Not long before the fire, Luma had kicked Christian Jackson off the Fugees for swearing at practice. Swearing was against her rules. She had warned him once, and then when he swore again, she told him to leave and not to come back. That was how Luma ran her team. Not long after the fire, Christian showed up at the Clarkston Community Center field where the Fugees practiced, and watched quietly from behind a chain-link fence around the playing area. Under normal circumstances, Luma might have ignored him—she gave second chances, but rarely third. But Luma summoned Christian over and told him he could rejoin the team so long as he understood that he was on probation. If he swore again at practice or during a game, he was gone for good. No exceptions. Christian said he understood. This was his first game back.

Luma shouted to her players to gather around her and gave them their position assignments—Christian was told to play striker, on offense—and they took the field. Forty or so parents had gathered on the home team’s sideline to cheer on their boys, and they clapped as their sons walked onto the pitch. There was no one on the Fugees’ sideline. Most of the players came from single-parent families, and their mothers or fathers—usually mothers—stayed home on weekends to look after their other children, or else worked, because weekend shifts paid more. Few had cars to allow them to travel to soccer games anyway. Even at their home games, the Fugees rarely had anyone to cheer them on.

The referee summoned the Fugees to the line to go over their roster and to check their cleats and numbers. Luma handed him the roster, and the referee wrinkled his brow.

“If I mispronounce your name, I apologize,” he said. He ticked through the names awkwardly but respectfully. When he got hung up on a syllable, the boys would politely announce their own names, then step forward to declare their jersey numbers.

A few minutes later, a whistle sounded and the game began.

The head coach of the North Atlanta team was a screamer. From the outset, he ran back and forth on his sideline, barking commands to his players in a hoarse bellow: “Man on! Man on!” “Drop it! Drop it!” “Turn! Turn! Turn!” His words echoed over the quiet fi eld like a voice from a public address system. Luma paced silently on her side of the field and occasionally glanced over at the opposite sideline with a perturbed look on her face. She was all for instruction, but her method was to teach during practice and during the breaks. Once the whistle blew, she allowed her players to be themselves: to screw up, to take chances, and to create. All the shouting was wearing on her nerves.