Marking further proof of soccer’s growth in Philadelphia, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, the Union, and Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer are committing $3.5 million to build 15 miniature soccer fields and two full-size fields across the city over the next five years.

“We have talented, passionate soccer players all throughout our city, and our soccer pitches have not always met the mark,” Mayor Jim Kenney said at a City Hall news conference Wednesday. “This is the sport that the world loves more than anything else. I love baseball and football, I love our Eagles and love our Flyers and Sixers and Phillies, but this is another dimension that allows people from other places to come and thrive and be welcomed.”

As Kenney noted in a room packed with kids wearing soccer jerseys of every color — representing teams from local youth and amateur clubs to pro teams from Mexico, Argentina and Brazil — the rise of the world’s game here has been fueled in part by the city’s growing immigrant population.

“Look how diverse this room is. This is what America is," Kenney told the crowd. "Whether you’re from Mexico or Central America or Africa or Europe or wherever you’re from, Asia, we want you here. We value you. You contribute to our community.”

Kenney also gave shout-outs to the World Cup-winning U.S. women’s soccer team and the city’s bid to host games in the 2026 men’s World Cup. An announcement like this won’t be lost on the power-brokers in charge of whittling down the 23 candidate cities across the United States, Mexico and Canada to a final group of 16. Last month, the city assembled a local organizing committee led by Comcast senior executive vice president David L. Cohen. The cut to 16 is expected to be made next June.

“Maybe one day we’ll even be lucky enough to host a women’s team, too.” Kenney added. The Philadelphia region hasn’t had a professional women’s soccer team since 2011, when the Independence folded.

The Union and EPYS are collectively contributing $1 million to the field construction effort. The rest, a city spokesperson said, will come from the beverage tax-funded Rebuild Initiative and other private sources that will be announced later.

“What we want to try to do here is make it available for kids to practice and play [soccer] where they live,” EPYS CEO Chris Branscome said. “We have too many kids in Philadelphia that are leaving the area, going out to the suburbs — in some cases, driving over to New Jersey — to rent fields and join leagues to play in.... We need fields right here in the neighborhoods where you can play a game, and play other sports too.”

The first mini-pitch will be built this fall at South Philadelphia’s Capitolo Playground, Ninth Street and Passyunk Avenue, home to three youth soccer leagues. The first full field will be built in Southwest Philadelphia, in the midst of that neighborhood’s vibrant West African immigrant community.

The news was cheered by Foday Touray, manager of Salone FC, which, as Team Sierra Leone, has become a perennial favorite in Philadelphia’s annual Unity Cup tournament. “We’ve been struggling for a soccer field, and God bless the mayor of Philadelphia, Mayor Kenney, for stepping in, seeing our struggle as immigrants in the city of Philadelphia," Touray said.

Parks and Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell said the Unity Cup has “revived our interest in growing the game of soccer locally.... We have this whole new generation of young immigrants who are coming into the country loving the game of soccer."

The remaining sites will be chosen over the five-year term of the deal, with the expectation of building three fields each year, she said.