OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — It's the most popular sport in the world.
Thanks to programs like PACE, Police Athletics for Community Engagement, hundreds of kids in the Omaha metro get to play soccer for free.
"What I don't want to do is turn kids away," Omaha Gang Unit Detective and PACE liaison Antonio Espejo said.
That's why funding and volunteers are crucial.
"In cities across the country we've been granting out mini-pitches to different communities," U.S. Soccer Foundation's Patricia Arty said.
Congressman Don Bacon's office partnered with the U.S Soccer Foundation for an open conversation about the rise of soccer, as well as how clubs can find funding and resources.
"Research shows that coaches and a caring adult in a child's life can actually reverse the affects of ACES," Arty said. That's why and how we developed our program in the way that we think about soccer."
South Omaha's championship soccer coach, a rep from Omaha's new pro soccer team, and others in the soccer community attended the discussion at the University of Nebraska Omaha.
"I'm anxious to hear how the group here sees the professional team as an asset to the community," Matt Homonoff of the USL Omaha Pro Soccer League said.
"A lot of the Somali kids play in the parking lot just for fun, but they don't get the experience of a team, so we partnered with PACE this year, which has been awesome," A coach of the Somali team said.
And although every organization has it's challenges, they could all use one thing.
"It'd be great to have a Lebron James [who] writes us a check for 5 million dollars, that would be great," Espejo said. "But what is more important to us is we'd rather have 100 strong families, strong citizens [who] understand the community engagement part of what we do ... and that these kids grow up and raise their families right and are good citizens."
The soccer foundation encouraged the group to apply for their grants.
In addition to the communities soccer teams build, Espejo says the sport has lasting effects on the kids who play.
"Physically they're going to be better off, they're going to raise their kids to be physically better off because obesity, heart disease all those things are affecting everybody," he said.
In a statement to 3 News Now, Rep. Don Bacon says:
"This event was a great opportunity for local soccer organizations to connect with the U.S. Soccer Foundation and the new USL Omaha Pro Soccer Team. This is the one sport that is played all over the world and is accepting of both men and women. I’m grateful to be a co-chair on the Congressional Soccer Caucus and am pleased we were one of the primary advocates in support of the 2026 World Cup to be held in North America. Soccer encourage everyone, especially our youth, to stay physically active.” – Rep. Bacon
You can learn more about the U.S. Soccer Foundation at https://ussoccerfoundation.org/