New soccer field at MARTA station brings the sport to immigrant kids

Players warm up on the newly opened soccer pitch at MARTA’s Kensington Station outside Atlanta, Ga, on Saturday, July 16, 2022. (Matthew Pearson/for WABE)

Moses Buraruhanya bolts downfield on brand new, bright green field turf. Dozens of kids donned in maroon soccer jerseys with “KENSINGTON” emblazoned in white across the shoulders are dribbling, passing and zooming around StationSoccer’s newest soccer pitch at MARTA’s Kensington Station.

Soccer in the Streets’ free, transit-oriented club soccer program, StationSoccer, opened its first field in Dekalb County on Saturday. The new location is the program’s fifth, and ties immigrant and refugee kids in nearby Clarkston to a network of teams that use MARTA to get to practices and games.

Buraruhanya started playing soccer when he was 6 years old and played for his school in Ghana where he grew up. He moved to Atlanta when he was a young teen, and the now 18 year old has big dreams.

Moses Buraruhanya (left) stands with his coach, Abdul Bangura, just off the pitch at MARTA’s Kensington Station on Saturday, July 16, 2022. (Matthew Pearson/for WABE)

“Watching other people play as a professional and seeing what they have reached, it motivates me to believe in myself. To say, ‘I can do that,’” he said.

Learning how to build long-term goals and gaining the discipline to accomplish them might seem like a peripheral benefit of the sport for these kids, but the life skills they learn by playing a team sport is one of the reasons Soccer in the Streets has free clubs for kids. 

And StationSoccer partnered with MARTA to eliminate one of the biggest barriers to entry to the otherwise free program: transportation.

Sanjay Patel is the mastermind behind putting soccer pitches at MARTA stations.

Youth soccer players from the Clarkston and neighboring communities struggle for control of the ball at midfield during a friendly scrimmage match on a newly opened StationSoccer field at MARTA’s Kensington Station on Saturday, July 16, 2022. (Matthew Pearson/for WABE)

“This would typically be an unused part of the parking lot,” Patel said. “I thought, well, what if we build a network of soccer fields at stations and build a league, whereby our kids could represent their stations — that would be their club — and they would play other stations. And … why not cut out the transportation barrier via MARTA?” 

For immigrant and refugee kids in Clarkston, the Kensington Station team can help be a lifeline to feeling at home in a new country, culture and language. 

Sanjay Patel reveals the special edition MARTA Breeze card designed to commemorate the expansion of StationSoccer to MARTA’s Kensington Station on Saturday, July 16, 2022. (Matthew Pearson/for WABE)

Atlanta is the only city in the country to have this transit-oriented sports club, and already has fields at the Five Points, West End, East Point and Lindbergh MARTA stations. StationSoccer’s current goal is to have a 10-station league. 

“We’re doing something really simple through soccer,” Patel said. “We’re not doing anything out of the extraordinary, so why can’t this be everywhere?”

Dale Royal, executive director of LISC (from left), Rita Scott, chair, MARTA Board of Directors; Marissa Ahrens, community relations manager for Atlanta United, and Dekalb County Commissioner Ted Terry join youth soccer players in a banner-breaking kick to celebrate the expansion of StationSoccer to MARTA’s Kensington rail station on Saturday, July 16, 2022. (Matthew Pearson/for WABE)

From day one, Atlanta United has supported the initiative. Marissa Ahrens, the community relations manager for the soccer club, said the foundation exists to invest back into the community that rallies around the team. 

To them, she said, supporting immigrant and refugee kids is a no-brainer.

“The one thing that can get them in with other kids is soccer,” Ahrens said. It’s an opportunity for the kids to make new friends in their new homes.

“And maybe one day,” she said, “We’ll see some of these kids at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.”