Philly’s Premier League weekend just a sample of more top soccer to come ahead of 2026 FIFA World Cup

The Linc hosted over 105,000 soccer fans last weekend. There will be plenty more elite competition and community outreach to build momentum for 2026’s big event.

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Fans fill the stands at Lincoln Financial Field for the Premier League's Summer Series

American supporters of Premier League teams, such as Brentford, got to witness their favorite teams in action over the weekend.(Cory Sharber/WHYY)

This past weekend, Lincoln Financial Field briefly set aside its familiar label as the home of the Philadelphia Eagles to host the opening weekend of the first-ever English Premier League Summer Series tournament in the United States.

With the Linc set to be one of the 16 host cities in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico for the upcoming FIFA Men’s World Cup, Philadelphians got an early taste of the global soccer coming from now till 2026, on and off the pitch.

Over 105,000 soccer fans traveled from around the nation and the globe to watch three matches over the course of two days.

Fans wore kits from teams around the world during the Premier League Summer Series festivities at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday, June 23, 2023. (Nick Kariuki/WHYY)

“I’ve been a fan of [Fulham F.C.] since probably like 2008, 2009,” Cam Robinson said Sunday. Robinson lives in Philadelphia and is a member of the team’s supporter group in the city. “I thought I wouldn’t be able to see them until I flew across the Atlantic … So to find out that they’re in my home and down the street, it’s like a dream come true.”

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Cam Robinson poses for a photo
Cam Robinson said getting to see Fulham F.C. in Philadelphia was ”a dream come true.” (Cory Sharber/WHYY)

The Premier League Summer Series launched with an opening match between Chelsea and Brighton & Hove Albion Saturday night. The attendance reached 65,128 and the green and silver seats of the stadium were obscured mostly by the blue home jerseys of both sides, with a significantly greater proportion being Chelsea fans, unsurprisingly.

Some supporters of the London giants may have been disappointed that Hershey-native and U.S. men’s national team star Christian Pulisic had left the club for AC Milan in June. But the chance to see the other global superstars of the most-watched league in the U.S. and most of the world live was enough to almost reach the stadium’s capacity. Chelsea came back from a goal down to win 4-3 against a Brighton side that finished with 10 men on the field due to a red card.

Scenes from the Newcastle vs. Aston Villa match.
Newcastle United midfielder Miguel Almirón splits three Aston Villa defenders during Sunday’s closing match of the Premier League Summer Series. (Cory Sharber/WHYY)

Sunday’s doubleheader was a London derby between Fulham and Brentford, followed by Newcastle United against Birmingham-based Aston Villa. Though none of those teams matched the supporter strength of Chelsea, they all finished in the top 10 of the 20-team Premier League. So exciting matches were expected, and they sure did deliver.

Fulham beat out Brentford 4-3, thanks in part to Harry Wilson’s stunning opening goal. Newcastle United and Aston Villa finished in a physical 3-3 draw, as the team’s supporters on either end of the stadium competed to out-chant each other and voice their displeasure at every call that didn’t go their side’s way.

Brentford forward Yoane Wissa scores the team's first goal during the Premier League Summer Series match on Sunday.
Brentford forward Yoane Wissa scores the team’s first goal during the Premier League Summer Series match on Sunday. (Cory Sharber/WHYY)

Nial Ledbury, one of five university students who traveled all the way from Newcastle, said that the group had decided two days prior to book a flight for Sunday morning to catch the game, and they had flights to leave the same night.

Their other plans during their brief break between long-distance international flights? Try to “lick the Liberty Bell,” Ledbury joked.

5 soccer fans take a photo at the stadium.
University students (from left) Gabe Unsworth, Ben Dover, Niall Ledbury, and Oliver Carr flew into Philadelphia from the U.K. just for Newcastle United’s game against Aston Villa. They booked flights back for the same day. (Courtesy of Gabe Unsworth)

Sunday saw a smaller attendance than the day before — 40,232 for both matches combined — but there was a greater variety of soccer jerseys in the stands and around the stadium. Almost every Premier League team in recent seasons was represented. Popular options like the U.S. and Mexico national team jerseys, Argentina, Barcelona, England, the Philadelphia Union, Liverpool, and Manchester United were mixed in with some more obscure options like Eritrea, “Ted Lasso’s” AFC Richmond, and even some designs from Philly’s recent Icarus Cup soccer festival.

