Eryk Tylek has played football since he was a little kid in Poland. So have June Hutchinson, from Trinidad and Tobago, and Emmanuel Blackie, from Liberia.
Now, they play together in Philadelphia and have to call it soccer, as the word football in the United States was already taken by that other sport.
But whatever the name, their passion for the sport hasn't changed. For many immigrants like them, soccer is more than just a game; it's a way to preserve their culture, to make friends, and to fit into a new society.
"Everybody understands the game. It's the one thing everybody really has in common," said Hutchinson, 29, an engineer who was born in Trinidad and Tobago and raised in Miami.
He plays defense for KS Cracovia, the team Tylek founded two years ago with Polish and American friends. The team now has members from 10 countries. It plays Saturdays on the fields at Pennypack Park in Northeast Philadelphia as part of an amateur league called Casa Soccer.
A nonprofit organization run by volunteers, Casa Soccer rents the fields and hires certified referees. It began in 2006 with six teams and now has 36, playing in four leagues.
According to a recent survey, nearly 40 percent of the players are from abroad, said Eric Wirth, 26, Casa Soccer's president. "Foreigners tend to appreciate the game. It makes them feel a little more [at] home."
Aside from the Saturday games, Tylek, 30, plays soccer on Sunday nights and, sometimes, during the week. But playing for KS Cracovia tests more than his ball skills and field savvy. Indeed, the transient lives of many of his foreign-born players test his organizational prowess.
"We've lost half of the team for different reasons last year, so we had to draft people we knew from other teams," he said.
In their twice-a-week practices, at a playground in Northeast Philadelphia, it's not uncommon to hear pieces of conversation in Spanish, Polish, or African languages. Sometimes language barriers make it hard to call plays and coordinate team tactics, he said, but for the most part, it's manageable.
For the Liberian-born Blackie, 21, a striker, hanging out with teammates has helped him improve his English. He was drafted by Tylek's team after one team member met him at a park in a pickup game.
"I'm getting to know more people. It helps me to adjust to the culture," said Blackie, who emigrated from Liberia six years ago with his grandmother, sister and one cousin.
When KS Cracovia stepped on the field on a recent Saturday morning at Pennypack Park, a game involving a team called the All Stars had just ended. All Stars lost, 3-1. But, as the team members took off their spikes, they laughed and made jokes, as if they had just won.
"We don't look like we lost because this is part of the fun. It's a very social thing," said Eddie Mensah, 36, a team member from Ghana.
There wasn't a single American-born player on the field for the All Stars - the only U.S. native on the roster couldn't play that weekend. The team was its own United Nations, with players from Ghana, Mauritania, Barbados, El Salvador, and Senegal.
Beyond its obvious social aspects, soccer boosts dreams for these foreigners - dreams of glory.
Archyn Brew-Butler, 29, a Ghanese Web developer who used to play for Temple University, now hopes to be given a shot at trying out for Philadelphia's new Major League Soccer team, the Union.
"This is a good place to send scouts when they start to look for players," Brew-Butler said of the Pennypack fields. He went for L.A. Galaxy tryouts last season and is the All Stars' main striker.
Professional soccer also has a place in Sacko Mahady's dreams, but he doesn't have much time for athletic fantasies at the moment. Having emigrated from Mauritania in 2006 after running away from ethnic tensions between blacks and Arabs in his country, Mahady, 28, works two jobs to make ends meet - as a cook at a snack bar from the morning until 2 p.m., and as a hotel valet in Center City from 3 to 11 p.m. In addition to that, the All Stars defender finds time to play in two other teams on the weekends.
"I work in two jobs, play in three different teams, and sometimes I go from the practices to the parties," Mahady said with a smile, putting his jersey and spikes in the trunk of his Chevrolet Cavalier, just before heading off for the hotel again. "I just don't know how I can do it."
Casa Soccer's foreign influence is easily identifiable from its teams' names, many of which have been borrowed from the major football leagues around the world. There's AC Milan (Italy), Arsenal (England), and Gremio (Brazil). Other names allude to national origins, like the Vietnamese United. Some simply extol the mixture of nationalities, like the United Nations and the All Stars.
"We are the All Stars because we are the best of all the world," Brew-Butler said.
Although soccer is still a minor sport in the United States compared with baseball, basketball, and that other "football," Philadelphia's foreign-born players see things changing. Tylek left Poland when he was 12 and remembers how frustrated he grew because he couldn't play as much as he used to play in his country.
"After high school, I stopped playing for a while because there was nowhere to really play," he said. "It wasn't as popular as it is now."
Soon, rising along the banks of the Delaware in Chester, will be a gleaming new stadium for the Philadelphia Union. "I like the way it's going now," Tylek said. "Philadelphia has a team, the Union - that's amazing. When I came over, there was nothing."