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Boston Unity Cup Brings Soccer Communities Together at Carter Playground

Abdillahi (Mash) Abdirahman, manager of Team Somalia, is looking forward to Boston Unity Cup, a city-wide adult soccer tournament celebrating Boston’s diverse community, that opens Tuesday night at Carter Playground. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Boston Unity Cup, a celebration of soccer that brings communities together, is coming to the historic William E. Carter Playground.

Twenty men’s teams and eight women’s teams will kick off the event with opening-round play at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. The group phase will continue Thursday night at Carter Playground, a city-owned field maintained by Northeastern. As many as a half-dozen games will be played simultaneously on shortened fields with seven players per team.

Abdirahman competed with Team Somalia in the first two Boston Unity Cups. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

In all, 21 countries are represented at the free event. The players, ages 18 and older, are drawn from club teams in the Boston community.

“The requirement is that a majority of the players identify with the ethnicity of the flag for which they’re playing,” says Caroline Foscato, co-founder of Boston Unity Cup. “It’s about using the sport to build camaraderie and community and honor immigrant populations and our diversity. Soccer is a singular language.”

Foscato is president and co-founder of South End Soccer, a Boston youth league that provides free training and playing opportunities to 1,200 kids. The successful investments in diversity made by South End Soccer are very much in spirit with Boston Unity Cup, which is making its return after a two-year hiatus forced by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Caroline Foscato (left) co-founded of Boston Unity Cup to help honor the city’s immigrant communities. Abdirahman’s uniform features the flag of his native Somalia (right). Photos by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

“It’s wonderful,” says Abdillahi (Mash) Abdirahman, a Boston community leader who will serve as manager of Team Somalia at Boston Unity Cup. “It brings in people from different communities. You get to know people with different teams.”

When Abdirahman immigrated from Somalia as a 16-year-old, it was hard to find organized soccer in Boston, he says. Now he oversees Boston Somali, a club with teams covering a half-dozen age groups.

Abdirahman played in the initial Boston Unity Cups in 2018 and 2019. The defending champions are Cape Verde (men) and the U.S. (women).

“We are a global city, but we don’t have spaces that bring together our global power,” Foscato says. “That’s why we created Boston Unity Cup, to have the space to get to know each other. You start to understand each other, you start to respect each other and you build trust between people.”

Northeastern spent $26 million in 2018 to completely transform the city-owned park from a bare and underutilized area into a modern and versatile recreational space. The university’s $108 million total commitment to the Carter Playground project including $82 million for maintenance over a span of 30 years, plus turning over the Northeastern-owned Camden parking lot to increase the park’s size by 25%. The renovated park features two football and soccer fields that can also be used for a number of sports, as well as five tennis courts, open recreational space, and an area with equipment for children with disabilities that was dedicated to Northeastern graduate Victoria McGrath, who was injured in the 2013 marathon bombing and then died in a tragic accident overseas in 2016.

The park is named for Sgt. William E. Carter, an African-American veteran of the Spanish American War and World War I who was killed in action in France in 1918. In the 1950s the players who shot baskets at Carter Playground included Martin Luther King, Jr., a Boston University graduate student who was remembered for playing in street shoes rather than sneakers. A decade later, King led the 1965 civil rights march to the Boston Common from Carter Playground.

“Boston Unity Cup is an ideal example of why the University continues to maintain the city-owned Carter Playground after making a significant investment into it a few years back,” says Chimel Idiokitas, assistant vice president for community relations at Northeastern. “With Carter Playground being the first park in Boston to be named for an African-American, it makes perfect sense to celebrate the diversity and culture of the city, right in the heart of the city. This event truly impacts the local community, and we’re honored to support Boston Unity Cup and all the great work it does for the kids and families in Roxbury and South End.”

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