Kids turn out for inaugural LA Street Soccer Fest 

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By Emilie St. John

Contributing Writer

WATTS — Street Soccer USA kicked off its inaugural LA Street Soccer Fest at the Watts Imperial Courts Red Eye Empowerment Center June 24.

Street Soccer USA is a national organization with a goal of providing Los Angeles youth the opportunity to learn the many lessons that come with competitive play.

“It’s important to support youth athletics and without it the kids don’t have anything to do,” said Hal Washburn, one of the board members of Street Soccer USA. “LA84 Foundation has been a supporter of ours for a number of years and they provided the seed money to get this started.”

“The city of Los Angeles is a huge supporter of our work and help make these events possible and safe,” she added.

The program began in 2018 through the support of then-Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson and the LA84 Foundation, with the organization hoping the relationship will continue under new Los Angeles City Councilman Tim McOsker, who represents the Watts area.

Under the direction of Luca Marton, the program has grown over the years to have more than 1,000 participants involved in Street Soccer USA-Los Angeles, especially in the Watts area.

“I’m originally from New York and my background is in childhood development and I’ve played soccer my whole life.” Marton said. “My father … started a museum for the mentally ill as a form of therapy and I spent my years in that space, alongside soccer, and through the universe of childhood development and the national street soccer organization, this came together.

“Watts was the perfect place and through Wesson and LA84 Foundation we were setup,” Marton added. “Watts is ideal because the kids are here and there is this beautiful court donated through Adidas and I said this is perfect.”

The program was successful in recruiting due in part to the support from Gabriel Mendoza, who lives in the Imperial Courts housing project and served as an ambassador to encourage the kids to sign up.

“I was the first volunteer with Luca, when the court was being built, and how we were introduced,” Mendoza said. “Soccer is my favorite sport helping me release my mind and it brings the community together in a safe environment.”

The soccer festival featured tournament play with more than 50 kids participating from the area.

They were supported by Watts’ own Stix, who founded the Think Watts Foundation, which he established in 2018, with a primary focus on community grassroots activations along with developing financial literacy programs and addressing food insecurity. Stix is also a huge fan of soccer and a partner with LAFC.

“I am born and raised in Watts and I wanted to do something positive for my community,” Stix said. “I’m a huge partner with LAFC and LA84 Foundation and because the soccer community is growing, I was introduced to Street Soccer USA.

“Relationships are important because you need the support and the resources and the only way to expand and scale is through partnerships and those don’t come without relationships,” Stix said.

The tournament was complete with the kids receiving a pep talk from Simone Charley, who plays for Angel City FC.

“I’m passionate about making soccer more accessible because everyone needs to feel welcome in the sport because it’s for everybody,” Charley said.

The event also was sponsored by McDonald’s of Southern California.

“As local McDonald’s owner/operators, it’s important to support the communities we serve every day,” said Nicole Harper Rawlins. “Watts specifically, is a community that we have been a part of for decades, with an overwhelming number of our staff being local community members. We are proud to play a small part in what makes this diverse and vibrant area special. 

Marton says the success of the program lies with the sponsors’ support.

“I don’t know if we would be able to do this without the support of LA84 Foundation, who provided the seed money, and McDonald’s who offers funding and resources it expands the awareness to the community to know they have a high-quality program in their background is invaluable,” he said.

Emilie St. John is a freelance journalist covering the areas of Carson, Compton, Inglewood and Willowbrook. Send tips to her at

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