Sierra Leone captures L.A.s first African soccer tournament title

OW Staff | 9/7/2011, 5:15 p.m.

Three hundred eighty-four semi-professional and amateur soccer players representing 19 African countries were featured in the first ever African Community Soccer Tournament that saw Sierra Leone's Leone Stars defeat Cameroon's L.A. Lions 2-1 to capture the first ACST Cup title.

From the 24-team tournament--two countries entered two teams, plus the Caribbean nation of Jamaica--with some of Los Angeles' best amateur soccer players, Sierra Leone emerged victorious capturing one of the most prestigious and culturally significant titles for the West African immigrants who never had the opportunity to actually play for their native country's national, which is their namesake. The championship match took place in front of over 2,500 people at the John Ferraro Soccer Complex in Los Angeles.

"Representing Sierra Leone in the African Community Soccer Tournament was important to us," explained team captain and midfielder Brian George, 27, of Los Angeles. "It's been our dream to represent our national team back in Sierra Leone, but because of certain circumstances we were not able to do that so to win this tournament it really means a lot to us and we're proud of that."

A graduate of Hamilton High School (2007), George, came to the United States from Freetown, Sierra Leone's capital, when he was 11 years old. He is set to graduate from Everest College next year with a degree in criminal justice, which he hopes will help him pursue his dream of joining the Los Angeles Police Department as an officer.

In addition to George, the Leone Stars were represented by midfielders Ibrahim Kebe, Christian King, Kedrick George, Mohammad Kamara, Osman Kamara and Mickey Rickey; defenders Alimamy Kanu, Abdul Kamara, Tejan Kallou, Miguel Alvarez, and Francis Sesay; forward Salieu Fofana; strikers Adrian Hamilton and Albert Sapateh; goalie Joe Hernandez and team managers Tejan Sesay and Thomas Kamara.

Midfielder Christian King was named MVP for scoring 3 goals throughout the tournament all while playing with a serious knee injury.

The Leone Stars defeated Ethiopia's L.A. Stars (0-2), Togo's Black Hawks (0-1) in first round matchups before advancing to the quarterfinals to face Nigeria's Black Eagles (0-2). In the semifinals, the Leone Stars sealed their place in the finals by taking out Ghana's Africa United team 5-4 in penalties.

The Leone Stars was formed in 1990 by a group of Sierra Leonean's living in Los Angeles. The team plays in various local, state, and national tournaments, including the Sierra Leone Old Athletics Association's (SLOAA) annual soccer tournament that assembles Sierra Leaoneans from all across the United States.

Sulaiman Turay, 33, an electrical engineer and former member of the Leone Stars before retiring due to an injury, was at Saturday's tournament to cheer on his team.

"We've never played in a tournament of this magnitude," Turay explained. "It was amazing to just be a part of it. We didn't care about winning, we just wanted to be a part of it and to represent our country."

Turay joined the Leone Stars in 1996, two years after he moved to Los Angeles from Freetown. He is considered a big brother to many of the team's current members, whose ages range from 17 to 29.