This Saturday, the Colorado soccer community has an opportunity to give back unlike any other. Rapids and Minnesota fans can come together to donate gently used or new soccer cleats and balls to DICK’S Sporting Goods Park ahead of and during the two sides’ matchup to benefit the youth soccer communities of Jamaica.
The drive is arranged by Football for the World Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering and educating children on and off the field using the game of football as a tool. Rapids head coach Robin Fraser and assistant coach Wolde Harris, both Jamaican natives, will aid in hosting the drive for the communities that cultivated their love of the game.
“I've been gone for a very long time, but I've always wanted to find a way to help,” said Fraser. “There's so much talent, so many players that are so capable, but they're lacking resources. And part of that is as simple as lacking equipment, soccer shoes, soccer balls, places to play, things like that. This is something that I'm really passionate about, and really looking forward to.”
Harris left Jamaica as a teenager on his way to Winter Park, Florida before committing to play at the University of Connecticut. His eventual move to Clemson saw him become the Tigers all-time career goal scorer, and he’s since played for the Jamaican national team, multiple MLS and international club sides and coached for his alma mater, Kingston College, Colorado Springs Switchbacks and the Rapids. But it was Kingston that fathered his love for the sport as a kid.
“Pickup games were were the norm — at breakfast, lunch and into the evening, we were playing on the streets, bare feet,” he said, remembering the makeshift balls him and his friends used made out of carton boxes stuffed with paper.
“Every opportunity we got we were playing. It was just pure fun. That's where we found our spirit, we played in our spare time.”
Fraser came to the states earlier in his life, but still remembers his days playing in Jamaica fondly. His prep school’s games would be attended by hundreds of neighbors, friends and family cheering the kids on and providing the most passionate game-playing experience possible for young players falling in love with the sport.
“The soccer then was who was the fastest, who could dribble the best, who could do that sort of thing. And it wasn't so organized. And at that age, that's fine. What it was, was extremely passionate,” he reminisced. “During the 1974 World Cup, they showed games at the national arena in Jamaica and my dad took me to three separate games, I believe. And at the end of that experience, I just didn't want to do anything but play professional soccer.”
Monica Bosiljevac, founder and executive director of FFTW, started the foundation while playing soccer and traveling in college. Seeing the underserved soccer communities in countries like Botswana Tanzania inspired her to do more stateside to help elevate their game and potential for growth.
FFTW has organized drives, delivered equipment and educated the youth of communities domestic and abroad. This Saturday’s drive will be the first time the foundation has partnered with an MLS team to gather gear, however. The potential to reach such a large audience has remained untapped since FFTW’s inception.
Fraser and Harris are also making an impact on their home’s soccer community on the ground. Along with delivering the equipment donated this weekend, the two will lead a coaches’ clinic in the Rapids’ offseason.
“I think it's very important that we give back the knowledge as well, not just something physical, but something to help inspire the coaches that are going to foster these young youngsters,” said Harris. “So I think it's very good to share the intellectual property as well and give back in that regard.”
Rapids and Minnesota fans alike can drop off their gently-used gear to the tent outside Gate F at DICK’S Sporting Goods Park on Saturday before and during the game.
“I think getting this new equipment is definitely inspirational for them and motivational,” said Harris. “It's something that's going to push them to want to go out and train and want to go out and play the sport even more, learn more about the sport. And I think that's great for us that have been through it and know what it takes to get here to give back to them and inspire them to keep on moving forward on their journey.”