WATCH - The Great Uniter: MSU Students Find Their Love Of Playing Soccer To Be A Common Denominator

May 22, 2019

It started with a small Facebook group, trying to find other Michigan State students for a pick-up soccer game. Now, close to 50 players come each week to play in casual games for fun.

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Sports don’t always have to be about winning, as sometimes, they are used for exercise or maybe to blow off some steam. But sports always seems to connect people from all walks of life.

Manuel Franklin, a senior at Michigan State, is one of the original members of the Facebook group called “MSU Soccer Pickup”.  The group, which is loosely made up of 40-50 international students, gather weekly to play soccer.

Franklin is an international student himself, as he is from Angola. He likes being able to play soccer with other MSU students from around the world.

“There are people from all over the world, Brazilians, Colombians, Germans, Spaniards, French, Angolans, Nigerians and Americans. We all met in East neighborhood and decided to play,” said Franklin.

There are a few Americans in the Soccer Pickup group, including co-founder Austin Hamilton from Texas. He said the group started out of some desperation to play soccer.

“It got too cold and they took away the goals from IM East and we didn’t know what to do,” said Hamilton. “We didn’t really have anything else to do when we wanted to play soccer, so we just came down to Dem Hall and found the indoor arena and we told all of our friends and it escalated from there.”

It didn’t take very long for the group to have strong attendance and have a weekly pick-up game.

“It started off kind of small, we only had 10 or 12 people, but then we started to tell everyone else and now there’s some weekends where 40 or 50 people will show up,” said Hamilton.

The turnout of 40 to 50 people is mind-boggling to those who have formed the group because they didn’t even think they’d be able to play much soccer coming to America.

“I was very surprised that so many people showed up because I knew coming to America that not too many people play soccer that much,” said Franklin. “People that I didn’t even expect to come play would show up to play with us.”

Most of the international students who are included in this group can’t even remember the first time they played soccer as a kid.

“I started playing soccer when I was really young, I don’t even remember starting,” said Franklin.

Others started playing soccer because that is what is expected in their country.

“I have been playing soccer ever since I was two. In Panama, you play soccer because you’re from Panama,” said Jorge Liakopulos, a sophomore at MSU.

Although most of them are from different continents, they all have the same belief that this group is very unique.

“This group is unique because it’s diverse, very diverse,” said Liakopulos. “The diversity and the commitment is what makes this group work. Everyone comes here to just play and have fun and talk.”

Bahij Hourani, an MSU senior from Lebanon, remembers when the group was very small, but now he can’t think of the last time they had a low turnout.

“Recently we’ve had a lot of players come up, so we don’t really try and advertise it that much because most of the time we have four teams and it’s like two outside and you rest a lot, so we prefer to keep it already to the people who know about it and just let it flow with word of mouth,” said Hourani.

Even though the group is getting significantly larger, they still accept anyone to play and make that their priority.

“We break up the games into seven minutes so everyone can play because everyone is included here,” said Franklin.

Franklin believes that the group’s diversity is what makes the group grow.

“When you have a diverse group, people don’t feel exclude and everybody feels welcomed to come play,” said Franklin.

No matter where you are from, as long as you are a part of their group you can agree on the love for the game.

“I don’t really care if I win if I do, cool, but mostly I just come here because I love soccer,” said Liakopulos.