Como Park (yellow) and Humboldt (orange) face off at Sol of the Cities. All Photos by Dominic Jose Bisogno, on behalf of Sota Soccer.
July 2023 saw the return of one of Minnesota’s most exciting grassroots sports programs to a pair of courts tucked behind St. Paul’s Johnson Senior High School. Sol of the Cities is the headline-making organization founded by in principle by Mario Wimberly and Kyle Johnson, with major influences and work from the likes of Sparkle Wimberly and Matt VanBenschoten, promoting a revolutionary path forward for youth development and community building in sports.
In Sol of the Cities, kids pay with community service instead of money, earning one hour of futsal and a free lunch through one hour of service, coordinated with the league’s sponsors or other community organizations. The teams that play in the Sol of the Cities league comprise of a mixture of high schools (ex. St. Paul North, St. Paul Central, Humboldt, Holy Angels, Como Park, Prior Lake, DeLaSalle) and youth programs or clubs (ex. Skills FC, Ten Thousand Lakes Foundation, TC Sol Futsal, Cap City, St. Croix West Wisconsin).
In just its debut 2021 season, Sol of the Cities produced 720 hours of community service, served 720 free meals, and had 160 kids participate. Those numbers have only grown since. Sol of the Cities has also partnered to promote literacy, giving out books, amongst advocating for other educational causes.
The 2023 season concluded on the weekend of July 29. When the final round of games started, Ten Thousand Lakes led the high school boys table by one point, ahead of a four-way tie of TC Sol, Holy Angels, Skills FC, and Prior Lake. G1 – TSF led the high school girls table two points ahead of Skills FC. Capital City Futsal led the middle school division.
The final week saw Capital City Futsal hold on to that top spot and win the middle school division. Skills FC came out on top of Championship Sunday, winning the highly competitive 2023 high school girls division. Finally, TC Sol won the 2023 high school boys division after an extremely tight season.
The photos in this article were taken on July 22, the second-to-last weekend of the 2023 season. The photos feature the matches played (in-order) between TC Sol Futsal and Holy Angels, North and Ten Thousand Lakes Foundation, DeLaSalle and Prior Lake, and Humboldt and Como Park.
The photos are all of boys teams, but it should be emphasized that Sol of the Cities also runs a highly competitive girls league, featuring many of the same schools and organizations, as well as a middle school-age program for younger players.
One aspect of the Sol of the Cities league that will stand out quickly to those with a sense of the metro soccer scene is the way it builds bridges between the many corners of Minnesotan soccer in an active and immediate way. Those bridges cross many kinds of boundaries, but one that is hard to not notice if you spend some time around youth or high school sports is a racial one, with many schools in the Twin Cities metro representing distinct reflections of the area’s demographics.
St. Paul schools Humboldt High School and Como Park High School are examples of this. 45% of Humboldt’s current enrolled students are Asian/Pacific Islander, while 25% are categorized as Black or African American and 20% Hispanic/Latino. The same data has Como Park High School’s student body as 32% Black or African American, 31% Asian/Pacific Islander, and 10% Hispanic/Latino.
Meanwhile schools like Holy Angels and Prior Lake are predominately White. Metrics put Holy Angels at almost 60% White in terms of students enrolled, while Prior Lake is just 0.6% away from 80%. All of this is to say, the different teams that gathered at Johnson on weekends this last July represent important, but frequently separated, parts of the puzzle that is the Twin Cities metro area.
Minneapolis represents one of the more racially diverse areas in the entire state of Minnesota. In the 2020 census, the city was shown to be 60% White, 19.2% Black, 9.6% Latino or Hispanic, 5.6% Asian, and 1.4% American Indian, with some variation in percentages when taking mixed race people into account.
Saint Paul also represents a vastly diverse area of Minnesota, with just 51.4% of the population identifying as White while 16.1% are Black, 18.7% are Asian, and 9.2% are Latino or Hispanic.
That same census shows that 19.1% of Minneapolis’ population are in poverty, with a 12 month per capita income of $38,808. Saint Paul, the state capital, has similar numbers, with 18.9% of the population in poverty, with a 12 month per capita income of $31,242.
One of the most intriguing details of Sol of the Cities is the fundamental fact that it uses futsal instead of football. Futsal is indeed a different sport, albeit one that closely resembles five-a-side football. While most players in the league do play 11v11 soccer, futsal is providing them a unique development tool.
Futsal is a quicker form of the same ideas, forcing players to both move and think faster. There are no pauses, at least not like in a football match, and every inch of space is vital. Watching just a few matches of the Sol of the Cities season, you immediately see the way it forces players to emphasize and develop their ball control and spacial awareness.
While TC Sol and Skills FC may be the boys and girls champions this season, it is fair to say that the experience all the participating teams get in this league has the potential to help these young players develop toward the next step in their playing lives.
A long time ago, before Sota Soccer was created, I spoke to Mario Wimberly in a long form interview for an article that didn’t quite turn out. He started his answer to my final question with the following. “The game is about joy, fun and joy. If you don’t have that, it doesn’t matter.” It’s perhaps one of the great misfortunes of modern American sports culture that such a statement is innately radical. Let’s, however, not beat around the bush on this. It is radical. Sol of the Cities is the example of an organization genuinely attempting to fix a structural problem in the sports world. For that, with my final notes in this article, it must be applauded.