SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — On July 30 and 31, soccer teams from across New York came to Syracuse to celebrate unity, culture, community, and sport as part of the Western NY Unity Cup Soccer Tournament.

The event, hosted by the semi-professional Upstate United FC in Syracuse, brought 8 teams together to play soccer at the Henninger Sports Complex at Henninger High School. The participating teams focused on supporting immigrant and refugee populations in New York State.

Upstate United FC, the Syracuse team, was founded in 2020 by Hanson Goeso, a Liberian refugee. Goeso says that the team’s mission is to provide soccer development opportunities to all. He adds that many residents of Syracuse’s northside, where poverty rates are high, come from countries where soccer means the world to kids — and most families can’t afford to participate in an organized soccer program. That’s where Upstate United FC comes in.

Upstate United FC works with Syracuse’s Say Yes program and Refugee and Immigrant Self-Empowerment Inc., known as RISE. They also work with community members to run an 8-week summer program for children at Washington Square Park. Ted Ackerman, a coach for the program, explains how the program helps: “These kids, some of them speak different languages, some of them come from very different backgrounds, but once they have the ball, they just want to play together, get along and have fun.”

These same children came out to the Western NY Unity Cup Soccer Tournament to see semi-professionals in their community play. It began on July 30 with group stage matches and finished with the semi-finals and championship games. The final drew a large crowd as Kilimanjaro FC from Buffalo narrowly defeated Leopard FC, another Syracuse-based team.

Goeso says that they’re excited to do the tournament again next year.