Inspired by World Cup ‘26, Philadelphia International Unity Cup kicks off this weekend

People play soccer on a field with the Philadelphia skyline in the background.

File photo: University of Pennsylvania students, workers and community members played pick up soccer at Penn Park on June 14, 2018. The Philadelphia Unity Cup is a weeks-long tournament that pits amateur teams representing 48 countries in a bracket modeled on the World Cup's structure. (Brad Larrison for WHYY)

For the first time, the structure of the Philadelphia International Unity Cup will mirror the way the FIFA World Cup plays out, giving more teams the opportunity to compete in the tournament’s initial knockout round.

A total of 48 teams are participating in this year’s soccer tournament, which kicks off this weekend.

“We’re doing 16 groups of three. Two teams from each group will move on to a round of 32 in the knockout round. Previous to that, in FIFA and in our tournament, we will go right to a round of 16,” said Bill Salvatore, who directs the cup for the city.

This year’s tournament, the sixth since it was started by Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration, will also feature four new teams. Angola, Portugal, Uruguay, and the Dominican Republic will all be competing for the first time.

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As usual, all of the games during the roughly eight-week tournament will be free to watch, including Friday night’s matchup between Portugal and Ivory Coast at Ramp Playground in Northeast Philadelphia.

The match starts at 7:30 p.m.

Other group stage games will be played at the South Philadelphia Supersite and Smith Playground, which is also located in South Philly.

Temple University and LaSalle University will host the quarterfinal and semifinal matches. The championship match will again be held at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles.

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The tournament wraps up October 8.

Salvatore, a deputy commissioner for Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, said the Unity Cup is a great way to experience the city’s diversity.

“From a city perspective, immigrant communities were never highly engaged prior to the Kenney administration for whatever reason. There were language access problems. There were city services problems. And I think over the last six to eight years, we’ve really made strides as a city,” said Salvatore.

This year’s unity cup starts less than two months after FIFA selected Philadelphia as a host city for the World Cup in 2026.

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