Growing up I was an active kid. I’ll admit it, I had a lot of energy. What four-year-old doesn’t? My parents would constantly say that I was “bouncing off the walls.” I would turn anything in the house I could into an activity or challenge; the furniture, walls, staircases, you name it, I was finding a way to use it.
Upstairs in our house, my sister’s room had a canopy bed – the one with the high railings all around. Well, for an active four-year-old, it was the perfect jungle gym. I would wander up to her room, jump on the bed, and swing from the canopy.
One day, all my mom heard was a loud crash. I, along with the canopy, landed on the floor. After that, my parents signed me up for soccer.
My parents’ goal was for me to participate in an activity where I could burn off my energy. Most leagues didn’t offer organized sports to kids my age, but the local soccer organization in Annandale, Virginia did. I’ve seen pictures and home videos from that year, which consisted of a bunch of four-year-olds running around. There was no method to the madness and there wasn’t a need for one. All I knew was, I was wanted. I belonged. We didn’t know who was considered “the best.” What we did know was that we got to run around with friends, our coach gave us orange slices and juice at half time, and people cheered for us.
My start to soccer was fantastic! I don’t think my parents ever anticipated soccer to become anything more than an outlet for my energy. Time, hard work, and passion proved otherwise. Soon, soccer became a staple of my daily life. I’d play every day, with the neighborhood kids in the street, at school during recess, with my club, and school teams. On any given day, you could find me with a ball at my feet. Soccer was my dream.
The grass at North Springfield Elementary was one of my first soccer fields. I met one of my closest friends, Abe Thompson, playing soccer. Abe and I would strategize together, trying our best to anticipate how the game would unfold at recess. Abe and I went on to win a National Championship, attend the University of Maryland, and played professional soccer together in MLS. Abe’s still my best friend. Two hardworking dreamers started together at North Springfield.
Soccer is impactful. Soccer teaches the importance of teamwork, hard work, and persistence. Truthfully, soccer will humble you. No game is ever the same. To me this is why soccer is called, “The Beautiful Game.” Soccer is a 90-minute escape from reality.
In the fall of 2015, I was invited to a U.S. Soccer Foundation event. It was there that I learned about the U.S. Soccer Foundation’s field-building initiative, Safe Places to Play, which transforms underutilized spaces into mini-pitches. I was immediately impressed with the impact of the pitches.
At the event, I loved hearing about the stories of kids coming together in neighborhoods across the country to play soccer on the mini-pitches. It reminded me of playing as a kid in the street with my friends and neighbors.
My family home is still in North Springfield. When I visit, I’ve noticed that as demand for class space has grown, the soccer field has shrunk. Little by little, that grass field I grew up playing on has gotten smaller.
Now, with two kids of my own, I understand the importance of all kids having a safe place to play. A place to explore. A place to challenge yourself. A place to belong. I saw what was left of the field and I was reminded of my conversations about the mini-pitches. A transformed field has the power to transform not only play space, but also the community the field serves.
A quote that continually inspires my wife, Kelsey, and me is, “When you see the need. That is the call.” She first heard this quote as a teenager from her pastor, Bill Johnson and it is a sentiment that we continue to apply every day. Together, we share the same passion for bringing a new space for soccer to the school and community.
With the opening of the Clarence E. Goodson IV mini-pitch, I hope the grassy green field, that’s now a brilliant blue surface, will inspire the next generation to play, grow, fall down and get back up stronger, and escape reality for 90 minutes. I hope this pitch will allow each young heart and mind to dream. I pray one day some of these North Springfield students will succeed beyond their wildest dreams and give back to the next generation of hardworking dreamers.
On September 18th, Clarence Goodson returned to North Springfield Elementary and opened the Clarence Goodson IV mini-pitch. The grand opening featured Clarence, his wife Kelsey, their extended family and friends, and members of the school community, including the entire student body at North Springfield Elementary.
Clarence addressed the crowd, and spoke about the important role soccer has played in his life, and emphasized his hopes and dreams for the mini-pitch. “My dream is that this pitch will become a community meeting place. A space where you can express yourself here.”
We opened the pitch with a ceremonial first kick, where students joined Clarence, Abe, and our President & CEO, Ed Foster-Simeon, on the pitch, and together, all took a shot on the goal. After, students played two opening matches, while Clarence and Abe coached from the sidelines.
It was exciting to celebrate the opening of the Clarence Goodson IV mini-pitch with the Goodson’s family, friends, and the local community. Thank you again to Clarence and his family for their generous support in bringing a new safe space to play to his childhood community.
Clarence E. Goodson IV Pitch
“You can do and be anything you want to be, if you work hard and are honest and respect yourselves and your peers.”
– Clarence Goodson IV
Clarence watching the first match
Clarence and Ed