A Journey Across Worlds: Issa Hassan's road to the Timbers Academy

4 Worlds United Soccer Alliance assists in getting youth playing on Portland's U-16 squad

Issa Hasson, 4 Worlds United, 11.9.12

Photo Credit: 
(Portland Timbers)

PORTLAND, OR -- A group of teenaged Kenyan and Burmese refugees from 4 Worlds United Soccer Alliance (4WU) came to JELD-WEN Field on Friday to watch a Portland Timbers off-season training session. The young players got an exclusive look into a professional soccer team’s practice and watched one of their own, Issa Hassan—a member of the Timbers U-16 team—train with the first team.

For Hassan, his path to Portland is a long one. His mother fled war-torn Somalia for a refugee camp in Kenya before eventually immigrating to the United States. It was at these refugee camps that Hassan started playing soccer. After arriving in the US, Hassan, then 10, would often play at Kateri Park, an affordable housing community in East Portland. A park staff member noticed his passion for the game and connected him to Mark Verna, president of 4WU and father to a son on the youth recreational soccer team, Southeast Soccer Club.

Even at his young age, Verna could tell Hassan was intensely focused on soccer not to mention being a gifted player. The following year, Verna was determined to have his son, Hassan and two other refugee players from Southeast SC make the change from recreational to club soccer. All four players were selected to play for Eastside Timbers, a club founded by Timbers general manager Gavin Wilkinson as well as one of Portland’s adidas Timbers Alliance clubs. Verna credits Wilkinson for the opportunity. “Gavin was a big part of getting them in the club and keeping them in the club,” he said.

Throughout Hassan’s journey, Portland Timbers supporters have helped him along the way. In 2011, the Timbers Army granted Hassan the Gisele Currier Memorial Fund scholoarship. This grant enabled him to travel and register for the ODP Regional Holdover Camp in California. His talent did not go unnoticed and he was offered a spot on the US U-14 Boys National Development Program.

Verna remembers, “We had no idea a kid would rise so fast and do so well, so quickly.”

Today, Hassan is playing for the Portland Timbers U-16 Academy team under Head Coach Mike Smith. At Friday’s training session, Hassan was able to showcase his skills at JELD-WEN Field in front of the first team as well as his friends from 4WU. Verna was proud of Hassan’s effort.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for Issa to step out on the field with players he has been watching for the last couple of years,” he said. “He respects these guys so much.”

Timbers players Bright Dike, Charles Renken, Danny Mwanga and Kalif Alhassan joined the 4WU guests after practice to answer questions, take photos and sign autographs. Hassan left feeling inspired.

“I just want to get better and improve my skills even beyond where they are right now,” he said. “My dream is to become a professional player…but to get there I need to work even harder than I am now.”

Verna described Hassan as kind and generous, having always taken care of his family and teammates.

“You cannot teach those qualities,” he commented. “You are born that way. We see those things in Issa and as a result we all work harder for him.”

Today, Hassan lives with his mother and siblings in Beaverton. He recently transferred from Cleveland High School to Westview High School where he is a dedicated student.

“Issa understand if he wants to play college ball he needs to have grades as well as skill,” said Verna. “He knows that and he has owned that. That’s the way he is. He sees what he has to do and he gets it done.”

4WU developed out of Verna’s passion for providing support to refugee children and giving them the opportunity to play soccer at the club level. For the last six years, 4WU has worked to bridge the gap between first and third world children by bringing them together on the soccer field. Their goal is to find children who want to play soccer and connect them with the most appropriate clubs at their level. Verna commented that many players at 4WU, “are such survivors and stay so positive and full of life despite getting hit with what our culture would consider really bad cards.” This season, 10 deserving youth from 4WU have made their way onto club rosters in the local Portland area. To learn more about 4WU, please visit http://4worldsunited.org/.