Bridging cultural gaps on Seattle's soccer fields

It is hard to imagine a simple game of soccer can bridge the differences of immigrants and peoples of foreign ancestry from 31 countries to create goodwill and solidarity, but South End resident Jessica Breznau never doubted such a result. Driven by a vision of unity, Breznau created Seattle's All Nations Cup (formerly know as World Cup Seattle) and proceeded to peacefully break down racial and ethnic barriers between Seattlites one game at a time.

In its second year, the All Nations Cup is a men's amateur league representing 31 different countries ranging from Columbia to Tanzania. Much of the two-week long tournament took place at Tukwila's Starfire Sports Complex. Within the 32 starting teams, the players' ages and backgrounds vary nicely, yet aside from a common love of soccer, all of them live in the Seattle area.

On Sunday, Aug. 29, the internationally flavored tournament concluded at Seahawks stadium. The final game pitted defending champions Brazil against an underdog Bosnian team, and Mexico and Russia battled for third and fourth place. The event closed with an awards ceremony led by Congressman Jim McDermott, Muckleshoot tribe members, and flag bearers from all of the countries representing the tournament's teams.

"For our team, we had eleven players on the field, plus substitutes," said Romanian player Eugene Capusan, whose son plays alongside him. "On the roster we had 21. [The tournament] allows four players from a different country on the roster. We had two players from Brazil."

Building community

Created in August of 2003 by Breznau's non-profit organization Sister Communities located on Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Othello St., the All Nations Cup shares the same philosophies and goals of its parent organization.

"The mission of Sister Communities is to foster a relationship between all the communities," says Breznau. "It's really hard work, and not many organizations do it. Many organizations focus on improving conditions for one population or one different group, which is great, but not many try to get people to talk to each other, especially through racial and language barriers."

A resident of South Beacon Hill and an avid soccer player since the age of 8, from a young age Breznau felt she understood the special nature of Seattle's diversity. As she matured, Breznau turned her feeling into action. She strove to bring people from different communities together through a unifying event, and sport seemed a natural place to start.

"Soccer is a great way to bring people together. It's an international language, that's why I chose to do it," said Breznau. " I thought that since there was so much diversity in Seattle, we should break down the barriers that separate us here [with soccer]."

A graduate of Evergreen State College, Breznau feels her educational background, combined with a community-based outlook fostered throughout her childhood, helped her found Sisters Communities and, eventually, the All Nations Cup.

"I have a social service and entrepreneur background," noted Breznau. "My parents were very social service oriented."

Tales from the pitch

For Luis Vargas, who moved to Seattle from Columbia three years ago, the All Nations Cup has helped him "break down barriers" and made him active in the community at large.

"[The All Nations Cup] is so rich with different cultures, and you learn so much. It's been great, and I've made a lot of friends," said Vargas. "Even though their English is not the best, or our English is not the best, we still get along. We communicate very well inside the field."

Like many of the players in the All Nations Cup, Vargas has been into soccer all of his life, a passion ignited in his birth country.

"My father used to be a professional in my country. He played for three professional clubs a long time ago," recalled Vargas. "I grew up with soccer. My father was always taking me to play, to watch him play. I was 17 when I reached the semi-professional level and then I had to go to school. I had to decide between architecture and soccer, so I decided to go with architecture."

After graduating from college in Columbia, Vargas moved to Seattle, and began looking for a place where he could play.

"I really didn't know anybody [in Seattle]. I met this guy from Columbia, and he invited me to play one of the games with him in the Hispanic League," said Vargas. "Later on we heard from others about the All Nations Cup, and that's how we got involved."

Capusan, who came to Seattle from Romania 18 years ago, said being part of the All Nations Cup feels a lot like home.

"We played soccer since we were born," recalled Capusan. "I played in a junior team in my country for a couple of years and then I came here. Eventually, I got into coaching 12 to15-year-old kids in soccer. For me, soccer feels like home."

It's the love of the game that has kept soccer players, and fans, like Vargas, Capusan, and Breznau dedicated to the All Nations Cup. In Breznau's case, this love is literally keeping the tournament alive. She is the only full-time staff member at both Sister Communities and the All Nations Cup.

"It takes a lot of work and it has taken tons of time and research," said Breznau. "I'm the only staff person, the rest are volunteers. Money has also been a big challenge. We just don't have enough money for staff, and I've been doing the work of five people."

Despite the challenges and subsequent chaos that such a workload creates, Breznau is making sure her vision thrives.

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