By Mario A. Cortéz
Now that Californians are transitioning back into their pre-pandemic recreational activities, a local community of soccer players is back to playing pick-up games throughout San Diego.
Over 50 soccer aficionados of all ages and skill levels gathered at historic Chicano Park for the first time in 18 months to play fast-paced pick up games as cars zoomed above the action on the Coronado Bridge-Interstate 5 exchange lanes.
Bridge Barkada is the group responsible for organizing the much-anticipated street soccer pop-up. The group hosted its first event of the year at Chicano Park late June, with players forming teams of five for fast-paced, small-sided matches on the park’s basketball courts.
Games were played with a five minute timer to keep the action steady and all teams active. The game flow was set up in a “king of the hill” format, with a “king’s court” on which the winningest team plays to remain active. The “lower court” sees teams play to win and challenge the current champs on the king’s court. In case of a tie both sides are bumped out regardless of what court they are playing on.
Paul Nathan Nacu is one of Bridge Barkada’s founders and organizers. He said playing soccer brings him and his fellow players a special feeling.
“For me it’s freedom, where I can just have fun, play soccer, meet some new people and enjoy myself. Football is life,” he said.
Nacu also explained the meaning behind the group’s name.
“‘Barkada’ is a FIlipino word meaning team, group or squad, and we have played under a bridge in some form for a long time,” he elaborated.
The group has hosted pick up soccer sessions since late 2018, starting with a makeshift court under an Intestate 8 overpass near the Mission Valley stadium site, and then moving activities to other San Diego sites, including Chicano Park under the Coronado Bridge.
Since its return to activities, Bridge Barkada has hosted other soccer pop ups at sites throughout San Diego, including a session on Balboa Park’s main plaza, Valle Lindo Park in Chula Vista and a hidden warehouse location near MCAS Miramar.
Before COVID-19 paused play, the crew had played at the Seaport Village, Petco Park, Broadway Pier, among other locations.
“Soccer, or football, shouldn’t be played within the lines. I think if people play anywhere this game will spread more. I think people are realizing you don’t need to play traditional 11-versus-11, you don’t need a painted court or something like that. You can play anywhere, like these awesome places in San Diego. It;s a way of opening up what soccer can be,” he explained.
Bridge Barkada will continue to host more sessions at Chicano Park on the first Saturday of the month. The group’s planned schedule received the approval of the Chicano Park Steering Committee at its most recent meeting.
The CPSC is the volunteer group in charge of managing the park’s activities and serving as stewards for the park.
Gyasi Redding and Ricardo Vara, two regulars at Bridge Barkada soccer sessions, spoke before the CPSC during the community hearing to formally allow the group to host monthly soccer pop ups at the park’s courts.
“We were here to support the steering committee letting us play and to introduce ourselves and ensure we are respecting the park and are meeting the expectations they have for us at the park,” Redding said.
Both are happy to be part of this local community bound by the world’s most popular sport.
“It is something positive and healthy for the community, the park and for yourself too if you like soccer,” Vara said. “It’s a community that likes to bring the action to life and always tries to play. It’s something fun to do.”
“We get to do something that we love with a group of pretty cool people,” Redding added. I’ve been playing for a while and I’ve made close friends and have found teammates for other soccer leagues,”.
Bridge Barkada will be hosting sessions starting at 8:30 a.m. on the first Saturday of the month through January, as allowed by the CPSC. To keep up with games and other pop-up activities throughout San Diego, you can follow @BridgeBarkada on social media platforms.