Nestled next to the academic splendor of Moses Brown’s historic buildings is an athletic field sprawling the distance of a city block. A cool breeze kicks across the grass, ideal for tanners looking to soak up the summer sun, or a peaceful place for meditation or yoga. Besides the occasional traffic horn, the field is silent, dormant and se- cluded from society’s happenings.
Come Tuesday and Thursday evenings at 6pm, however, the field erupts into the cacophonous sounds of men doing drills like scissor kicks and speed dribbling. Here, on the school’s athletic fields, the Rhode Island Reds soccer team meets for their bi-weekly practices. “We’re supposed to end at eight o’clock,” says Head Coach Kabba Joof, “but the guys get wrapped up, have fun, so we go later, sometimes ending at nine.”
Currently in their first year as a semi-professional team, the Rhode Island Reds consist of 32 members, their ages ranging from 18 to 26. “Each member came to a try-out,” says Joof. “They have passion for soccer, they’re loyal to the team and they have talent. They have already proven it this season.” The Rhode Island Reds are part of the eight teams participating in the Northeast Atlantic Conference, the regional competition governed by the National Premier Soccer League. Considering that other teams in the competition – such as the Brooklyn Italians – have been around for decades, the Rhode Island Reds are off to a rocking start.
Spending even a minute watching the team practice clearly shows how passionate the members are about soccer. Rivers of sweat run down each player’s face and neck, staining shirts with pools of perspiration. They run laps around the long field while Head Coach Joof and Assistant Coach Sheldon Townsend (who lives on the East Side) use cones to create obstacles. “Being semi-professional basically means we earn no money, none of us,” says Joof. “But we do it because we love the sport. The first toy I had was a soccer ball. I’m pretty sure, if you ask the people here, they’ll tell you the same thing.”
Nearly all of the 32 members of the Rhode Island Reds call the Ocean State their home, either temporarily as a college student or permanently as a career-bound resident. “Rhode Island is one of the most diversified states,” says Joof. “Think about it: there are over 40 different African nationalities in this little state. Look at even the Hispanic community. It’s exciting.” He then runs through the countries represented by members of the Rhode Island Reds: Jamaica, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Ukraine, India, Portugal, Liberia and El Salvador. “We have our own little world here,” says Joof, laughing. “It’s special.”
As for local communities, the Rhode Island Reds feature members from Providence, Central Falls, Pawtucket and beyond. “We have [members from] the whole state,” says Joof, “and that’s the whole idea with it. My goal is to bring the community together.”
Numerous interested parties have approached Joof regarding a soccer team for other age ranges, such as a high school or elementary, or even a women’s soccer team. Unfortunately, due to financial and time restrictions, Joof’s attention remains solely on the current Rhode Island Reds team. “We do have plans to build this thing from the youth all the way up,” says Joof. “But for now, we’re focusing on making this team the best it can be, then we’ll expand the program. We want to get proven results showing that we can make this thing happen.”
As Joof speaks, players walk in circles, heaving from physical exhaustion, some dowsing themselves with cup after cup of water. Off to the side, though, four members are practicing alone, separate from the main group. In pairs, one member sits on the ground, arms behind his head, while the other stands a short distance away. The standing member kicks a soccer ball at the sitting one, who tries to get his hands from around his head fast enough to stop the ball from hitting his body. I point and ask about the routine. Joof laughs, shrugs, and says, “Goalkeepers are weird.” Not an hour later, I witness Christopher Moura, the team’s 18-year-old goalkeeper, perform a flying head butt into a mob of five flailing team members, deflecting an incoming soccer ball back across the field. After slamming onto the ground, Moura gets up, smiles, and gets back into the game.
“We all have that passion, that love for the sport,” says Joof. “It’s in our blood. It’s what we do.”
The Rhode Island Reds are a few games away from the end of the season, and they are aiming high to make it to the playoffs.