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United Way of Lancaster County


Nonprofit aims to grow worldwide network of soccer clubs

Alloy Soccer Club, in white, plays against Vidas United at Lancaster Bible College on Saturday, March 16, 2024. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

Coach John Reagan “JR” Moore

The philosophy of Alloy Soccer Club is right there in its name, head coach John Reagan “JR” Moore said.

“An alloy takes two or three different metals and blend them together to get the best qualities out of each one,” he said. “We’ve tried to do that with a soccer team.”

Formed in February 2023, Alloy is a free developmental club for high-level players aged 15 and up. For those with sufficient talent, it can serve as a stepping-stone to a career in professional soccer.

While it is open to anyone who can earn a place, a majority of players come from Lancaster’s immigrant and refugee communities, representing more than a dozen homelands in the Mideast, Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa.

Alloy Soccer Club is a subsidiary of Big Picture Soccer, a nonprofit founded by Josiah Groff. Big Picture Soccer aims to bring the character-building potential of soccer to underserved communities worldwide.

Josiah Groff

Groff, a 2010 Conestoga Valley High School graduate, started playing soccer almost as soon as he could walk. Even as a child, he says, he was impressed by the scale of international love for “the beautiful game.”

“It’s almost like a ‘heart language’,” he said. “It’s a true passion for so much of the world.”

As he grew older, he thought more and more about the benefits that could result from bringing formal, organized participation in soccer to at-risk children living in poverty.

Worldwide, most soccer teams operate on a “pay-to-play” business model, charging players and their families for the cost of uniforms, coaching, travel, field rental and so on. That shuts millions of children out of participation in a sport that could be life-changing.

“if you don’t have funds, it’s really hard to get involved with good soccer,” Groff said.

Those musings turned into action in 2018 when he and his wife moved to Juarez, Mexico. They saw parents there working 14 hours a day to put food on the table, leaving children to grow up largely unsupervised on the streets of a city dominated by one of Latin America’s most dangerous drug cartels.

A conventional after-school program wasn’t going to hold the kids’ interest, he said. But they really, really wanted to play soccer.

Groff connected with a local man, David Rodriguez, who shared his vision. Almost as soon as they started, they had 50 to 60 young people coming to their practices.

David Rodriguez, left, and Josiah Groff co-founded Sauzal F.C. in Juarez, Mexico. (Source: Big Picture Soccer)

Today, that team, Sauzal F.C., is one of three Big Picture Soccer clubs overseas, joining partners in Masaka, Uganda, and Punta Gorda, Belize. The goal is to keep adding more, Groff said.

“We’re teaching values like teamwork, responsibility, respect, hard work,” he said. “… Coaches get to become really influential in these kids’ lives as mentors.”

The principles established in Juarez continue to guide the mission-based nonprofit as it grows. Participation is free. Coaches commit not only to teaching soccer skills but to instilling and exemplifying positive values and preparing team members for success on or off the field. Clubs work with other local stakeholders to have a positive impact in their communities.

Those overall objectives are non-negotiable, Groff said, but within that framework, Big Picture Soccer gives its affiliates as much autonomy as possible, so they can adapt to local circumstances and tailor the program in whatever way makes the most sense.

Each club costs between $50,000 and $100,000 a year to operate. The money comes from fundraising, Groff said. Expenditures must align with Big Picture Soccer’s mission and are tracked carefully.

It was Moore who came to Groff with the idea of launching a Big Picture Soccer affiliate in Lancaster. His pitch was straightforward, Groff said: The whole world is coming to Lancaster, including many talented soccer players who don’t have a place to play. Why not give them one?

“I was like, ‘yeah, absolutely,'” Groff said.

Alloy Soccer’s top players make up its flagship “first team.” Debuting in the American Conference of the United Premier Soccer League, it won the championship its first year, earning a promotion. It currently competes in the Delaware River Conference of the semi-professional Eastern Premier Soccer League, an affiliate of the National Independent Soccer Association.

(Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

It plays its home games at Lancaster Bible College, where Groff graduated in 2016. Last month, the first team kicked off the spring phase of its season with a convincing home-field win against Vidas United of Philadelphia. Its next game takes place at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 20, at LBC, where it will face off against Oaklyn United. (A full schedule is at the bottom of this page.)

The team has had some logistics and language challenges to iron out. Team members have busy work and school schedules, so it isn’t straightforward to find times everyone can meet for practice. And because not everyone speaks English fluently, an informal network of coach and player interpreters has developed, allowing translation into French, Spanish and Swahili.

Coach Moore previously served as assistant coach at Franklin & Marshall College and Lancaster Bible College and head coach for the Lancaster Elite, a United Premier Soccer League team.

Alloy Soccer is both intentionally diverse and very competitive, he said: “We push guys to train and improve and grow.”

Alloy Soccer Team members, from left: Striker Clovis Kabre; right back Caleb Nelson; and left back Babunga Tresor.

Players said they appreciate the team culture and the camaraderie it fosters.
“We’re like family,” said Babunga Tresor, also known as Babunga Mulumeoderwa, a native of the Congo who plays left back. Striker Clovis Kabre, of, Burkina Faso, agreed: “We’ve got each other.”

Lancaster native Caleb Nelson, a right back, said the team stays true to a set of commitments that players recite: Work for success, assess your failures, be humble and courageous, respect yourself and your teammates.

“I think J.R. and the coaches do a good job of implementing that,” he said.

Groff said Big Picture Soccer is planning to fly in selected players from the Mexican, Belizean and Congolese clubs toward the end of the summer for a soccer camp. In the future, some could play for Alloy Soccer, potentially leading to college or professional opportunities.

The nonprofit is aiming to grow deliberately, step by step, and is in it for the long haul, Groff said.

“I want all the kids to get a chance like I was able to have,” he said.