By Dillon Friday, Communications Manager, Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer
United Philly Soccer Club had two U17 boys teams last season, and together they epitomize the mission of the club. The one team could count itself among the region’s elite, reaching the semifinals of the EDP Cup. The second team was formed out of opportunity.
“(It’s) probably one of the more special teams at the club,” said Mario Bono, head of travel coaching at Fairmount Soccer Association, “because they’re made up of a lot of immigrants from Southeast Asia, kids that the coach just met playing pickup soccer at Penn Park. That feels really meaningful. We’re making a difference.”
United Philly has existed as an idea, and in practice, for the better part of the last decade, although 2017-18 was the club’s first official season. Fairmount, Germantown Soccer, Anderson Monarchs and Kensington Soccer Club form its core and carry a simple purpose: to create a pathway for Philadelphia’s talented soccer players through the under-19 age group and to give all youth in the city a chance to play if they want to.
“There are some really good clubs. There are some really good players that enjoy the sport,” said Bono. “Some weren’t playing anymore, or they were going to the suburbs. It just seemed like a logical progression.”
Bono has worked closely with leadership from affiliate clubs—including Yomi Awodesu from Germantown Soccer, Curt Deveaux from Anderson Monarchs, Jim Hardy from Kensington Soccer Club and JT Dorsey and Gary Stephenson from Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer among others—to establish United Philly Soccer as a cooperative effort. Kids stay local through the young age groups, but as they progress, numbers become a challenge. United Philly comes in at U13 to ensure that these kids keep playing.
A native of Brooklyn, New York, Bono models his work with Fairmount and United Philly off his own experiences.
“For me, this is my passion,” Bono said. “I grew up in Brooklyn. There’s so much diversity, and there are so many kids playing. So when I came to Philly, what I liked about Fairmount, and now Kensington and all our partners, is that it’s low cost.”
Moreover, if families can’t afford to pay, they don’t have to. And the results, so far, have been excellent. In addition to the U17 boys team, the U16 girls won a “handful of tournaments” in Bono’s words and reached the finals of the EDP Summer Classic. Other players have been exposed to educational and athletic opportunities through United Philly. JoJo McShane, for instance, played a key role on 2017 PAISAA state champion Springside Chestnut Hill Academy.
“She’s a girl that lives in Fishtown, takes the train to the bus,” Bono said. “But she loves the sport.”
It’s part of United Philly’s holistic approach. The club has hosted fundraisers, college recruiting nights and a high school information night with both private and public schools. United Philly also encourages its younger players to take part in multiple sports. Some attended Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer Resident Camp at Bryn Athyn College.
“It’s nice. I enjoy the soccer,” said Hope Falon-Mazer, 15, of Resident Camp. “Everybody is really good. Like, I’m getting worked a lot, but I enjoy it. It’s going to be worth it.”
Hope is a Cheltenham High School sophomore who joined United Philly two years ago.
“Mario is a really good coach and United Philly is a great association,” she said. “It’s like you never know who has what background. There are a lot of really good players in the city. You meet great players.”
There are challenges ahead, field space being one, geography another—in order for United Philly to work best, the travel must be limited. But the club is expanding and constantly communicating with not only Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer but also Philadelphia Parks & Rec as well as potential partner associations.
It’s all in the name of giving the kids of Philadelphia a fair chance at playing the beautiful game.