By Richard Campbell
As the World Cup headed into the final elimination rounds this past weekend (July 6th to 8th) South Boston hosted the city’s own version in the inaugural Mayor’s Unity Cup Tournament. Sixteen Boston based soccer teams were packed into Saunders Stadium representing their original home nations in three days of competitive soccer. The tournament, designed to showcase the cultural diversity and sportsmanship of American citizens from foreign lands who live in Boston, played on the stadium field gridded out in four smaller than regulation soccer fields. The tight fit made an interesting exhibit as teams were passionately pursuing the grand prize. Organized by the mayor’s office, it was sponsored by New England Revolution, Telemundo Boston, We Got Soccer, South End Soccer, Valeo FC, Massachusetts Youth Soccer, and Boston Scores, among other minor sponsors. This was a low-key event that was mostly observed by the team’s personal fans but is sure to grow in stature as Bostonians catch onto the idea.
There were soccer skill events for kids, prize giveaways, free water supplied by the city water department, and free Hoody ice cream by the Boston Police- as well as merchandise on sale from We Got Soccer. An ample number of friendly volunteers made events run smoothly, although ball replacement needed some work in the beginning, it was polished by the tournament end! The teams were divided into four groups that played: Group A: UAE, Italy, Somalia, Mexico; Group B: El Salvador, Angola, Chile, USA; Group C: Guatemala, Vietnam, Haiti, Ireland; Group D: France, China, Nigeria, Brazil.
When covering the event at any given time you could hear the lively chants in multiple languages across the fields. “Arriba!” and “Vamos!” from Spanish speaking teams, to various urbane sounding slogans from France like “Allez!” and “Rapide!” and Italy, “Andiamo!” and “Combattere!” Pretty much teams could be trash talking in their own languages all day long if they wanted to, for no one but their nationals would understand them-unless they shared a common language. The level of civility was admirable for the most part, although not surprisingly a few teams blamed the referees for their losses- and there was only one reported injury. Boston athletes are the same no matter what nation they hail from: they don’t like to lose!
On the first night UAE, Chile, and Mexico showed their dominance. The USA team, which seemed barely represented by far fewer players than all other teams revealed early on they were not contenders. On day one Chile man handled USA 7-4, on day two El Salvador handed them their heads 10-1, and Angola made quick work of them 5-1. Angola beat Chile late in the day 2-1 but were vanquished by Italy. This writer admits his partiality to the Mexican team, who exhibited grace under pressure, after their second day loss to Italy 2-nil, to later in the afternoon take on the dominant UAE, besting them 5-2- a definite upset.
Somalia was a notoriously weak team that allowed multiple teams to rack up huge numbers- being beat by more than 7 points by several teams. In high contrast to the UAE’s cool strategy meetings and clever ball handling, Somalians argued amongst themselves as they headed into ever more problems on the field, not the least of which was useless goal tending. China beat France 4-0, squeaked with Brazil in a tie and beat Nigeria by 2-1, in their second Saturday game. They revealed a pretty good play making team, but needed more muscle, to over-power their opponents fully. The French continued scoreless against Nigeria 5-0. Perhaps Vietnam was the youngest team all around, and though they showed promise in their first victory against Guatemala, they were bested by Haiti 2-nil and Ireland 2-nil and eliminated on day two.
Ireland went on to defeat Guatemala 3-2 in their next match-making them 3-0 in the tournament on day two. The Italians, smarting from their first day loss to UAE, bested Mexico 2-nil and Somalia, by a whopping 9-0. They seemed to take winning or losing most in stride, always maintaining a cosmopolitan culture. France was scoreless twice on day two and seemed to have distinct problems moving the ball into their own territory, and were chipped out by China 4-0 and Brazil, 3-0. With the roaring Brazilians winning against Nigeria 3-2 early on the second day and then besting France 3-0, they were set to move onto the finals. Similarly, El Salvador beat Chile 3-1, the US 10-1, to put themselves in the sweet spot for the finals.
In the final matches on Sunday Italy doused Angola 7-1, Haiti beat China 1-nil, Mexico got eliminated by El Salvador, 3-1. El Salvador also beat Italy 3-1. When Brazil polished off Haiti 3-1 with the speed that would become a part of their modus operandi, that set them up for the final match with El Salvador. In my better food wins theory of world soccer, Brazil proved they had the mettle to win and squeaked out a victory 2-1 against El Salvador. The final match was very close, but youth won that game, as despite El Salvador’s veteran player finesse and strategy, they weren’t beating Brazil down the field to defend. There was a little more tension over this final game with the Referee, but the crowd was rowdier than the players.
Mayor Martin Walsh and City Councilor Ed Flynn showed up to give awards and well wishes to the players. The youthful Americans who hailed from Brazil gleefully chanted slogans and wrapped themselves in their second home nation’s flag. Walsh gave credit to Philadelphia who has an established Unity Cup for helping Boston create its first event, and he emphasized how important the event is to shine a light on the diversity and openness of the city of Boston. We are indeed lucky to have a mayor who understands the value of citizens of divergent nationalities to coexist peacefully and enjoy the benefits of freedom. The mayor thanked the sponsors, and particularly the leadership team and staff of the event, for a job well done. He joked that neither USA or Ireland, made it to the finals of the World Cup this year, and then commented more seriously on how soccer -the world’s most participated sports event- gives American citizens from all backgrounds an opportunity to display athleticism and civic pride. All in all, the skill level at this tournament covered a broad spectrum. This is an event that South Bostonians interested in soccer should watch for on their calendars next year!