Annual Unity Cup kicks off to unite immigrant communities in Philadelphia

"It's one language, no matter where you are from," said Seydou Ba, who plays for the Ivory Coat.

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Friday, August 5, 2022 7:49PM
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Philadelphia's annual Unity Cup kicked off Friday. Even though the players do not speak the same language, they all connect on the soccer field.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Philadelphia's annual Unity Cup kicked off Friday night.

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

"It's one language, no matter where you are from," said Seydou Ba, who plays for the Ivory Coat.

Each country's national anthem was played, followed by the Star Spangled Banner.

"Over here we're like a family and I'm very glad to be here," said Alex Souza, Portugal's Coach.

Even though the players do not speak the same language, they all connect on the field.

"Soccer connects all people across the entire world, and in Philadelphia, we can be segmented at times and especially immigrant communities you can be on an island," said Bill Salvatore, deputy commissioner for programs at Parks and Recreation for the City of Philadelphia and the Unity Cup director.

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

"Just to meet people from different counties is just a great feeling, very good people that you never thought you would meet until this happened," said Elsion Pajollari, of Northeast Philadelphia, who play for Albania.

Pajollari, an Albanian immigrant, is playing for his home country. He brought his little son with him showing how soccer is a huge part of European culture.

Ilir Cepani handed out Albanian jerseys to the team Friday, saying he can relate.

"Just to bring that feeling of you know playing the only sport that we grew up with that we know of I mean it's just a dream for us," said Cepani.

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

"Without a doubt when FIFA came in we highlighted the Unity Cup and we really think it's something that drove the World Cup to be here in 2026," said Salvatore.

Portugal won the game, scoring the first and only goal.

The athletes play for the country they're from or have a connection to. The final game is set to be played on Saturday, October 8 at Lincoln Financial Field.