PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — For the second year in a row, the Philadelphia International Unity Cup attracted dozens of teams to soccer fields all over the city, but a closer look reveals the teams and fans are doing more than just winning and losing.
“I’ve played since I could walk, since I was about 2 years old,” says Zach Tanner, who played for Team Ireland. While they won their first few games, they didn’t make it to the finals, but Tanner says much of what happens at the Unity Cup is off the field.
“Philadelphia is very diverse and these types of things kind of brings everyone together because it gives everyone something to look forward to,” he says.
Teams represented 48 countries from five continents — up from 32 last year — allowing Philadelphians to show ethnic pride in their home countries.
Games took place on neighborhood fields across the city, forcing team residents and their fans to venture into areas they would not normally frequent.
“The purpose of all of this is to allow, through sport, people to feel part of the community,” said Mayor Jim Kenney. “All these individual ethnic groups really never talk to each other, now they are talking to each other.”
At the first international block party in September, the city brought in Columbian dancers, West Indian singers, and food vendors from West Africa and Mexico.
But the games are the big draws, so many young men joined teams for a chance at a dream.
“The Unity Cup is an opportunity,” says Juan Otega, who has been playing soccer since age 5 and says he was recruited to play on Teams Brazil, Argentina, and his homeland, Puerto Rico. At 27, he believes a pro soccer career is unlikely, but for younger players there is hope.
“Now they’re playing on turf fields, when they used to play on rocks over there,” he says. “Once they join a team here, they actually start taking it more serious when they get into the competition.”
“I really love it, it’s like my medicine when I feel sick,” says Emmanuel Kollie, 24, who played soccer at Syracuse University. An injury kept him off the field his senior year and out of the pros, but now he plays for Team Liberia.
“It brings a little bit of pride for me, I gotta hold it down for my country,” he says.
Pride for both the city of Philadelphia and countries around the world are visible at games both on the field and in the stands. Walk-through fan areas feels like a stroll through the United Nations, with numerous languages being spoken simultaneously.
One of the most intriguing parts of the game is what happens just before. Both Senegal and Liberia are just some of the teams who perform song and dance before they play.
“We sing our traditional song, our sago song,” says Jason Waylee, head coach of Team Liberia. They lost the championship game last year to Team Ivory Cost. Waylee says the songs build unity within the team.
“It kind of motivates them for each game they play,” he says.
Other teams, like Germany, keep their pre-game ritual simple.
“We kind of all show up,” says one player, “and then we go through our own little warm up, then we’re ready to play.”
“When you’re playing for love of country and love of this game, that’s what it’s all about,” says Bill Salvatore, director of Unity Cup.
He says pre-game rituals build team unity and the game builds bridges throughout the community.
“I just watched Italy and Jamaica kill each other for 90 minutes,” he says. “Then the games end and they’re all hugging afterwards. Guys just come together and it’s just great.”
While there are no women on the teams, their presence is felt.
“Women are allowed to play, but I’ve only actually seen one join the teams,” says Diana Ramirez who managed Team Guatemala.
She is one of the few women running things on the field and says, while the number of women who stepped up to play this year is minuscule, a look around at all the colorful flags and t-shirts shows the ladies are loving the sport.
“Sports and soccer is an international language that can bring people together,” says Miriam Enriquez, director of Philadelphia’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.
A first generation American, Enriquez identifies with many of the ladies rooting for teams represented in the Unity Cup. Like them, her loyalty is split.
“My husband’s Irish and my family is from Latin America,” she says.
“I love soccer and cricket too,” says Zapora Sely, who is representing her home country, Trinidad and Tobago, even though they don’t have a team.
“I’ll be at the championship with my red, white, and black, all the way,” she says.
The Philadelphia International Unity Cup Championship game will take place Nov. 11 at 6 p.m. at Lincoln Financial Field. Team Liberia and Team Sierra Leone will go head to head for bragging rights.
But before the ball drops, 48 countries will show pride. There is a day of events scheduled. One such event will begin after 5 p.m. on game day: the Parade of Nations.
“I think the Unity Cup is so beautiful,” says Erika Guadeloupe Nunez, a community organizer for immigrant rights. She is one of six artists hired by the Office of Arts Culture and Creative Economy and tasked with designing banners for the various countries. Nunez must design flags for eight teams.
“I was actually kind of lucky. I got Mexico, which was one of the important ones for me. I actually showed it to my dad to get his approval,” says Erika, who was born in the country.
Each artist consulted their assigned teams for the design. Nunez is creating the banner of Puerto Rico, Argentina, among others, including Myanmar.
“They showed me this dragon that is integral to their culture, along with this temple site and these flowers,” she says, “and they were like, ‘Can you translate this into a space?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah.'”
Returning artist Monna Morton focused in on the senses when designing banners.
“What are the foods like, what does it smell like, what does it look like,” she says.
Her designs for Liberia and Ivory Coast won awards; her teams went head to head in last year’s championship.
But no matter who makes it to the finals, the championship game is there to showcase the city’s diversity.
“You get an opportunity to see and taste and look at all the different cultures,” she says.
You can CLICK HERE to get free tickets for the Championship game on Nov. 11.