For six years, Little Haiti residents have been waiting for Emmanuel “Manno” Sanon Soccer Park, known as Little Haiti Soccer Park, to live up to its promise for neighborhood kids.
Many believed the $36.9 million park, built in 2008 and named after a renowned Haitian soccer player, would host a year-round youth soccer program. A newly formed youth soccer league is looking to fill that void.
The only consistent youth sports program at soccer park is a pee-wee American football team, Little Haiti Optimist.
Other uses of the park — between Northeast Second and Fourth avenues along 64th Terrace to the north and 59th Street to the south — include non-sports events: mural paintings, book-bag giveaways and police gun buy-back programs.
“This park right here, soccer was not, in a sense, allowed to be a part of it,” said Gomez Laleau, Miami Edison High soccer coach.
Laleau and David Villano, a soccer coach from Coconut Grove’s Ransom Everglades School, teamed up to form the Little Haiti Soccer Club. The two friends created a multidimensional athletic program that also addresses academic and social needs for the boys and their families.
On a recent Saturday, some 300 fans gathered at the soccer park to watch an inaugural game between the neighborhood’s new soccer league and the Coconut Grove Soccer Club.
A breathless announcer screamed out the play-by-play in English and Creole.
And when the Little Haiti club scored the first and only goal of the game, the crowd erupted, shouting “Yo sezi! Yo sezi!” — “They are shocked!”
In the bleachers, Rara Lakay, a traditional Haitian festival band, turned the game into a party, beating on red, yellow and green painted drums.
Little Haiti won the game 1-0.
This is what the neighborhood was waiting for: an outlet for the youth and a place to gather and enjoy a favorite sport — soccer.
Read more at the Miami Herald.