For Gift Ndam, creating a semi-professional soccer team meant the closing of a life circle.
Born in Nigeria, Ndam spent three years in a refugee camp in the Benin Republic. “In the refugee camp we would kick anything, rocks, things that we made out of soccer balls, you name it,” he said. Through playing soccer as a young boy, Ndam saw a means to survive the difficulties and trauma of war.
“That was my safe space.”
Through the game of soccer and his faith, he was reborn.
Give God a Gift
“I was given a gift,” Ndam said. “Soccer drove me to God or God used it to save my life.”
For Ndam, whose full name, Subenari Gift, means ‘give God a gift,’ soccer and faith have gone hand in hand ever since. “Faith is hoping for things that are unseen, and for me, soccer is going to bring the unseen to me,” Ndam said.
And Ndam, a soccer-faithful, uses the sport to inspire others. “My sermon is using the game of soccer to reach, meet people where they are and to draw them closer to God,” he said.
With longtime friend and ex-MLS player Kwadwo Poku, Ndam realized his dream of creating and coaching a semi-professional soccer team, “a team that helps young people, helps whoever to have hope, to aspire, to dare to dream.”
Partnering with the Beaman Automotive Group, Beaman United Football Club was born.
United under one game
“I personally think in Murfreesboro, on the outskirts of Nashville there is still a market for a small, low-league team to play in,” Ndam said. The team, based in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, provides opportunities for players, young and old, who can’t play professionally but who still have something to offer to the game.
He called old friends, got in touch with ex-pros, and recruited players out of college. In its inaugural season, Beaman became a family of players from 19 countries speaking 10 languages.
“Mixing all the different cultures, it just adds to the fun it adds to the personality of the team,” said Brandon Gonzalez, Beaman midfielder born in Mexico City and raised in Washington state. “We have people from every continent you can imagine on our team which actually plays a good part for our team as everyone brings something different to the table and a different style of play.”
Yet despite their differences in culture, language, and style of play, they unite on the pitch.
“The game for me is a beautiful game,” said Ndam. “It’s not hard to see once you watch us playing the beauty in the mixture of the personalities that we have on our team.”
Despite their differences, when it comes to soccer, they all want the same thing: to win, said Spanish goalkeeper Alex Rodriguez.
Ndam brought them together and convinced everybody to play the same way, said Rodriguez.
“It doesn’t matter who joins, our goal is to be a family, to love each other well and work off of each other, and be there for each other on and off the field,” said Ndam. “We just happen to all love playing soccer and all love wanting to win.”
The rise of the underdog
In less than 12 months, Beaman United established itself as one of the best in the UPSL, the fourth tier of the U.S. Soccer pyramid, winning seven matches and reaching the national championship final.
“It’s unheard of,” said Ndam. The upstart team upset legacy teams, better-funded sides with deeper rosters.
“There were teams who have been in the UPSL years before we come in. They haven’t even made that even close,” said Poku, who’s played in many professional leagues including the NASL, USL and MLS.
The emerging Beaman recently ranked No. 20 in the nation out of nearly 400 UPSL teams. “From the beginning, we understood that there was a lot of time, effort and resources poured into this program, and we didn’t want to let anyone down,” Gonzalez said. “So from the beginning, it was a winning culture.”
For Gonzalez, Beaman meant the fulfillment of a childhood dream and played a huge role in his decision to stay in Nashville after college. “I wanted to keep playing soccer,” said Gonzalez. “Since I was a kid, you know, I have that dream of being a professional footballer.”
For Rodriguez, it meant redemption and reigniting a passion following disappointing seasons in college soccer riddled with injuries. “Beaman gave me everything I was looking for,” he said. “I’m here today because during those times I didn’t quit.”
Rodriguez returned home to Asturias, Spain after the end of his college soccer career. While celebrating New Year’s with his family, unsure about what the future held for him, he received an unexpected call from the U.S.
“When I hung up the phone with Gift, [it] was one of the happiest days of my life,” he said. “Because I was going to have the chance to come back to the U.S.”
Having never met Ndam, Rodriguez knew the risk, but the gamble quickly paid off.
Beaman reached the UPSL National Championship Final in its first season and qualified for the tournament proper of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the oldest soccer contest in the country.
“What we did this year was unthinkable,” said Rodriguez. “I will say, this season, is the best one out of all the years I’ve been playing soccer.”
For the team, it became a regular to go down a few goals at halftime to come out on top in the final minutes with breathtaking comebacks. In the National Semifinal against Queensboro FC, Beaman conceded three goals in the first 45 minutes. The knowledge and experience of Poku and ex-Nashville SC midfielder Michael Reed gave Beaman the confidence during the second half to come back, winning the match 4-3 in overtime.
In the third qualifying round of the Open Cup against Kalonji Pro-Profile, the group tied the match 4-4 in overtime and won on penalties with Poku scoring the fifth and decisive one. Having seasoned players on the roster gave Beaman the belief that it could come back, said Rodriguez.
“We came to the point that we are like a family,” Rodriguez said. “When you put a family who’s got the quality to play the game and the eagerness to win the games, you get the perfect combination.”
Falling short in the Round of 16 of the UPSL fall 2022 season against the competitive South Carolina United Heat, Beaman’s second season came to a bittersweet end. “We know both what it means to win or lose,” said Rodriguez. “We don’t want to lose ever again.”
A Cinderella story
Beaman will kick off its 2023 season in the Open Cup on March 22 against professional USL League Two side Des Moines Menace.
“They are professionals,” Rodriguez said. “We’re semi-pro, but our mindset doesn’t change of going there to win a game of football.”
When it comes to Beaman United, everything is possible, something opponents learned the hard way.
“We are the underdogs,” said Gonzalez. “It pushes us and pushes us as a unit, as we understand that in order to get the win that we’re going to have to give it that extra 20%, 30%.”
Poku knows what it takes to become an Open Cup Cinderella story. “If we do our homework right, if we train right, if we get out mindset right,” he said. “Yes, we stand a chance of winning a game of football.”
Ndam still can’t believe his eyes, thinking about his past and Beaman’s present.
“It’s unreal,” he said. “When it’s all said and done, we want to be able to look back and say ‘we were a torchlight for people that didn’t think that something like this is possible for them.’”