By: Ilir Cepani
What made you interested in participating in the Unity Cup?
The way it was designed by City Hall of Philadelphia and the mayor himself.
How did your team come together?
We have a team that competes in Division lll in CASA Soccer League, named Illyrians (ancestors of Albanians nowadays). We’ll have a few of these players representing Albania in the Unity Cup, and the team will have many more players from other nations, as well.
Can you tell us a bit about the rest of your team?
As of now, the team is relatively new, with most of the players being amateurs, and maybe a handful of players possibly being identified as semi-pro players. The one great player we are hoping to represent Albania is Elsion Pajollari, who played for the USA team in the 2016 Unity Cup, and is an ex-professional soccer player in Albania.
What does soccer mean to your community?
As any other eastern/southern European country, soccer is the main sport we have played since a young age. In the past decade, many Albanian professional players who were born abroad and represent other nations are playing at the highest level worldwide. This is something that motivates us in our playing time as amateurs.
How do you think soccer in general (and the Unity Cup in particular) promotes inclusivity?
Soccer is a sport that makes all kinds of people fall in love with it. It’s a sport that does not see race, color, ethnicity, religion, etc. The passion that people worldwide have for soccer is remarkable. I believe the Unity Cup brings the same kind of excitement to its participants.
What places in Philadelphia would you recommend to someone if they wanted to learn more about the culture of the country your team represents?
La Fontana (1701 Spruce Street), coffee shops in Northeast Philadelphia, or Saint John Albanian Orthodox Church (237 N. 17th St.).
What’s one thing you wish more people knew about your team’s country?
Albania is portrayed in the movies as a bad country–it is the complete opposite. It is a small but beautiful country. A majority of people have emigrated to Western Europe and Northern America/United States since the collapse of communism in the ‘90s. Albanians are also very talented in the music industry, with many current artists famous worldwide.