Fans holding the Eritrean flag
Fesh Bahlna (left) and Biniam Meles were part of a group of Eritrean fans who traveled from the DMV area to support Newcastle United’s Swedish-Eritrean forward Alexander Isak. (Nick Kariuki/WHYY)

The English proceedings kept some Philly touches. Sixers in-arena host Christian Crosby hyped up the crowd when there was no play happening. The referee’s whistle to kick off the matches had to compete with Bill Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now” blaring on the stadium speakers. Eagles announcer John Heffernan was on hand to give match updates, which some of the players found entertaining.

“Very enthusiastic in his statements,” said Brighton midfielder Adam Lallana. “It’s very American, and I quite enjoyed it really.”

Brighton & Hove Albion midfielder Adam Lallana speaks with members of the media after his sides’s match against Chelsea on Saturday, July 22, 2023 (Cory Sharber/WHYY)

The home of the Eagles has showcased the round-ball version of football many times before the summer series. In fact, the first ticketed sporting event was a friendly between Manchester United and Barcelona on Aug. 4, 2003.

Since then, the Linc has put on more European club friendlies, served as a temporary home for the Philadelphia Union during its inaugural season in MLS, and hosted matches of the 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the 2017 SheBelieves Cup, the Copa América Centenario 2016, and the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup final between Mexico and Jamaica.

The weekend visits offered more than a spectacle of relatively affordable top-flight international play for local soccer fans. Brighton and Chelsea participated in soccer camps around Philadelphia, teaching local children skills and giving them a chance to meet players they would have only seen on TV or in the FIFA video game.

A youth coach with Premier League side Brighton & Hove Albion leads a group discussion during a soccer camp at the U90 Soccer in the Bok Building on Friday, June, 2023. (Nick Kariuki/WHYY)

“Just seeing these players that are playing at a top level over in Europe and just having them come here and show kids that it’s not just about soccer, it’s about giving back to the community — And even a community isn’t a part of them. So the impact is going to be tremendous for them,” said Jonathan Mendoza, soccer coach at Southwark School in South Philadelphia, during Brighton’s visit to a Premier League camp at U90 Soccer Center at the Bok Building on Friday, cohosted by local group Soccer Shots.

Children play on the indoor soccer field at the Bok Building’s U90 Soccer Center during a soccer clinic organized by the Premier League, Brighton & Hove Albion, and Soccer Shots. (Nick Kariuki/WHYY)

“I think bringing Chelsea … can only promote the game for the better,” said Ylber Mezani, soccer coach at Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School, where Chelsea players visited Monday. “Especially with the World Cup coming. It’s an amazing achievement for the city to bring the World Cup here.”

Between now and 2026, Philly will continue to see its appetite for the beautiful game whetted with more top-flight competition in the coming weeks, months, and years till the World Cup. Shortly after the Chelsea-Brighton game ended on Saturday night, the Union won its first game of the Leagues Cup, a mid-season competition between U.S., Mexican, and Canadian clubs. They’ll face Querétaro F.C. Wednesday night.

Brighton & Hove Albion forward Danny Welbeck looks over a child’s soccer kit design during a soccer camp at the U90 Soccer in the Bok Building on Friday, June 21, 2023. (Nick Kariuki/WHYY)

The Union may also soon get swept into the media frenzy that is global superstar Lionel Messi’s MLS debut season with Inter Miami, if both sides advance to the semifinals on Aug. 15. That match would definitely be a home game for Philadelphia because of the team’s superior regular season record.

As for the coming years, venues for the Copa America in 2024, an international competition between South America’s best national teams, have not yet been announced.

Lincoln Financial Field
A sign featuring Hershey, Pa. native Christian Pulisic promoting the 2026 FIFA World Cup hangs in front of Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field during the Premier League Summer Series. (Cory Sharber/WHYY)

In July, FIFA announced that the U.S. would also host an expanded 32-team Club World Cup in 2025. The previously annual format of the competition will shift to a four-year cycle and will replace the Confederations Cup, which had previously served as a warm-up tournament for the World Cup. Dates and venues have yet to be confirmed.

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All of these upcoming and potential events are great for established soccer fans and the soccer-curious, but it’s the pairing with community events that will bring outreach to those who do not know yet about the huge global sporting event that’s on the way.

The Premier League Summer Series trophy was on display for children to pose next to during a soccer camp at the U90 Soccer in the Bok Building on Friday, June, 2023. (Nick Kariuki/WHYY)

“I think it’s imperative that we make sure that folks and neighborhoods who might not necessarily traditionally play soccer understand the significance of what’s taking place,” Philadelphia City Councilmember Isaiah Thomas said at Monday’s Chelsea soccer camp. “So the more we can go into communities and neighborhoods where soccer might not necessarily be the most popular sport and expose them to what a great sport it actually is, and the historic event that’s coming to Philadelphia pretty soon, the better.”

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