Things in Abdifatah Abdi's life haven't always been easy.
The 20-year-old, who immigrated to the U.S. from Kenya over nine years ago, currently resides at the Hubert H. Humphrey Job Corps Center in St. Paul, a no-cost education and career technical training program that provides some economically disadvantaged young people ages 16 to 24 places to stay as they learn potential employment skills.
While the struggles Abdi's faced don't disappear when he steps on the soccer pitch, the competition does provide a respite for him and others on a Minneapolis-based team.
"We play and people are happy," Abdi said. "I feel connected somewhere. I don't have to be anything but part of a team for a little while."
Members of Up Top, a Minneapolis-based soccer team sponsored by YouthLink, an organization that works with homeless young people.
Abdi is one of 24 members of Up Top, a team sponsored by YouthLink - a Minneapolis organization that works with homeless youth between the ages of 16 to 24, offering assistance as they attempt to transition to a more stable and self-reliant existence.
Danae Hudson, the organization's annual fund and communications coordinator, said the group works with around 2,000 "unique young people" in the Twin Cities over the course of a given year.
That can include everything from providing drop-in services allowing those in need access to laundry, showers and meals to assistance with employment, education and accessing health care services.
But it also includes providing opportunities to get involved with everything from arts and yoga to soccer.
"We want to give young people a chance to be themselves," Hudson said. "Being homeless doesn't define a person. Our goal is to give people as many opportunities as possible to try things."
The boys soccer team started in 2008 and is coached by Jose Acuna, who has worked for YouthLink the past 23 years and is now the organization's outreach manager.
The team, which often practices indoors at the Gethsemane Episcopal Church's basketball court in downtown Minneapolis, is a diverse group. Acuna said it includes Muslims and Catholics, Spanish speakers and African immigrants, people from many different ethnic backgrounds.
Most are affiliated with YouthLink, though Acuna said a couple players have been referred from other shelters or groups. The common denominator is they all experienced homelessness at some point before joining the team.
The team has been successful, taking part in the Street Soccer USA Cup - featuring teams made up of homeless youth and at-risk young adults - the past nine years. It has won the tournament five times, including a come-from-behind victory to clinch the championship a year ago.
And Up Top will attempt to defend its title at this year's tournament June 9 - 11 in Philadelphia.
"The top benefit is that (playing soccer) gives the participants an outlet to use their energy," Acuna said. "It lets them put their minds on something else besides what it is they might be going through. On the pitch, they're not homeless anymore. They're athletes working to get the ball or score a goal.
"When we get back from a tournament like this, that reality is still there. But when you're there, you're around other people who have struggled with the same issues. And that helps build a sense of community. You see you're not alone," Acuna added.
YouthLink is also again sponsoring a girls soccer team for the first time in three years.
"These teams provide a sense of belonging," Acuna said. "All these players want to be a part of something."
They also want to win, especially at next week's national tournament.
"I've never been to Philadelphia," said Abdi, a striker. "I'm really looking forward to it. It's going to be a lot of fun."