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Since 2016, the Philadelphia International Unity Cup has offered the city’s many immigrant communities a chance to celebrate their origins with their own local soccer World Cup.
This year, women finally got the chance to compete.
On the back of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, eight teams kicked off the inaugural Unity Cup women’s tournament at the James Ramp Memorial Recreation Center in Northeast Philadelphia’s Fox Chase neighborhood.
“It’s an honor to be a part of the first Unity Cup for the women’s team,” said Sofia Ross, a 20-year-old from Northeast Philadelphia who played for Argentina. “I feel like I need to represent my country, because I’m really proud of our last [men’s] World Cup win, and hopefully I can do the same here for the women’s team.”
Sophia Ross was proud to represent Argentina at the first-ever Philadelphia International Unity Cup women’s tournament.(Nick Kariuki/WHYY)
The tournament pitted Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Germany, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and the United States against each other, split into two groups vying for four knockout round spots.
For Brianna Banks, captain and coach of the U.S. team, as well as a coach and intervention and prevention coordinator for Kensington Soccer Club, the opportunity to represent her country added to the excitement of competing.
“It’s just a really great experience for everyone to play for their country and represent where they come from,” Banks said “I’m happy to be representing U.S.A., and to put on for this country.”
Brianna Banks (top row, second from right) poses with other members of the U.S. women’s team after their victory over Honduras at the Philadelphia International Unity Cup. (Nick Kariuki/WHYY)
Banks also appreciated how the tournament was helping to elevate the level of competition of women’s soccer in the area.
“I actually went out to watch a few of the men’s games, and it was really, really good and competitive. I loved it,” she said. “It brung a lot of people together and I was always hoping that they would do it for the women, because the women play in leagues as well, but it’s not as competitive as the men’s games are here in Philadelphia.”
Players from Colombia and Argentina jostle for possession. (Nick Kariuki/WHYY)
A first of its kind in the nation, the Unity Cup began in 2016. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney conceived of it as a way for the city to highlight immigrant communities through a common passion for the world’s most popular sport.
“We say it all the time, Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods. And it’s 100% true,” said Bill Salvatore, the Unity Cup director and the deputy director of programming with Philadelphia Parks & Recreation. “But within those neighborhoods are really diverse pockets of individuals that have great food, and great culture, and great spirit. And we’re very, very blessed to be able to shine a light upon that.”