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Unity Cup celebrates soccer, Philly diversity

Praise for Mayor Kenney's effort.

IN VIRTUALLY every country around the globe, outside of the United States, football - or soccer, as we more commonly know it - is the dominant sport. It's known far and wide as the "beautiful game," and for good reason. Soccer is a sport of constant motion and athletic grace.

Soccer's popularity in the U.S. is growing exponentially. Youth soccer leagues are everywhere. Major League Soccer and our own Philadelphia Union have become very popular in a relatively short period of time. International leagues such as England's Premier League, Germany's Bundesliga, Spain's La Liga and Italy's Serie A are staples of live television sports programming and draw significant viewership.

Here in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, we very fittingly have the inaugural Unity Cup, an international competition modeled after the World Cup that pairs teams of immigrants from 32 nations at various sites across the city. The Unity Cup competition began Sept. 10 and a champion will be crowned on Nov. 5 in the first soccer match ever to be played at Citizens Bank Park.

Soccer fans have Mayor Kenney to thank for the Unity Cup, the genesis of which was the mayor's desire to showcase our city's diverse immigrant population and celebrate the beautiful game across the city.

I applaud Kenney for making the Unity Cup a reality. As a former, half-decent soccer player myself (before injuries and advancing years ended my playing days), I know firsthand how soccer can both enthrall spectators and bond teammates together. The Unity Cup features the added bonus of showcasing the diversity of our citizenry, while celebrating our shared status as Philadelphia citizens.

The mayor stated it best when he said, "When you bring people together around one commonality, it's the foundation for an important cultural exchange and understanding that increases tolerance across the city." Heaven knows we need to be more tolerant of our fellow citizens.

The format of the Unity Cup is similar to the World Cup. Eight group-stage matches, all played on weekends, were set when Kenney randomly selected ping-pong balls at the opening ceremony.

The groups are:

* A: Ivory Coast, Honduras, Germany, Cambodia

* B: Congo, Indonesia, Lithuania, Argentina

* C: Liberia, Spain, Colombia, Myanmar

* D: Nigeria, Italy, Jamaica, South Korea

* E: Senegal, Poland, Mexico, Vietnam

* F: Sierra Leone, Turkey, India, Puerto Rico

* G: Cape Verde, Ireland, USA, Haiti

* H: Sudan, Ukraine, Bhutan, Guatemala

Think about that lineup for a moment. A total of 32 countries are being represented in our first Unity Cup, and that's only a fraction of the countries and world cultures that comprise the population of this big, beautiful city.

The countries listed are each represented by a single team, with each team guaranteed to play at least three matches in tournament play. All teams must play all their three scheduled matches and any succeeding finals matches.

For match scores and upcoming match schedules, go to Odds are good that you'll find your family's country of origin in the field. If not, come out anyway and root on your fellow Philadelphians.