For the past few years, many of St. Cloud's most recent residents have gotten together on the weekends to play soccer, one of the few sports played nearly everywhere in the world.
They would form teams and, with the permission of the St. Cloud Park & Rec Department, play matches at Whitney Park. With each season, it has become more organized and more groups of immigrants have become involved.
Call it a Central Minnesota version of the United Nations.
St. Cloud residents Moyahadin Mohamed and Nur Elmi are part of a group that has upped the ante this season, trying to spread the word about the First Annual Immigrant Soccer League in Central Minnesota.
"It is great to see a diverse group playing the game with and against each other," said Mohamed, a St. Cloud resident for eight years and chairman of the Central Minnesota Immigrant Sports Association.
The league is about to start its playoffs with four teams, beginning at about 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Whitney. Mohamed and Elmi, part of the league's board of directors, are trying to make it a big deal, with city officials, including the mayor, being invited to the pitch for the playoffs.
"We are looking for more teams to participate for the coming year," said Elmi, a St. Cloud resident for 11 years and executive director of the CMISA. "We want to invite everyone to be involved."
There are eight teams in the league, including two from St. Cloud, one from Cold Spring and others from Willmar and the Twin Cities. Standings are kept. Rules are followed. And a lot of different parts of the world are represented. Initially, the players were Somali, but now teams include people from various African nations (including Nigeria, Gambia and Ethiopia) as well as Asia and Mexico, among others.
"Right now, there are Latino, white, Asian, African, Somalian, Sudanese, West African ... many different places represented," Mohamed said.
Teams in the playoffs include one that calls itself St. Cloud State University, another St. Cloud team called Africa United, a team from Willmar called the Somali Stars and another called Willmar F.C. Players range in age from 18 to the early 30s and, like the makeup of the teams, the play is diverse, from physical play to more of a finessed game, depending on the competition.
"Everybody's welcome," Mohamed said. "We encourage people to come and see and watch the game and have fun."
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