The joys of Manhattan pickup soccer

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Kicking a ball around with friends is a simple and rewarding pleasure


  • The NYU Football Club at Pier 40 in 2016, when it all began. The guy in front wearing neon lime shoes is the author. Photo: Courtesy of Teddy Son.

  • Soccer fields at Pier 40. Photo: Cucombre Libre, via flickr

“I wouldn’t say we’re actually teammates, I would say we’re friends. Everyone I play with is my friend.”

Antoine Biebuyck, captain of the NYU Football Club

A large rectangular structure that looms over the Hudson River. Within its confines, open to the sky, a great green field, with white pillars of goal posts scattered across the turf. One would be hard pressed to find a hint of green that is unoccupied, however. Dozens of people of different ages and attire are spread across the field, like a large herd of sheep. If sheep played soccer, that is.

Welcome to Pier 40, Hudson River Park. Almost every soccer team in Manhattan comes to Pier 40 to play. Some are official teams and leagues, others are pickup teams, just a bunch of random people playing together.

And there are some teams in the gray area between the two.

They are people who have known each other for long periods of time. People who know each other on and off the field. People who have established relationships based on their mutual love for the beautiful game. People who get together every week at a specific time to meet their teammates and kick a ball around for a few hours. People who are not in any specific league or on any specific team, but still share a mutual bond with the people they play with on a regular basis.

Let’s take a look at some of them:


A bunch of college students with a common goal (no pun intended). A diverse pack of players from all around the world. Argentina, Belgium, Colombia, Croatia, Germany, England, Qatar, India, South Korea, and the USA are just a few of the countries that these people represent. Yet all have united for the sake of kicking a ball around every Friday afternoon.

This is New York University Football Club. Not official, no affiliations, no sponsors, no nothing, but strangely organized. Started in August 2016 when the first batch of players came to college. It all began with a simple group chat, people wanting to play soccer during their first week of school. Fast forward three years, and the group has expanded in both quality and quantity. (Full disclosure, I have been a member since the team’s inception.) Players show up to the games on time, wear colored bibs to distinnguish the teams, and play a specific number of people on a designated space. One may as well call them an official team, but no, this is just a very organized version of pickup soccer.

The More Organized, the More Fun

Captain Antoine Biebuyck said that this team was just an extension of his willingness to stay close to soccer, even in college. According to him, organization is key. “The more organized it is, the more fun it is,” he said, “it’s more fun when you know there’s just the right amount of people to play. Too many, it’s just a mess, too little, you’re just running all the time.”

Regular weekly games have resulted in NYUFC being a strong presence on and off the field. The synergy among the players shows in the intramural tournaments they compete in, as demonstrated by their 15-1 win in their most recent official game.

For Biebuyck and his teammates, however, staying together is more important than winning. Having an organized group of players like this eventually led to extended relationships between the players. As Biebuyck put it, “I wouldn’t say we’re actually teammates, I would say we’re friends. Everyone I play with is my friend, so it’s kind of like our boys’ afternoon when we all see each other after a tough week.”

He acknowledged that “NYU would have been very different” for him without NYUFC. Likewise, for many on the team. The love of soccer has brought them together like nothing else has, and formed relationships that cannot be broken. “We all had this one hobby in common,in playing soccer. And we just started doing that together,” the captain said.

Baruch College Korean Soccer Team

On a Saturday night, if you walk by Pier 40, you are more than likely to run into a number of players who all wear the same colored bibs (red or blue), and kick a ball to opposite ends of the field. A common sight for Pier 40. Except these guys don’t converse in English, but in Korean. Wait, what?

Yes, Manhattan has a number of soccer teams made up entirely of Koreans who play at Pier 40 on a regular basis. One of the most consistent is a group from Baruch College, who show up every Saturday regardless of the weather and season. The team normally starts playing at 9 p.m. and continues until near midnight, when the lights go off.

Founded five years ago, this team has even humbler beginnings than NYUFC, with just two or three the original members. Eventually though, it grew into one of the most prominent Korean soccer teams in the city. And it has has expanded to include Koreans from Baruch, Pace, NYU, Cornell and more, although the core remains Baruch.(Full disclosure, I play for this team as well.)

A Common Language

Captain Jinman Jang that the team stands out because of its Korean roots. “Us Koreans are very social people, so we have to stick together, especially out here in another country,” he explained. “We’re far from being individualistic, and soccer is one of those things that lets us come together regularly.” Hwi Kim, one of the founding members of the team, added that language also plays an important role: “It’s much more comfortable to converse and interact in our own tongue rather than a second language.”

The dedication of this team evident. Despite being technically a pickup team, the players find themselves driving all the way from Queens, taking the train from Long Island, and Ubering from uptown just to play soccer with their friends. “It’s a very rewarding experience,” said Jang summing it up simply.

Even so, just try telling these players that their games are nothing official. The team bibs are just the beginning, with cones used to mark official field boundaries, and careful scorekeeping. Although no trophy or title is on the line, the winning team does get the honor of kicking the ball to hit the losing team’s players’ in the back as they stand in a line. A rather amusing Korean tradition, but definitely a motivating one.

The team plays in all sorts of conditions, come rain or shine. Whether they walk home in waterlogged clothes or dry as a bone, the feeling doesn’t change, and the players will be there the next Saturday, just as they were there this Saturday, and the Saturdays before that. The ball just keeps rolling for these Koreans.

As it does for all pickup teams around Manhattan. They come together for the sake of kicking a ball around. Such a simple pleasure, yet one so rewarding that it binds people together for years. Maybe even a lifetime.

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