The Seattle Afrikan Premier League

Collecting football stories that highlight the world – the African world, in this case – and making the Seattle game global in the process.

Waiting for the start of play. Images: Danny Hoffman

June 2018. The Black Stars dominated possession and seemed the far more threatening side.   Then a sudden precision counter attack sliced through their defense, and a scintillating finish left them down a goal, less than ten minutes into the match. Against the run of play, the Black Stars faced a deficit. And while the ball continued to seem happier in the Black Star’s offensive half, two more counter attacks and a successful penalty kick sealed their fate over 90 minutes.

Despite the famous name, this match did not involve the men’s national team of Ghana. The location was a small park in a Seattle suburb, just after the weekly girls’ U-10 matches. This was not the World Cup, or even a national friendly between two teams outside the Cup looking in. It was, rather, the finals of the second season of the Seattle Afrikan Premiere League (SAPL). The Black Stars’ opponent, FC Juba, took home the championship – and with it a team trophy, individual medals, a $500 cash purse, and bragging rights for a team of East African men between the ages of 17 and 45.

The SAPL’s second season climax occurred just days before the opening of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia – a World Cup at which neither the United States nor Ghana, neither South Sudan nor Somalia are represented. Adding insult to injury, the local Major League Soccer franchise, the Seattle Sounders, are struggling, gaining only their third win of the season at about the time FC Juba lifted their SAPL hardware. Seattle is more soccer mad than most American cities, so these absences matter.  As they do every four years, fans here are repeating the usual truisms and clichés about the pathetic state of football in America.

Seattleites’ calls to find US national football respectability are undoubtedly more globalist than nationalist.  This is, after all, a liberal West Coast enclave with world city pretensions.  And there is truth in Kanishk Taroor’s argument that the World Cup complicates the false binary of globalism and nativism.  But in the United States at this moment, national boosterism of any kind feels risky.  Even the most innocent calls to make American football great carry a taint, an uncomfortable hint of xenophobia and menace.

So, for this World Cup, we opt out of the mediated mourning over the pitiful state of US soccer. We accept that we won’t find local football on the world stage. We’ve set out instead to find world soccer on the local pitch.  We’re collecting stories that highlight the world – the African world, in our case – making the Seattle game global. Call it, for now, The African Game in Seattle project.

We want to know why the Sounders hope three Cameroonian teenagers can help salvage a difficult season, and what the Ghanaian womens national team captain, recently signed to the NWSL Seattle Reign, thinks of the Black Queens’ chances in the November CAF Cup. We’re more interested in how many African players have worn the colors of the University of Washington Huskies, and whether white missionaries in the 1970s factored in footballing skills when they offered young African men scholarships to the region’s parochial colleges. For now, we think understanding American soccer rests more on the question of whether the Afro Kings FC’s strong forwards could have fared better than the Black Stars against FC Juba in the SAPL final.

 

Adama Kante, originally from Mali, juggles in the final minutes before the Seattle Afrikan Premiere League (SAPL) finals on 8 June 2018.

 

FC Juba warms up for the finals at Petrovitsky Park in Renton, just south of Seattle.

 

FC Juba warms up for the finals at Petrovitsky Park in Renton, just south of Seattle.

 

FC Juba players break from pre-game warm-ups for prayer. The majority of the squad come from immigrant communities originating in the Horn of Africa, some of the largest African diasporic communities in the Seattle region and across the Pacific Northwest.

 

Black Stars FC’s Christian Obioma walks the FC Juba greeting line.

 

SAPL founder and Black Stars FC coach Issah Agyeman (in maroon) addresses his squad. Agyeman founded SAPL after several seasons playing in local Latinx leagues, saying that it was time that African players have “our own thing.”

 

The Black Stars’ Eric Sheshe attempts to break through the Juba defenses. Both teams included players ranging in age from high schoolers to men in their 40s.

 

Though the flow of play generally favored the Black Stars, strong defense and quick counter-attacks from FC Juba produced a lopsided finish.

 

Obioma goes down after a hard tackle. Fights are not uncommon in the city’s competitive adult leagues.

 

FC Juba goalkeeper Abdullahi Abdullahi sets his defense before a Black Stars corner kick.

 

Frustrated with the lack of recognition for the winners of other club leagues, Agyeman promised trophies, medals and a cash prize to the winning teams in the SAPL.

 

Black Stars FC’s Yannick just after the final whistle and his club’s loss.

 

The FC Juba players film their celebration for social media.

 

Agyeman’s daughter, Princess Hajara Yaa Asantewaa Agyeman, holds the second-place trophy while her parents wrap up after the post-game medal ceremony.

Further Reading

Sudan in Berlin

“Berlin isn’t Germany. Just like that website you write for—it’s really its own country.” – Mohamed Jeballa, partner in a popular Sudanese restaurant in the city.