago as a 12-team, one weekend tournament.
This year the All Nations Cup had a bevy of performances, including music, dance, theater and an queen pageant. English classes were offered in one tent.
“We’re really trying to make this a quality arts-and-cultural festival for the south end,” Breznau said. “Seattle has Folklife and Bumbershoot. We really wanted to do something for our community.”
One of the cultural highlights was a series of monologues titled “Women Can’t Play,” written by Luanda Arai, a recent theater graduate from the University of Washington.
Featuring five women representing different regions of the world, “Women Can’t Play” showed that women all over still struggle for the same opportunities as men, on and off the soccer field.
Another cultural focus was a first-time art exhibit with contributions by local artists from various countries.
The preeminent work came from Jose Luis Rodriguez Guerra, who offered five paintings valued at more than $25,000 each. One of his pieces, “Divine Entity on Vessel,” was priced at $40,000.
“His pieces are out of this world,” Breznau said.
Tania Rzhoudkovska, a volunteer helping with the exhibit, initially approached Guerra to see if he would recommend any artists. She was thrilled to get some of his work, too.
The contributions from volunteers and the community have helped the tournament grow every year. Breznau, who thought the event would top out at 40 countries, expects more to sign up for next year.
The reason? Diversity.
“Seattle has a balance of all of the cultural groups,” Breznau said. “It is so multicultural here and not overpowered by one group.”