Philadelphia will have a presence at the World Cup in Brazil, in spite of the fact that none of the players chosen by German coach Jurgen Klinsmann is from Philly or a Philadelphia Union player. (Maurice Edu was named to the preliminary roster of Team U.S.A. but will not participate in the World Cup.)

Six young people will uphold the honor of the former capital of the United States as part of the U.S. national team at the Football for Hope Festival 2014, a sort of mini World Cup. This event is part of the official celebrations of Brazil 2014 and it has a very clear goal: to show the world that soccer is more than a game. It is a tool for social change too.

For this huge celebration only 32 organizations around the world using soccer as a tool for social development were selected to bring youth delegations to the festival. Only one of them is from United States: Starfinder Foundation, a Philadelphia non-profit based in Manayunk.

Founded in 2002, Starfinder Foundation works with approximately 700 children and youths, ages 6-18, every year. Most of them are residents of profoundly underserved communities in Philadelphia. Starfinder’s educational program mixes soccer with personal development. Six of the kids, Sierra Drummond, Tahir Mohhammed, Cydney Penick, Imeasha Robinson, Erick Cerrada and David Madrid were chosen to go to Brazil not because of their control of the soccer ball but because of their attitudes on and off the field

These teenagers have spent several years going to play soccer at Starfinder but they don’t neglect their obligations in school in order to do so. In the future, most of them would like to become doctors or kinesiologists.

They started playing soccer for different reasons. David, for example, comes from a family of soccer “lunatics,” so it’s no surprise that he picked up this sport. On the other hand, kids like Imeasha and Tahir began to play to get away from the violence of their Germantown and Northeast Philly neighborhoods. As many of the children admit, soccer has helped them become more mature, to improve teamwork and to better respect others. And it’s improved their soccer skills, for sure.

Soccer is not just a game for them. Sierra said that it has allowed her to meet new people and learn about totally different cultures, because the Starfinder student body includes a significant number of new immigrants from more than 40 countries. For Cydney, participating in the sport has been empowering and increased her self-confidence.

There is no doubt that soccer possesses a special power and the capacity to change lives.

In Brazil the team members will have a chance to sightsee and attend leadership seminars. And they will play soccer, of course. Their matches won’t be typical, however, because they will play against each other without a referee — professional players who play in the “real” World Cup would undoubtedly be envious of that. The lack of a referree does not mean there are no rules, rather that the kids will together determine the rules. After all, they are not going to Football for Hope as much for the soccer as for the opportunity to learn to get along.


Pilar Casi is the Social Media Fellow at AL DÍA News Media. She is from the Canary Islands so, naturally, she’s rooting for Spain at the World Cup. At all other times she is a fan of the Atlético de Madrid.