Culture

How Café Com Leite Is Making Soccer Fun Again

Tianna Rodgriguez and her team want to create a space free of expectations, of fear and shame. “Just pure fun – and a bit of exercise.”

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How Café Com Leite Is Making Soccer Fun Again

Tianna Rodgriguez and her team want to create a space free of expectations, of fear and shame. “Just pure fun – and a bit of exercise.”

You don’t need to look far to see the impact soccer (or football, depending on where you are) has; be that in fashion or in culture at large. But despite the great strides made by the USL Super League and Women’s Super League in Europe, the football pitch remains an intimidating space for women. And there’s still precious few opportunities for femme footballers, and especially budding players. Enter Tianna Rodriguez and her New York City-based team Café Com Leite.

“I had previously coached youth soccer in San Francisco and in Brooklyn, but I started the club because I had so many friends tell me how much they would love to play but had never kicked a ball or played sports,” she tells Hypebae. “I wanted to create a space where there were no expectations, no fear, no embarrassment; just pure fun and a bit of exercise.”

What started off as a somewhat spontaneous get-together in 2023 has turned into a full soccer team, meaning Café Com Leite has at least 22 committed players at a time – a number that will likely soar in the summer months, too. “The team itself is really about bringing back a sense of freedom and ‘playtime’ into our adult lives,” she explains. “When I was a child, the soccer field was an open invitation for anyone to hop in. That sense of warmth and community, where skill level doesn’t matter, is what I strive to recreate within Café Com Leite. It’s all about taking part.”

Hypebae joined the soccer team at their weekly Sunday meet to talk about the highs and lows of starting a team from scratch over a drink of blue Gatorade and watermelon sprinkled with Tajín. Here’s what went down.

On Naming Café Com Leite

Majority of the team is made up of Latinos from all over: Brazilians, Colombians, Dominicans etc. And guess what we all love? Coffee with milk! So originally we were going to be called ‘Café Con Leche’ but my bestie Paula, who is also on the team, suggested we make it Portuguese and the name stuck. I later found out ‘Cafe Com Leite’ is Portuguese slang for playing a game – any game – with rookies, kids or non-professional players. So it works on that level, too. It was an evolution, which is what this team is all about. It’s been so rewarding to experience the progress of individuals who were once unfamiliar with the game and are now scoring goals. Over summer practices we’ve formed this bond and created a space where making mistakes and learning from them is fully embraced. We’ve even invested in custom jerseys as a symbol of our unity and increasing seriousness about soccer.

On the Inspiration Behind the Team

My dad really inspired this team. Throughout my childhood, I accompanied him to soccer practice so the soccer field became a hub of activity for kids like me. As I got older, I began playing alongside these men, often getting beaten by the illegal kicks and trips – but still enjoying every moment of the game. After visiting him last year, I designed a flier inviting anyone interested to join weekly soccer sessions, no prior experience required, hoping to recreate that feeling I had growing up.

On the Importance of Inclusivity in Soccer and Sports

Unlike traditional teams with fixed rosters, we embrace inclusivity; welcoming individuals from all backgrounds and levels of experience. Our practices often see a mix of returning players and newcomers, whether they were originally playing frisbee nearby or simply jogging past us and decided to join in. Everyone is welcome. I grew up admiring legendary players like Messi, Maradona and Pele, but I believe we need to continue to celebrate and highlight the success of women in sports, too. Athletes like Coco Gauff, Suni Lee, Serena Williams, Venus Williams and so many others to inspire other women and femme people to participate and excel in sports.

The Challenges of Starting a Grassroots Soccer Team   

One of our biggest challenges really is time: coordinating a schedule that accommodates the diverse commitments of a large group of individuals is really hard. With everyone leading busy lives, it’s inevitable that some practices are missed, but we understand and embrace this reality without putting pressure on anyone. But we’re also aware that establishing a consistent weekly schedule is a crucial step towards our goal of transitioning into a league.

On the Future of Café Com Leite

I envision Café Com Leite evolving into a full-fledged league, playing matches against other teams on the regular. First we need to create a supportive environment where everyone feels comfortable transitioning to competitive play. With training and encouragement, I aspire for us to participate in organized competitions within the next season or two. This summer, I’m organizing a soccer ‘boot camp’ to help prepare beginners for scrimmages against other teams.

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