Los Angeles is one of the United States’ soccer hubs.
The city has been home to some of the country’s biggest soccer moments, including hosting the 1994 World Cup final, and that fervor for the sport trickles all the way down to the grassroots level.
The passion for soccer is embodied in MLS’ most successful team, the Galaxy, college soccer powerhouse UCLA, incredible high school and club teams, and even AYSO. Anywhere you turn, there’s a game going on somewhere.
But what about those less organized? No league, no structure, just a bunch of people who show up and want to play? LA has that too, with the city also playing host to some of the best pickup soccer around.
When soccer is embedded in the culture, pickup comes with it. That desire for a game, anywhere and at any time, starts at a young age. That was the case for LA Galaxy’s Oscar Sorto growing up in the city.
“You gather up with your homies,” Sorto said about the game as a kid. “You just tell your mom ‘I’ll be back in 10 minutes or three hours’ and we played pickup from like 5:30 to 10p.m. at night.”
So what are some of the city’s pickup hot spots for where the next Oscar Sorto is currently playing the beautiful game?
Santa Monica Airport Field
Nestled into the Westside is a turf field that serves as a gathering points for the sport. It can be tough to get a pickup game going there because it also hosts very popular adults leagues, but early in the mornings, and sometimes in the afternoons, you can find a great game. Some of the regulars have played there for years and grew up in Los Angeles, while others recently moved to the city and some even learned the game as kids in another country before settling down in the City of Angels. Bradford Jamieson IV used to be one of those regulars before signing with the Galaxy and he still calls it his favorite spot for pickup in LA.
Santa Monica Beach soccer fields
Not too far away from the Airport Field is another home for some great pickup. The fields tend to be smaller and you won’t find any 11v11 here, but you can smell the ocean and, on hot days, the breeze can be a godsend. If you want to meld the beach life with LA’s love for The Beautiful Game, there is nowhere better. Plus, it’s almost got a pickup game going and you might even find a former Galaxy or U.S. international there at any time.
Playa Vista Sports Park
It’s not easy to find the Playa Vista Sports Park because it sits in an office park, but it’s not far from LAX so the location is central and there is almost always a good pickup game going on. The field isn’t full sized, but it makes for a great 7v7 game and there are midsize goals, not to mention lines, so it’s a good setup. You’ll often find a collection of people from Italy and Greece playing there and trying to figure out what language everyone is speaking makes for a nice second game to go along with your soccer. Just be prepared for a tough tackle or 12. They don’t take it easy.
Before Jose Villarreal pulled on a Galaxy jersey, he was developing his skills in pickup games at Aviation Park in Redondo Beach. The turf field isn’t too far from the Westside or the South Bay and is ringed by a track where people often run, so be careful with your wayward shots. There are adult leagues there in the evenings and for parts of weekends so it’s not always easy to get some field time, but the quality is high and you can get anything from 5v5 to 7v7 to 11v11 depending on the day.
Vista Hermosa might have the best view of any soccer field in North America. Nestled just North of downtown Los Angeles, the park has two turf fields right next to each other that are in use all day long. Sometimes they are reserved, kicking the pickup players off, but there’s still plenty of time to catch a game. Just be ready to run a lot because full-field pickup isn’t rare and games can go on for more than an hour. If you’re not in shape, you will be feeling it.
It may not look like much from the outside, but once you walk in the building that looks like a warehouse, you find offices, art and one of the coolest spots for futsal around. Urban Futsal has a SportCourt surface, permanent goals and walls that are adorned with incredible paintings. Sitting on the edge of Koreatown, there may not be a cooler place to play in Los Angeles, and you better have some skill because the 5v5 games on the small court mean that there is not a lot of time or space. But if you’re looking to sharpen your touch and play with some people whose dribbling will mesmerize you, check in on Thursday nights for some wicked pickup.
USC Campus Fields
Space and fields can be hard to come by when you get closer to downtown, but thanks to USC, there is always a chance to get a game with the city’s skyline as the setting. The turf surface is right in the middle of campus and you can even hear the Trojans’ football team practicing next door, but as long as you’re there before the intramural games squeeze you out at night, playing some pickup won’t be a problem. The games are filled with students from around the world, along with a sprinkling of local players. It makes for a great game, and it’s where Sorto played growing up.
Goals Soccer Center at South Gate Park
Think it’s tough to find fields to play on? Head to Goals Soccer Center at South Gate Park and feast your eyes upon 11 (!) gorgeous soccer fields. The turf surfaces are in good shape and you can often find a good 7v7 game or going on there. You know, or five games. The fields are sometimes in use for leagues, so it’s possible to show up at the wrong time and not be able to get a game, but the odds are in your favor. Just keep those legs tight. Everyone will be looking to nutmeg you.
Tucked in between the gorgeous lake, trees and walking paths of MacArthur Park is a soccer field. It’s oddly shaped, but that doesn’t hurt the soccer, which is played at a break neck speed. The games start early in the morning and continue throughout the day. You’ll find a lot of Salvadorans in games down there so use a break in play as a chance to reminisce over the Galaxy topping Metapan in the 2013-14 CONCACAF Champions League.
South Pasadena High
Playing at a high school is tough because field time is so limited, but there might not be a more unique game in LA as the one at South Pasadena High on Saturday mornings. The age of the players skews a bit older, but don’t get caught thinking the quality isn’t sky high. A handful of the regulars say they played professionally in Thailand and, while that cannot be confirmed, their stories and skill will make you believe them.
There might not be a better city in the country for soccer than Los Angeles and the beauty of the sport is that you can play when you’re five years old to when you’re 65 years and older. The game is everywhere, you just have to lace up your boots and get out there.
Take it from Oscar Sorto.
“We’ll play pickup soccer in the streets, in a park where it says no soccer, they’ll break the laws to play soccer.”