Philly’s very own World Cup — the International Unity Cup — is back

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney was the first to draw teams on June 22, 2021, at the annual bracket determination draw for the International Unity Cup soccer tournament taking place in Philadelphia in fall 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney was the first to draw teams on June 22, 2021, at the annual bracket determination draw for the International Unity Cup soccer tournament taking place in Philadelphia in fall 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The International Unity Cup — a World Cup-style soccer tournament featuring teams from across Philadelphia — is returning for its fifth year, after being postponed in 2020 due to COVID-19.

“With the return of the Unity Cup this year, we are reminded of all things that unite us despite our perceived differences,” Mayor Kenney said at an event kicking off festivities on Tuesday. “We’ve all been through an extremely difficult year and this tournament is an opportunity to come together and move us forward to better times.”

Jim Kenney, Mayor of Philadelphia, gave remarks on June 22, 2021, at the annual bracket determination draw for the International Unity Cup soccer tournament taking place in Philadelphia in fall 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Mayor Kenney helped launch the Unity Cup in 2016, as a way of uniting diverse communities across the city around their shared love of soccer.

“Everyone — I mean, everyone — knows Philadelphia is passionate about sports,” Kenney said. “We’re also passionate about supporting and celebrating the communities that make us one amazing city. The Unity Cup is a great way to showcase the thriving immigrant communities of Philadelphia and the world-class athleticism that exists here.”

12 year-old Andrew Boligitz, a soccer fan from Philadelphia’s Fox Chase neighborhood, drew the last bracket of teams for the 2021 International Unity Cup. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

This year, the event is hosting 52 teams — up from 32 in 2016 — each of which represents their country of origin. The countries represented this year span five continents and over 100 languages, City Representative Sheila Hess said.

The Unity Cup, and Tuesday’s launch event, have been made possible, Kenney said, thanks to Philadelphia recently hitting its 70% vaccination milestone (meaning 70% of Philadelphians have received at least one shot). He added that Unity Cup events will serve as a venue for continued vaccine outreach, offering both onsite clinics and information about the vaccines.

But Philadelphia also has another reason for touting the Unity Cup — bolstering its bid to be one of the cities to host matches for the 2026 World Cup.

David Cohen, Chair of Philadelphia’s 2026 World Cup Bid Committee, gave remarks on June 22, 2021, at the annual bracket determination draw for the International Unity Cup soccer tournament taking place in Philadelphia in fall 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“The Unity Cup adds to our compelling soccer story,” said David Cohen, the chair of Philadelphia 2026, the city’s World Cup bid committee. “It’s another example of why Philadelphia is a perfect choice to be one of the 10 U.S. cities to host matches for the FIFA world cup in 2026.”

Kenney and other officials wrapped up the launch event with an official drawing to decide the 13 groups that will compete in this year’s Unity Cup. Each group features four teams, each drawn from one of four categories: the top 13 finishers from 2019, African countries, European countries, and a hodge-podge of countries spanning Asia, the Caribbean, Central America, South America, and the Middle East.

Excited soccer fans take photos of the 2021 International Unity Cup brackets at the annual team draw on June 22, 2021, at Philadelphia’s Lloyd House Recreation Center. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Here are the 13 qualifying groups:

Group A:
Ivory Coast
Ghana
Germany
Argentina

Group B:
Sierra Leone
Mauritania
Italy
Guatemala

Group C:
Ukraine
Kenya
Albania
Trinidad

Group D:
Israel
Poland
Cameroon
Haiti

Group E: 
Chile
Guinea
Greece
Liberia

Group F:
Venezuela
England
Mali
United States

Group G:
Mexico
Sudan
France
Belize

Group H:
Puerto Rico
Bosnia
Nigeria
Colombia

Group I:
Brazil
DR Congo
Lithuania
South Korea

Group J:
Palestine
Romania
Senegal
Honduras

Group K:
Peru
Wales
Morocco
Ireland

Group L:
Jamaica
Gambia
Belarus
Vietnam

Group M:
India
Turkey
Ethiopia
Burkina Faso

Philadelphia is making a bid to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“The team to watch has to be three-time defending champions Liberia,” said Peter Andrews, managing editor of the Philly Soccer Page. “The rest of the field will have them in their sights.”

The Unity Cup will kick off on August 27.

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