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Philly neighborhoods soccer tournament brings Kensington and East Kensington teams to the field

This story was written by a Philadelphia high school student as part of the Philadelphia Youth Network’s summer WorkReady program. The WorkReady program places youth ages 12-24 with employers across the city. 

Several Philly neighborhoods are battling it out this summer for the title of the “best neighborhood soccer team.”

From Kensington to South Philly, 20 teams are participating in Casa Soccer League’s (CASA) new tournament, The Neighborhood Cup. The 7v7 tournament, which started on July 18, has now entered the playoffs. The tournament ends on Aug. 22. 

Casa Soccer League, a nonprofit organization created in 2005, aims to give back to its communities and provide people with the opportunity to enjoy soccer. The league, which has over 16,000 members between Boston, South Jersey, and Philadelphia, partners up with local organizations as part of its mission to give back. CASA also gives out scholarships to graduating seniors in the Philadelphia area. 

Jarrad Bradt, the vice president of CASA, said the idea for the tournament was kicked around for a long time within the organization, but getting it off the ground was a matter of getting enough support and resources. The tournament is modeled after the Philadelphia International Unity Cup, a celebration of the city’s immigrant communities through soccer. 

“We are basically doing our version, but it’s a Philly style because Philadelphia is so neighborhood driven,” Bradt said. “Every neighborhood has its own unique qualities, unique people, unique food, unique music, culture, and aesthetic. And we wanted to bring that in as much as possible.” 

East Kensington plays against Upper Darby at Temple University’s Sports Complex during CASA’s Neighborhood Cup on July 25, 2022. (Photo by Khysir Carter)

In the tournament’s open division, the Kensington area is represented by two teams: Kensington and East Kensington. Each team was given jerseys designed by Philadelphia-based Icarus Football, a design-focused brand for football kits. East Kensington’s jersey design is an ode to Sunderland A.F.C, an English soccer club whose nickname is “The Black Cats.” Kensington’s jerseys reference the neighborhood’s former soccer team in the 1950s, “The Kensington Blue Bells.”

Although soccer is still less popular in the United States compared to other countries, it has a long history in Kensington. By 1893, Philadelphia was overflowing with immigrants from Northern England with a love for soccer. That year, Philadelphian Esther Kelly established the Kensington-based community organization, The Lighthouse. The Lighthouse soccer program was “the largest single soccer organization in the world” by 1940. Years later, the neighborhood is still embracing the sport through the Kensington Soccer Club and CASA’s Neighborhood Cup tournament.

Both teams’ captains said the players enjoy being part of the tournament and have been performing well.

James Breslin, a Kensington Soccer Club coach and former Visitation BVM School teacher, is the captain of the Kensington team. As a longtime resident, he feels honored to represent the neighborhood in the tournament.

“For me, Kensington represents the people,” Breslin said. “Of course, there are connotations to Kensington; when people think about Kensington, they think of drugs. We think it’s great that in tournaments like the Neighborhood Cup, that Kensington can be represented in a different light.”

So far, the East Kensington team has won four games and advanced to the playoffs, while the Kensington team won one game during the group stage. 

Robert Smukler, captain of the East Kensington team and founder of Icarus Football, said the players are passionate and love the game.

“I’m meeting a lot of my neighbors, and we’ve done very well, which is extra cool for me,” Smukler said. “But it’s been great meeting guys in the neighborhood and creating friendships that hopefully will be lasting.”

According to Smukler, it’s also been a great experience playing for CASA Soccer League during the regular season.

“[It’s] such a massive network, and it’s super close-knit,” Smukler said. “You just end up knowing everyone, and it’s incredibly friendly.” 

“It’s really kind of been a special place in my heart,” he added. 

Community members can go cheer on the East Kensington team at their playoff game against Point Breeze on Monday, Aug. 15 at 8:00 pm. The match will take place at the South Philadelphia Supersite (Field 3, near the Phillies Stadium) at 1166 Bigler St. 

Editors: Siani Colón, Zari Tarazona / Designer: Siani Colón