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Balls under bridges: Street soccer thrives in San Diego

12:22 PMGoalChatter

by Aleks V |

The eyes of three Aztec gods watch over as men, women and children transform the basketball courts at Chicano Park into a futsal fiesta. The mural, one of many, is both a backdrop and an audience to a growing soccer scene under the San Diego-Coronado Bridge, led by street soccer group Bridge Barkada.

“We have ages from as young as seven or eight all the way up to people in their 50s,” cofounder Karl Hurlbert says of Bridge Barkada's members. “San Diego is a beautifully diverse city and that is reflected in our games: Mexican, Filipino, French, German, Costa Rican, Moroccan, African, and the list continues to grow. We have all ability levels as well, from beginners to former and current professional players.”

Photo: Bridge Barkada

Photo: Bridge Barkada
Futsal Fridays and Saturdays are a relatively new addition to San Diego's Barrio Logan neighborhood. It all began on June 29, 2018, with “a conversation among friends that San Diego doesn’t have any spots to play for free outside of grassy public parks,” according to Hurlbert, who organized Bridge Barkada together with fellow soccer enthusiasts Paul Nathan Nacu, Drew Steck, Daryl Biggs, Hector Corona, and Brandon Rodriguez.

Photo: Bridge Barkada

Photo: Bridge Barkada
The name “barkada” means a group of friends in Tagalog. “I was speaking to my wife, who is from the Philippines, as I wanted to give our project a name,” Hurlbert explains. “The meaning really tied together what and where we were doing this as group.”

The organizers, most of whom “didn’t know one another prior to this project or casually knew each other from the soccer community,” modeled the project “after the skate culture a few of us grew up in where you go to the park, your friends are already there and you just join in.”

Photo: @photorenzy

Photo: @photorenzy
Weather proved to be an obstacle at the group's original HQ. “The first heavy rains flooded the entire court” at “The Bridge,” Hurlbert says. “So, we searched for another spot to play and decided on Chicano Park, a central location for the county and city.” And, it so happens, a National Historic Landmark.

The Chicano Park Steering Committee, a grassroots organization that pressured the city to keep its promise of developing a park after the construction of the I-5 freeway in the 1960s, lists Bridge Barkada's futsal Friday and Saturday sessions on its calendar.

Like the artists whose funky beats provide the soundtrack to its DJ-ed games, the group goes on tour, occasionally returning to “The Bridge.” It was recently spotted at Balboa Park, bringing soccer to life before The San Diego Museum of Art.

Photo: @photorenzy
Being good stewards

Got nutmegged? “It's like a rite of passage,” quips Nathan Nacu on the group's Facebook page. Such banter is the norm, as are headcams, and, if you're lucky, free offerings of Jarritos and chips.

It's all fun and games as long as everyone follows the number one rule: respecting one's surroundings. This includes “always cleaning up when we are done and not playing the ball off the murals,” notes Hurlbert. “We care about the people that come and join us, the people of neighborhood, and being good stewards of our time in the community.”

Photo: @photorenzy
Photo: @photorenzy

Less than a year into its existence, Bridge Barkada found itself featured on the first episode of San Diego Soccer Shorts, a mini-documentary series by Big Pine Digital that will be shown on June 30 at Thr3e Punk Ales in Chula Vista. The film will wrap up “an all ages event with pickup games in the back parking lot and a DJ,” Hurlbert notes.

It comes a day after Bridge Barkada celebrates its one-year anniversary. In line with its pop-up nature, the project is already eyeing the possibility of expansion. Its organizers hope the City of San Diego's Parks Master Plan, a three-year “road map” meant to guide the future growth of the city's parks, will at some point include dedicated futsal courts.

“Our hope for the future is that it grows to a point where our city takes action,” Hurlbert says. “This way the love of the game can further blossom and people will be able to play any time, all the time without depending on someone bringing [nets].”

Photo: Bridge Barkada

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