Ryan Anderson sits in a hammock in his front yard on Logan Avenue in south Minneapolis, working on a slice of pizza. His 4-year-old son, Will, warms up with several other neighborhood children, all practicing their ball-control skills.

With a whopping 16 children ages 5 and younger on this single block, Anderson and other parents started to joke “that we should have a football team.”

Now they do.

The Logan Avenue Football Club — football, as in what Americans call soccer — meets on two adjoining lawns on 10 summer nights. The 10 players, six boys and four girls, are ages 3 to 5. Their winning strategy?

Two skilled, enthusiastic and very patient soccer coaches who also live on the block.

“Kids, how about some stretching?” said LAFC’s coach, Anna Amankwa, who played soccer at the University of Minnesota from 2001 to 2004. After graduating, Amankwa coached children and teenagers for Minneapolis United and Keliix, as well as the Edina Soccer Association, for several years. Now a senior audit manager at U.S. Bank, she’s still devoted to the sport when she can find time.

Her husband, Malik, a science teacher at Breck School, played soccer at Morrisville State College in New York and now coaches for the Fusion Soccer Club in the western suburbs. They run the neighborhood program totally as volunteers.

“Kids just love it to pieces,” said Carrie Mohs, mother of 4-year-old Calvin and future player 2-year-old Lucy. “And it’s a good excuse for the parents to get together.” Each family takes turns bringing pizza for the group.

At 6 p.m. on a recent Monday, Amankwa had her young charges warming up, stretching and practicing ball touches, before moving to more technical skills, such as passing, dribbling and shooting.

She changes the drills weekly, “but I’m trying to build off repetition and get them to improve on different parts,” she said. She keeps practices to 30 minutes, “as the kids’ attention span at this age is very short.”

At the end of each practice, the players divide into two teams with two goalposts. Playing a “real” game is the most exciting part, Amankwa said.

Each child’s white and red jersey carries a number in sequential order of his or her birth, from oldest to youngest.

Ellie, aka “number 7,” sits on the knee of her father, Zach Baranowski, drinking juice. When they moved in six years ago, he said, there were only two children on the block.

“This is a good way for us to get together and hang out,” he said, adding with a laugh, “They all can run around and we can sit here and do nothing.”

Amankwa’s 4-year-old daughter, Sankofa, wears number 5. She’s one of the quickest players, benefiting no doubt from great genes. Her little sister, Adipa, turns 2 in August and likely will join the team next year.

“They can walk, so they can play!” said dad Malik, with a smile. The coaches are considering launching a second team next summer. “I’m definitely getting hints from the parents,” Amankwa said.

Anderson said he introduced his children to the FIFA World Cup recently, so they’d know how the real game looks. “Will is kind of interested in it,” he said, “but I think he likes playing more than watching right now.”

Will agrees. “I love soccer because we can kick the ball,” he said, adding that he’s now best friends with Sankofa.

Five-year-old Beck Olson likes soccer, “because I like being number one.” Dominic LaRusso, 4½, just likes kicking goals.

The Monday night gatherings instill in the children plenty more than soccer skills, Anderson said. “I know what kids can learn from sports, such as working together and achieving their personal goals, as well as socialization. We all think that it’s a better opportunity to show them that they can do something together.

“And, who knows?” he said. “Probably some of them will make a real team when they’re grown up.”

 

Elizaveta Antonova wrote this story as a visiting journalist from Moscow. A political correspondent for the Russian newspaper, RBC, she spent two weeks at the Star Tribune in June.