It was a simple idea. A soccer player since age 8, Jessica Breznau, a lanky 30-year-old with a messy brown ponytail, recognized the sport's potential for uniting people. She was working as a referee and playing pickup matches with members of a team of Laotian immigrants, who practiced near the house she rents on south Beacon Hill, when the seeds of the All Nations Cup began to sprout in her mind. "I had been noticing that each community played together often, and I just thought, 'Why don't they play each other?'" Breznau recalls.
On Sunday, Aug. 29, Breznau expects thousands of people to pack the stands of Qwest Field to watch the remaining four teams in the All Nations Cup tournament do just that. Of the 31 teams that entered, Bosnia, Brazil, Mexico, and Russia remain after last weekend's final group-play rounds and quarterfinals, and June's qualifying matches. The matchups for the championship game will be determined by tonight's semifinals at Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila, with Russia and Bosnia facing off at 6:30 p.m. and Brazil and Mexico playing at 8:30 p.m.
"I'm really excited," Breznau says, looking forward to the weekend. "Even though I'm really exhausted, I think it's going to be a good event."
In its second year, the All Nations Cup, known last year as World Cup Seattle, is the first major project of Sister Communities, a nonprofit Breznau founded in 2003 with the aim of uniting Seattle's various ethnic, cultural, and religious groups. The Puget Sound–based amateur men playing for the cup represent 31 countries, with teams divided into four geographic divisions: Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe. Some of the men, such as those playing for Sudan, are recent immigrants, Breznau says, while most of the others are second- or third-generation Americans.
Breznau knows the soccer hot spots in the city, so finding prospective competitors was no problem. The difficulty was in convincing potential participants that a white American woman trying to organize a soccer tournament should be taken seriously. They're now convinced. She managed to pull together what many are calling one of the most vibrant events in Seattle.
Along the way, Breznau met Sam Hassan, 47, a restaurateur who has been playing and coaching soccer since his early days in Brazil, where he grew up in the same neighborhood as the legendary Pele—on Santos, an island off Sao Paolo. Hassan agreed to coach the Brazilian team and has become "something like vice president," as he puts it, for the All Nations Cup. Says Hassan: the "All Nations Cup is already the most incredible soccer tournament in the Northwest, and it's going to be the most important event in the Northwest, because it does what no other event does—it brings all the communities in the area together. It also brings youth into it, so from a very early age they can understand how diverse the world is."
With musical and dance performances by members of the various teams' communities, the All Nations Cup is more than a soccer tournament. Awards are presented to teams besides the top finishers, including the Sister Communities Award for the team with the best community participation. The winning team co-hosts the following year's kickoff party, at which it shares its culture with the others. Plus, a charity organization of the winning team's choosing in its home country receives a portion of the tournament's proceeds. Last year's recipient was an AIDS foundation in Ethiopia.
But by no means does the extra community stuff diminish the quality of the main focus: soccer. The level of competition at the event is comparable to that of a professional league. At least that's what Primo Santos says. Santos, 27, a midfielder on Hassan's team the past two years and a soccer player since age 7, should know. Before moving to the U.S. (he lives in Redmond) four years ago, Santos played first division professional soccer in Brazil, Germany, and Poland.
Because of a lack of resources, Sister Communities has been mostly a one- woman show. Breznau has been preparing for All Nations Cup 2004 since last August, putting in 12- to 14-hour days the past four months. In addition to time, she has invested money, and lots of it, racking up nearly $15,000 on her credit card for this year's event, not counting the $9,000 it costs to rent Qwest Field. Breznau does not have time for a paying job and is hoping Sister Communities can break even, as it did after last year's considerably cheaper one-weekend tournament.
Although it has taken a lot out of her, Breznau says she has already seen benefits. More teams are entering area leagues, and divisions between the communities are collapsing. Somalia will soon enter the Lega Hispana del Noroeste as the only non-Hispanic team, for example.
In addition to two games Sunday that will determine first through fourth places (the third-place game is at 4 p.m. and the championship is at 6 p.m.), there will be an all-star game at 2 p.m. featuring the tournament's top players. The awards ceremony will be at 8 p.m., followed by the closing ceremony, led by U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, and the Muckleshoot tribe. Tickets are $12 for general admission and $5 for youth 6–12. Club seating, with the best views and free dessert, is available for $25. Get tickets at the door or order them at www.allnationscup.org or by calling 206-267-9000.