Meron Rezene is drawing on his experience as a DC SCORES poet-athlete to help build a new generation of DMV soccer talent with Manchester City Soccer Academy at Sofive.
DC SCORES alumnus and Manchester City Soccer Academy at Sofive Youth Development Coach Meron Rezene is one of the few soccer fans in the world to have touched the Premier League trophy.
The opportunity came unexpectedly in 2019, when Rezene was home from college and made his way one evening to his favorite soccer pick-up spot: the field at Marie Reed Elementary School. Constructed in 2013 by Manchester City Football Club and the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates, the turf at Marie Reed also has a storied DC SCORES history as the home field of the nonprofit’s original school.
This shared connection to the space made it the perfect venue for a visit by Manchester City players to see DC SCORES programs in action and Rezene showed up just as the event was in full swing. A DC SCORES staff member recognized him in the crowd and invited Rezene to join the group, including for a selfie with the Premier League trophy the title-winners had brought to the event.
In spite of strict protocols, Rezene couldn’t resist reaching out to touch the world-famous silverware. “All I remember is somebody saying, ‘Hands off the trophy!’” he recalls. “What made it worse was that I was wearing a Chelsea F.C. beanie at the time!”
This serendipitous opportunity is just one of what might appear to be a series of happy coincidences in Rezene’s progression through DC’s youth soccer ecosystem. For example, Rezene’s first DC SCORES game was against a middle school team coached by legendary DC youth soccer coach Mark “Popsie” Lewis. Lewis would go on to train Rezene at the youth soccer development nonprofit Open Goal Project. In another instance, Rezene was scouted by his high school coach while practicing on the sidelines of a tournament hosted by the recreational adult soccer nonprofit District Sports.
But, while Rezene’s experience may read as a string of lucky encounters, they are in fact reflective of the abundance of opportunities open to young DMV-area players thanks to a deep network of grassroots soccer organizations. Now, as a City Sofive coach, Rezene is dedicating himself to helping more young people to tap into the same resources.
“Most of my memories, most of my friendships came from playing soccer with DC SCORES,” says Rezene. “Through the City Sofive programs, I want to create similar experiences and bring quality and inspiration to the young players in our community.”
A Life-Long Passion
“Most of the people who know me, they don’t know me without a ball at my feet,” remarks Rezene. He inherited his love of soccer from his father, who hails from Eritrea, where soccer is the most popular sport.
“My family definitely endured a couple of rough times,” Rezene says of his childhood. “Things weren’t always given to us but we were always okay with that. We would just go play ball and forget about it. It was grounding.”
Through elementary school, Rezene and his brother, Aron, played on a recreational soccer team coached by their father but, as their ability in the sport progressed, the siblings yearned for the competition of school sports. When Rezene arrived for middle school at E. L. Haynes Public Charter School, he begged school staff to establish a soccer team. “I just kept crying about it to my gym teachers,” remembers Rezene. Eventually, his impassioned pleas paid off and E. L. Haynes joined DC SCORES in 2011.
In those first years, the unpracticed team didn’t win many matches. “Safe to say, we were the worst team in DC SCORES,” jokes Rezene. “But the fact I had begged for the team meant I had to rise up for the challenge and make it worth it.”
In the lead-up to his first DC SCORES game, Rezene trained relentlessly, honing his skills at a field near his home in Columbia Heights. After spending hours perfecting scoring a goal from a corner kick to settle a bet with a friend, an 11-year-old Rezene replicated the feat in the match. Even though his team ultimately lost, Rezene still cherishes it as one of his favorite memories.
The soccer field was a place where Rezene could show off his creativity and build his confidence. “Kids have passions just waiting to be expressed,” he stresses. “If we have these grassroots organizations, it’s us saying ‘Hey, we’ve got this here. We encourage you to express yourself this way.’”
“I Feel Part of Something Greater Than Myself”
As he progressed through middle school, Rezene tapped into more selective soccer opportunities. He began working with coaches at Open Goal Project, a nonprofit that provides free high-level soccer programming to Black and Latin American youth, and, in 2016, he was named to the DCSAA All-State team.
In high school, Rezene got his first taste of coaching as a summer camp counselor for DC SCORES. After graduating, he sought out opportunities to build his career in the field, serving as a Real Madrid camp counselor and as a coach for both DC Youth Futbol Club and the junior varsity team at St Albans School in Cathedral Heights.
At City Sofive soccer centers Rezene ensures that his coaching is tailored to each of his players. The City Play Model works in phases, encouraging players to build on skills covered in previous training sessions to incrementally improve their game. As part of the model, Rezene uses a variety of coaching techniques tailored to his players. “Being able to cater to other learning styles is extremely important ensuring that I create fun, safe, and engaging sessions for the players,” he stresses.
Taking the time to invest in every child on his squad is not only critical to the team’s overall success but lets each of his players know they are valued. Rezene believes that this is especially important for young athletes who have fewer resources than their peers. “Some kids, they sometimes can’t even make it to practice because of the work and other commitments their parents have,” he explains. “If we want to push our youth to improve in soccer, we should understand how to cater to their needs.”
City Sofive is actively working to draw in and support talented players from across the DMV and Rezene hopes that, as a native Washingtonian with a deep awareness of some of the challenges faced by young people in the District, he can help recruit kids from backgrounds like his own.
This spring, he began coaching the DC SCORES girls’ team at E. L. Haynes and he hopes to be able to connect passionate players with the enhanced soccer opportunities available at City Sofive and throughout the DMV.
For Rezene, being part of one of the most successful and well-known clubs on the planet is one of the most rewarding aspects of his work at City Sofive “I feel like I’m part of something greater than myself,” he explains, “and I want the community to get involved in something bigger than itself.”
Ultimately, his desire to bring the methodology and philosophy of Manchester City’s world-class soccer education to more young people in his hometown is a matter of equity. “There’s a lot of disparities in DC. A lot of kids see the nice things going on with their city, but they don’t exactly feel a part of it,” he says. “But DC youth deserve these programs.”