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Undefeated: Once-homeless refugee soccer player beats the odds

ST. LOUIS  – Nelson Mustafa, 21, has overcome more obstacles than most people his age. 

Born in Sudan, Mustafa, alongside his mother and family, fled to Egypt to escape war, drought and famine. He was 7 at the time. 

In 2011, his mother died, leaving Mustafa and his younger sister to be raised by family and friends.

While they were living in Egypt, a teacher helped Mustafa and his sister apply for refugee status in America, with the hope of seizing more opportunities and creating a better life. Little did they know his love for soccer would help pave the way.

In 2019, Mustafa is working full time, lives in his own apartment, drives his own car and is an active player for a street soccer team, the St. Louis Roadies. He was introduced to the team by a group of friends.

The Roadies is a street soccer club formed 11 years ago for men and women in St. Louis who are homeless, formerly homeless, or newly arrived to the United States as political refugees.

Mustafa is a dedicated player with the club, with more than eight years of soccer skills that help him to lead his team to victory, both on and off the field.

Just last week, Mustafa returned to the United States after spending more than a week in Wales competing in the Homeless World Cup.

The Homeless World Cup Foundation is a unique charity that supports and inspires homeless players, or players who were previously homeless, to create a better life for themselves through the game of soccer.

Along with 13 other players from the United States, on both the men’s and women’s teams, Team USA participated in the week-long festival of “football,” as the game of soccer is known in other parts of the world. 

More than 500 hundred players representing more than 50 countries met up in the United Kingdom with one goal: Have fun and compete.

“Over there we learned about a lot of people’s cultures and a lot of people. A lot of teams have stories about how they got to the Homeless World Cup,” he said. “This was an amazing experience for them.” 

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, more than 553,700 people were homeless on a single night across the U.S. in 2017.

Mustafa said that although the team’s first time meeting one another was when they arrived for the tournament, there was a positive energy among them.

“Every game we [were] getting a little bit better at understanding each other,” he said.

In the two years Mustafa has lived in America, he has faced many trials, homelessness being one of them.

Upon moving to St. Louis in 2017, Mustafa and his sister, who was 8 at the time, lived on Hodiamont Avenue. With no place of their own to stay and no transportation, he was determined to create a better life for the two of them.

Mustafa recalls sitting at the bus stop in the snow with his sister, freezing and hoping for better.

It would be the selflessness of a family friend that would help to turn Mustafa’s life around. She agreed to take care of his sister while Mustafa worked full-time overnight at Louisa Food. It was then that he was able to save up to purchase his own car. 

“Things started getting easier and easier and easier,” Mustafa said.

This year’s Homeless World Cup was Mustafa’s first and last time competing. But, he said, “I’m thinking about going back to Wales, for vacation.”

Bria Gremillion


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