Article published and aired on WBUR on July 15, 2019.
The United States women’s team has the ball, working their way down the field. A pass comes into the middle just in front of the goal, and then a blistering shot finds the back of the net. The team mobs the scorer in celebration.
But this isn’t the World Cup. This is the Boston Unity Cup, and all of the teams are made up of people from Greater Boston. And except for Team USA, the teams are made up of players born in or representing other countries.
"We're representing different countries but the people playing are all from various parts of the world. It's just so diverse, it's lovely. I love it," Brazilian women's team co-captain Raquel Franco says.
One of her opponents from her last match, U.S. women's team captain Katy Oldach, nods in agreement next to her.
"That’s honestly what I think should be represented about the United States," she says. "This diversity, this unity, is what I want America to stand for and what I like about the tournament."
This is the second Unity Cup. Its participation grew from 16 teams last year to 28 teams, representing people from 21 countries, this year.
"Boston is an amazing place with great diversity and beautiful cultures, and the reality is that those people want to be brought together. And they’re so excited to be able to do it through, for many of them, what they love most, which is the sport of soccer. So we could really go anywhere with this," says Caroline Foscato, the director of the Unity Cup's leadership team and one of the tournament organizers.
The biggest difference in this year's version of the tournament is a separate division for women.
Last year, Oldach says she played as one of just three women in the entire tournament, on teams dominated by men.
Oldach, sporting an "Equality" shirt beneath her jersey, and Brazilian co-captain Rebecca Bashi both say playing against other women is more fun, and they want more competition next year.
"People want to see it, people want to play. Women want to see it, women want to play it, and women want to support it," Oldach says. "The time’s right. The time’s a little late, but the time’s right."
"Better late than never, right?" Bashi chimes in.
The tournament also offers an escape during a time of fear and uncertainty for some Boston immigrants.
Unity Cup organizers don't ask players about citizenship or residency status. But the tournament includes people from Central American countries, such as Honduras and El Salvador, that are targets of Trump administration immigration policies.
Bashi doesn’t have to worry about that, as she has dual Brazilian-U.S. citizenship. But she and fellow Brazilian Franco say the action on the field provides a welcome refuge nonetheless.
"I know for me, I don’t walk anywhere thinking about anything else," Bashi says. "And I know for other people it’s probably not the same. But when you get every one together like this, I think you kind of forget all the bad stuff for a moment, and we kind of just let go and have fun."
Franco adds: "We have one thing in common: It’s soccer. It’s a universal language."
Organizers say there has been a waiting list for the last two seasons and that additional teams are already forming for next year's tournament.
What started as a simple experiment looks poised to bring an even more diverse group of Greater Boston residents together in the summers to come.
From the 2019 Boston Unity Cup Team:
"We would like to thank to everyone who played, coached, cheered, and supported this year's event. We were thrilled to host 28 teams representing 21 countries between 2 divisions playing a total of 66 total hours of soccer at Moakley Park. Stay tuned for information on Boston Unity Cup 2020 coming this fall!"
Boston Unity Cup Website: https://www.bostonunitycup.com/