Philadelphia International Unity Cup 2017

Article by Divy Agnihotri, GPA Ambassador

Sport, the great equalizer, is the language that can permeate through any perceived boundary. An affinity for a certain club, team, or sport brings people from the furthest corners of the world together. This idea of harmony despite difference is particularly why Mayor Jim Kenney and the city of Philadelphia launched the Philadelphia International Unity Cup.

Inaugurated in 2016, the Unity Cup is a World Cup-style football (soccer) tournament. Held over a few months during autumn, the love of football unites the immensely diverse communities of Philadelphia through a competitive, yet friendly chase for the Unity Cup. The 2017 tourney began with 48 teams, representing countries around the globe, even featuring a Refugee team with players and coaches who’ve escaped plight and conflict in their native countries. Through the first 80 matches, teams vied for position in what would dwindle down to a bracket of the top 16 teams. Though there would be eight upsets leading up to the Championship match, top-seeded Sierra Leone found its way to the final match to play against 19th-ranked Liberia, while third-ranked Puerto Rico would face 13th-ranked Jamaica for the Bronze medal.

Championship Day festivities, which took place in the home of the Philadelphia Eagles, the Lincoln Financial Field Stadium, did not disappoint. In the early afternoon, attendees enjoyed a Youth match potentially highlighting Philadelphia’s next big soccer star. Next, the Bronze Medal match served as a great appetizer for the night. Despite a scoreless first-half, Jamaica would pull out the win by securing two goals against Puerto Rico in the second-half. After the Jamaican players were awarded their medals and escorted off the field, event-goers witnessed an incredible moment in the lives of 27 individuals as they became naturalized citizens of the United States of America. Soon after began the Parade of Nations, which featured all the tournament-participating teams. The final two teams to arrive from the tunnel were Sierra Leone and Liberia, the main the event.

Undeterred by the chilling temperatures, fans began the match with great excitement and cheer. The players, on the other hand, seemed to be dealing with the frigid cold with difficulty, as displayed by a slow first-half and several moments of injury. However, in the closing moments of the first-half, Sierra Leone was able to notch a goal, which sent the patiently waiting crowd into frenzy. The goal would not prove lethal as Liberia quickly tied up the score in the second-half. Liberia fed off the energy of the goal and their fans and managed to get another goal, taking the lead. At this point, the game was favoring Liberia and the competitive juices were flowing as evidenced by a few quarrels between teams. Liberia sealed the deal with a go-ahead score in the final ten minutes or so, and secured the prized Unity Cup with a score of 3-1. After final buzzer, both teams, in spite of on-field flares, shook hands and congratulated each other on their efforts, in an act of Brotherly Love and unity!