Annual Unity Cup kicks off to unite immigrant communities in Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) — Philadelphia’s annual Unity Cup got underway Friday night.

Ivory Coast won the inaugural Unity Cup championship in 2016. On Friday they played Portugal, a new team added to the cup this year.

“It’s a language no matter where you’re from,” said Seydou Ba, who plays for the Ivory Coat.

Each country’s national anthem was played, followed by the Stars and Stripes.

“We’re like family over here and I’m very happy to be here,” said Portugal coach Alex Souza.

Even if the players don’t speak the same language, they all connect on the field.

“Football connects everyone around the world, and in Philadelphia we can be segmented at times, and immigrant communities in particular can be on one island,” said Bill Salvatore, assistant programs officer at Parks and Recreation for the City of Philadelphia and the Unity Cup -Director.

The city’s Parks and Rec Department hosts the international soccer tournament to unite immigrant communities around Philadelphia. In the 6th year, 48 countries are now represented – that’s around 1,200 players.

“It’s just a great feeling to meet people from different countries, very good people that you never thought you would meet until this happened,” said Elsion Pajollari from Northeast Philadelphia, who plays for Albania .

Pajollari, an Albanian immigrant, plays for his home country. He brought his young son who showed that football is a big part of European culture.

Ilir Cepani handed Albanian kits to the team on Friday and said he could relate.

“Just to make it feel like you know, you play the only sport that we grew up and we know, I mean, it’s just a dream for us,” Cepani said.

The tournament is modeled after the 2026 World Cup, which will be held in Philly.

“When FIFA came we undoubtedly highlighted the Unity Cup and we really think it was something that brought the 2026 World Cup here,” said Salvatore.

Portugal won the game and scored the first and only goal.

Athletes play for the country they come from or have a connection to. The final is scheduled to be played at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday, October 8th.

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