Northeastern and Boston Unity Cup bring global soccer tournament to campus

Abdillahi (Mash) Abdirahman bouncing a soccer ball on his head
Abdillahi (Mash) Abdirahman was part of the contingent representing Somalia in last year’s Boston Unity Cup at Carter Playground. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern Universit

Boston Unity Cup, a community celebration of the world’s most popular sport, is returning to the historic William E. Carter Playground on Sunday with an opening festival of soccer revolving around 32 men’s and women’s teams.

The month-long tournament is based on the international format of the World Cup. The opening festivities will include a parade of nations that could feature more than 600 players from the Greater Boston area carrying their national flags into Carter Playground.

Opening day of the expanded Boston Unity Cup will include a street festival with food trucks, resource fair, amputee soccer showcase game, and youth jamboree presented by the New England Revolution and Special Olympics.

Northeastern has partnered with Boston Unity Cup to provide uniforms as well as access to Carter Playground.

“Boston Unity Cup is a place where residents of this global city come to shape and cultivate a community around unification, no matter their cultural background,” says Chimel Idiokitas, assistant vice president for city and community affairs at Northeastern. “Like the Unity Cup, Northeastern is a global university that stands on those same shared values and we’re honored to be the presenting sponsor for Boston Unity Cup this year.”

The main attraction of the day-long free event Sunday will be a full slate of games featuring all 24 men’s teams and eight women’s teams beginning at 8 a.m. As many as a half-dozen games will be played simultaneously on shortened fields with seven players per team.

“It’s all built around bringing together and uniting our whole city,” says Caroline Foscato, co-founder of Boston Unity Cup. “Soccer can be a sport for anybody, not just across gender and background and race and ethnicity, but also across ability and age. Boston Unity Cup provides for all of that.”

Following the example of the World Cup, the teams will compete in groups before entering the knockout stages that culminate with the championship games on July 23 at Carter Playground. 

Honduras beat the U.S. last year in the women’s final, while in the men’s final Cape Verde recovered from an early deficit to knock off the U.S. on penalty kicks.

“For me, this Unity Cup unifies all the nations together,” says Tony Cardoso, a longtime player and coach in Boston youth soccer. He’ll be coaching his sons, Jonathan and Jay, on the Cape Verde men’s team on Sunday.

Boston Unity Cup is a place where residents of this global city come to shape and cultivate a community.

Chimel Idiokitas, assistant vice president for city and community affairs at Northeastern

The tournament showcases the diverse soccer community of talented players who compete after work throughout the playgrounds of Greater Boston, Cardoso says.

“On any given team there are three or four players that are great players,” Cardoso says. “It’s really about the unity piece—about having a space to come together and celebrate each other. The players really appreciate that. And they appreciate the level of competition.”

Young players of all abilities from ages 6 to 14 can register via Boston Unity Cup to participate in the Youth Jamboree.

The event is now affiliated with the larger Soccer Unity Project that Foscato helped launch last year—a result of her 15-year investment in Boston’s soccer community.

“Boston is a global city with a beautiful kaleidoscope of communities,” Foscato says. “This is the sport that touches every nation and ethnicity and region in the world. In a few years we could see us growing to over 1,000 players as more ethnicities and backgrounds are represented.”

The tournament is backed by local leaders, community and charitable organizations as well as the City of Boston Mayor’s Office. 

Northeastern committed $108 million to the 2018 renovation of Carter Playground, including $82 million for maintenance over the next 30 years, and increased the park’s size by 25% by incorporating its Camden parking lot into the renovation. The 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 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 the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. A decade later, King led the 1965 civil rights march to the Boston Common from Carter Playground.

“Having the partnership with Northeastern has been amazing because it’s a global university,” Foscato says. “The city fields we play on are in the middle of the campus, so it’s a great moment for faculty, staff, students and alumni to be a part of it.”

Ian Thomsen is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at Follow him on Twitter @IanatNU.