By: Linda Musumeci
Do you have a home field where you practice or play regularly?
We have been using Ramp Playground on Sundays for practices, and occasionally use Penn Academy in the Northeast.
What made you interested in participating in the Unity Cup?
The first draw was soccer, soccer, soccer. Then, the opportunity to represent the nation of Italy was too strong to resist. My mother’s parents were both in Italy, and I grew up with a strong connection and exposure to the traditions. Then I married a man from Rome, our head coach Massimo Musumeci, and really learned the language. It is an honor to represent Italy.
The third reason is the opportunity to get to know people from so many countries. I grew up in Philadelphia and am well aware of the diversity. The Unity Cup is the best way in the world to showcase that, and to bring people together who may not have crossed paths otherwise.
What was your favorite moment from last year’s tournament?
I have two favorite moments. One was our quarterfinal game, which we lost, but our guys really gave everything to try to pull it off despite injuries to many of our strongest players.
The other was waiting in the basement of the Linc to come out for the Parade of Nations. We were all gathered together, and it became a big social hour as we ran into people we haven’t seen in awhile, got meet players’ children and family members, and looked at the banners.
How did your team come together?
We have a number of returning players, plus we have a lot of strong players who found us and wanted to try out and have the chance to play under the Italian flag. Everyone is highly motivated and worked really hard to get through tryouts.
Can you tell us a bit about the rest of your team?
We have a mixture of ages and backgrounds. Our youngest player is in his early 20s and the oldest is 51. While about one-third were born and raised in Italy, about one-third are of Italian heritage, through mother or father or both. The remaining players without an official tie to Italy have studied there or follow an Italian team or have some interest in Italy (besides the food!).
The group has a nice spirit. Two of the players’ parents come out regularly to watch and support, even at friendly games. Some of the guys play together in CASA and other leagues, some get together to watch Italian Serie A games, and usually someone brings drinks, fruit, or homemade cookies to a game.
What does soccer mean to your community?
Oh my. Well, it’s a passion as well as a normal social activity. The success of the Italian national team and many Italian teams in the Europa League and the Champions League are a point of pride and excitement In fact, Italy missing the World Cup this year is a motivating factor for some of our players. And all of them want to uphold the name and reputation of Italy in the soccer world and not let Italians down, so to speak.
How do you think soccer in general (and the Unity Cup in particular) promotes inclusivity?
Well, everyone starts out with a common interest so there will always be a topic of conversation when any of the teams/players come together. The good-natured rivalry among people who support opposing teams is common to all cultures and makes interaction fun.
Sheer exposure to people who are different from you breaks down barriers and causes fears or misconceptions to melt away. The Unity Cup in particular promotes inclusivity because we have not only soccer, but the same city in common as well as the fact pretty much everyone’s origins lie in some other country. Setting up friendlies on our own has really made a lot of people get to know others, and the sense of inclusivity has advanced to the point this year that people feel very comfortable switching teams or recommending players to a team looking for players. We’re all in this together, and in the third year of the competition, we know we have our own Unity Cup community.
What places in Philadelphia would you recommend to someone if they wanted to learn more about the culture of the country your team represents?
I would definitely send people to an Italian restaurant (there are too many to count in Philadelphia) but would recommend smaller ones, especially in South Philadelphia because the meal not only provides an idea of Italian food, but of the culture that comes with it. Some of the family restaurants show this best (although it’s really always present) because the person eating is treated like family—extra appetizers, drinks, and desserts are thrown in, you won’t be handed the check until you ask for it because that is considered very rude in Italy, etc.
Two places in Center City I would recommend are Alice Pizza at 15th and Locust or Rione Pizza at 21st and Chestnut. The owners are from Rome, and food is ordered and served in the same way it would be if you walked into a pizzeria in Rome. You take a number, pick what you want and how much you want, which is then cut with scissors, and pay according to weight.
What’s one thing you wish more people knew about your team’s country?
I wish people were more aware of how kind and generous Italians are to those in need. No country has taken in as many migrants as Italy in Europe and given them food, medical care, and a place to live, even while average Italians are struggling.