“I play for my family and my team.” – Tatianna, Team USA

American goalkeeper Tatianna Allen, age 22, has been drawing attention at this year’s Homeless World Cup for all the right reasons. She’s easy to find on and off the pitch in her signature goalie shirt, which has been fondly dubbed “the star-spangled jumper” by British commentator Tom Crosby. She also has a magnetic personality that you can feel coming – a welcoming mix of warm, infectious, and honest.

The Chicago native was born and raised on the West Side. When she was young, she and her two siblings were taken from her parents by the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services. Her parents were told: Get yourselves together, or lose your children forever.

“Mom didn’t take the chance,” Tatianna explains frankly. Her dad, however, desperately wanted Tatianna and her siblings back. “My dad worked his butt off to get us back. I salute him.” During his own recovery process, he met and married Tatianna’s stepmother, who adopted all three children. They became a family.

“Fast forward,” Tatianna sighs, “I rebelled against my parents, which led them to kick me out. I didn’t know where to go.” She spent a night at the Pacific Garden Mission, who helped her get a place in the Neon Street Dorms. “The programme helps us to get on our feed, get jobs, enrol back in school,” she explains. As part of their job placements, the programme reserves 65% of the individual’s pay check and sets it aside for when they are ready to move out on their own. These savings then help participants to pay for housing and other initial expenses as they get on their feet.

While Tatianna was living at Neon Street Dorms, the coach of Street Soccer USA’s Chicago programme visited the centre and invited the residents to join a street soccer match. Tatianna’s competitive spirit is clear as she enthusiastically explains: “I was the only girl for almost a year!

“I was nominated to come to Amsterdam in San Francisco. It was exciting…but it didn’t really register. That’s what you see in the movies! It’s a dream come true to have an opportunity like this, to represent the States, it’s really cool.”

“Every team comes here to do their best.”

Her love for her teammates and pride in her country are clear as she speaks about Team USA. “I’m here to do my best, to support my team, to show them what USA is capable of. You’re not always going to win. Just do your best.”

The USA lost their opening match against defending champions Chile, but came together as a team today to defeat England in a tight back-and-forth matchup.

For Tatianna, when she returns to the U.S., she’ll be back in her family home, having reconnected with her parents and moved out of transitional housing. In the meantime, she’s looking forward to a week of exciting matches – and hoping for a rematch against Chile in the next round.

Words: Evie Chamberlain

Images: Alex Walker