Players check on Moise Kalamba after he took a tumble at Soccer Saturday, May 28, in Portland. Event organizers say the games are a good way for New Mainers to make friends and establish connections in the community. Chance Viles / The Forecaster

About 100 New Mainers turned out on the playing fields of Portland’s Kennedy Park last weekend to converse through the universal language of soccer.

The goal of Soccer Saturday, with multiple games, snacks and free books, was to build community connections for New Mainers, said Reza Jalali, executive director of the newly opened Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center. The center co-organized the May 28 event with USL To Portland, a group working to bring pro soccer to the city.

“We want to get to know them and introduce them to us so we can get them outside and active and introduce healthy lifestyles, too,” Jalali said.

For many participants, the event was a celebration of soccer itself, said USL to Portland founder Gabe Hoffman-Johnson.

“Maybe they don’t know English or they don’t know the language another player speaks, but they know this, they know soccer, and they will make the connections from there. It’s a universal language,” Hoffman-Johnson said.

Goalkeeper Arnaud Nyagasaza makes a save Saturday. Chance Viles / The Forecaster

Burundi immigrant Arnaud Nyagasaza of Portland said the event showed New Mainers that the U.S. is not just about “big football and baseball fields.”


Back home, Nyagasaza said, everybody plays soccer, even if it’s just to take a break from work.

“It is a really fun event,” he said.

Most of the New Mainers on the fields Saturday were from Democratic Republic of Congo, Jalali said, but other African countries were also represented.

“These are countries of soccer, so it’s good for them to come and have that connection,” Congolese Community Leader Papy Bongibo said.

Soccer can also build leadership, Jalali said, so the games can teach the youth to take charge.

Similar events will be held throughout the summer, including more soccer games, basketball games and barbecues.

“I think with the end of the pandemic we will be doing a lot of this over the summer,” Bongibo said.

Chicco Ndundu of Portland goes in for a kick. Ndundu gave it his all throughout the game. Chance Viles / The Forecaster

USL to Portland founder Gabe Hoffman-Johnson joined in the games Saturday. Chance Viles / The Forecaster

Moise Kalamba, left, protects the ball from his pursuer during a Soccer Saturday game at Kennedy Park in Portland. Chance Viles / The Forecaster

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