Team Israel Competitive in Philadelphia Unity Cup

A group of over 20 men standing and kneeling in two rows pose for a picutre. They are wearing blue and white soccer jerseys, except for two goalies, who are wearing pink shirts. Coach Tyler Weiss is smiling to the right of the players, wearing a suit.
Coach Tyler Weiss believes this year’s Team Israel is younger and more competitive than in previous years. | Courtesy of Tyler Weiss

“Ted Lasso,” the AppleTV show about a titular fish-out-of-water soccer coach from Kansas coaching the Associated Football Club Richmond in England, was nominated for 20 Emmys last year and is well into its second season.

It’s also one of Tyler Weiss’ favorite shows. That’s not surprising, considering their similarities. Weiss is the new coach of Team Israel, the recreational soccer team competing in the fifth annual Philadelphia International Unity Cup.

The intrepid first-year coach has worked to rebuild the team as it looks to win the tournament and represents the country.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney created the Unity Cup, a World Cup-style soccer tournament, in 2016 with the Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia, the goal being to celebrate the city’s “diverse immigrant communities through soccer.” Israeli and Jewish Philadelphians are permitted to play for Team Israel; 19 of the team’s 22 players are Jewish.

Now heading into its third game, Team Israel has a 1-1 record. It lost to Poland 2-1 on Aug. 28, but beat Team Haiti 5-1 on Sept. 12. Their next game, on Sept. 19, will determine if the team continues into the tournament’s knockout rounds for the cup title.

Tamir Levy, the Israeli captain and original member of Team Israel, wants to win the tournament, but believes the team has an even greater responsibility to his Jewish-Israeli community.

“It’s very important to show a very good side of the Israeli and Jewish community among all the communities around the city,” Levy said.

Weiss agrees. 

“People need to see a good representation of Israel,” Weiss said. “It’s preventative of antisemitism, as well.”

Weiss began recruiting members of Team Israel in late May, on the tail of the most recent Israel-Hamas conflict when antisemitism in the U.S., and around the world, was surging. It was particularly important for Weiss to have a strong team for community members and players to feel Israeli pride.

In Rochester, New York, where Weiss grew up, there weren’t many Jews; he remembers going to school with only two others. Weiss moved from Harrisburg to Philadelphia in December to find a Jewish community he felt like he never had.

“I moved to Philadelphia for the Jewish community, 100%,” Weiss said. “There’s no other reason.”

A commercial appraiser by day, Weiss coaches Team Israel in addition to coaching a high school soccer team. The coach’s competitive nature — and that of his father, who was a member of the Australian Olympic weightlifting team — fueled his desire for a strong squad.

Having played soccer in high school and college, Weiss always loved the sport.

“Pushing myself to be the best has always been something in my mentality, something that my parents really embodied in me,” Weiss said.

Weiss takes the team seriously; he wears suits to every game, and he’s working on turning the Unity Cup team into a year-round intramural contest, having recruited more than 15 new members to Team Israel this year. 

Many new players are from Maccabi USA teams. In early summer, Weiss scoured rosters, Instagram and Facebook groups, messaging 30-40 area athletes who might be interested in joining the team.

It was on Instagram that Tyler Weiss connected with Daniel Weiss (no relation), a Maccabi athlete since he was 13. Daniel Weiss previously played in the Unity Cup for Team USA, and his brother played for Team Germany. This year, they are both playing for Team Israel, feeling a deep connection to the Israeli badge on their jersey, Daniel Weiss having been born in Israel.

“This is not just another soccer tournament,” Daniel Weiss said. “I’m representing my country.”

However, the ambitious nature of the team is what convinced Daniel Weiss to join. Though the camaraderie and Jewish pride have always been a part of the team culture, according to Levy, this is the first year where the team’s roster is competitive.

Despite getting along off the pitch, the team still hasn’t clicked in terms of teamwork, Levy said, as they’ve only been able to practice once or twice a week. 

“We’ve got better players,” Levy said. “But we’re still trying to get it together.”

With one win in the bag, the team is optimistic about the tournament.

“It felt like a relief to finally represent Israel as the country deserves to be represented,” Tyler Weiss said. “Each player put in a shift and did their job with full concentration, playing for the badge.”

Team Israel plays Team Cameroon on Sept. 19 at noon at the Germantown Supersite at 1199 E. Sedgwick St. Admission is free.

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