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finding the game

Across two dozen countries—from back alleys to remote beaches to the roofs of skyscrapers—an eye-opening journey into the heart of soccer

Every country has a different term for it: In the United States it’s “pickup.” In Trinidad it’s “taking a sweat.” In Brazil it’s “pelada” (literally “naked”). It’s the other side of soccer, those spontaneous matches played away from the bright lights and manicured fields—the game for anyone, anywhere.

At sixteen, Gwendolyn Oxenham was the youngest Division I athlete in NCAA history, a starter and leading goal-scorer for Duke. At twenty, she graduated, the women’s professional soccer league folded, and her career was over. In Finding the Game, Oxenham, along with her boyfriend and two friends, chases the part of the game that outlasts a career. They bribe their way into a Bolivian prison, bet shillings on a game with moonshine brewers in Kenya, play with women in hijab on a court in Tehran—and discover what the world looks like when you wander down side streets, holding on to a ball.

reviews

"Any reader inclined to enjoy energetic writing about soccer will love this book. But Oxenham has brought to this extraordinary project not only a player’s enthusiasm, but also a thoughtful writer’s sense of humor and eye for the magnificently unlikely moment that takes her endeavor beyond the game...Finding the Game suggests powerfully, if playfully, that we are connected. All of us. In that suggestion, there is hope....A joyous antidote to the newspaper's front page."

NPR's Bill Littlefield, "Only a Game"

"Engrossing...Nobody who reads “Finding the Game’’ will doubt that these stories are precious and necessary."

The Boston Globe

“I knew Gwendolyn Oxenham and her group had made a terrific documentary film, but it takes completely different skills to write a compelling book. She has achieved that feat here, fashioning a journey narrative about pickup soccer that’s filled with the details of a seasoned observer/adventurer. I enjoyed it from start to finish.”

Grant Wahl, Sports Illustrated senior writer

“It's not just an adventure that all of us would have liked to have had. Oxenham can write, too. A brave account of soccer as a universal language.”

Simon Kuper, New York Times bestselling author of Soccernomics

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