On October 27, coaches from the two final Philadelphia International Unity Cup teams – Ivory Coast and Liberia – sat with Tournament Director Bill Salvatore to discuss the logistics of the championship game taking place at Citizens Bank Park on November 5.
Following their meeting, Unity Cup Intern Won Jin An spoke with the coaches to see how they are gearing up for the championship.
Won: How is your team’s approach to the championship game different from the previous matches?
Ivory Coast Assistant Coach Neewilli Sale: Any championship game is going to be different because everyone is going to have butterflies due to the big stage. Ivory Coast has worked hard throughout the tournament to get to this spot, and we are one of the last two teams standing. We are gonna be in the spotlight, with all eyes on us. For some of the players, it may be tougher than other players who have played in front of big crowds before. We have to make sure our boys know what’s at stake, not just the trophy but bragging rights in the community. It’s going to be a tough one, but the best team is going to win.
Liberia Head Coach Jayson Waylee: Approaching the championship game is totally different. Team Liberia’s players are very excited to have a chance to play at the Phillies’ stadium [Citizens Bank Park]. It’s a big difference playing soccer in front of thousands of people and the media. A lot of my kids never had that experience, so this will be great exposure for them.
Won: Who were your toughest opponents in the tournament?
Ivory Coast Head Coach Bobby Ali: I think our toughest competitor was Honduras. We played them in the first round. This match was important because we needed to win in order to qualify for the knockout rounds and continue in the tournament.
Liberia (Waylee): Our toughest opponent so far has been team Ireland. They’re very tough, very tough to play. Germany was tough, but Ireland gave us a run for our money!
Won : What does the Philadelphia International Unity Cup mean to your community?
Ivory Coast Assistant Head Coach Michael Tuffour: The Unity Cup means a lot to us! It has brought everyone together regardless of the person’s background, race or ethnicity. It’s nice for everyone to come together and enjoy the beautiful game of soccer. The most important thing that has come from the Unity Cup is the recognition. The White House has recognized it; people from all over the world have recognized it. Everybody feeling appreciative to be part of a tournament like this brings a lot of joy, happiness, and excitement. Moving forward, I hope this event can continue every single year. Kudos to Mayor Kenney for putting this special event together for immigrant communities.We applaud you for that and are appreciative to be part of it. Go Ivory Coast!
Liberia (Waylee): Wow, I can’t even explain it. It means a huge thing for the Liberian community. Usually we play within our own community, but now having the chance to go out there on Citizens Banks Park, to have all these officials invited, it’s a big deal. A lot of the kids on our team are gaining exposure by other coaches, due to their participation in the tournament.
Once the interview concluded, both teams expressed that they hope their involvement in the Unity Cup would lead to soccer fields being built for the African community in Southwest Philadelphia. With all of the sports taking place in the fall, “getting a permit at an existing field is hard,” says Coach Ali. “With permits, it’s like a war to get a play field for the kids out here. We have so many players, so many youth we are taking out of the street, and we just want a soccer field,” says Coach Waylee. The Ivory Coast and Liberia team coaches are optimistic about the future relationship between the African community and the City of Philadelphia.
Don’t miss the championship game between teams Liberia and Ivory Coast on Saturday, November 5 at Citizens Bank Park!