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Leaving a continent dominated by soccer culture for a city filled with intense basketball, football, baseball, and hockey fans can be a bit of a shock.
Most South American countries celebrate soccer as their main sport — it follows children from youth leagues to college, and often to adult recreational teams or even the pros. If there’s an unused piece of land, without a doubt it’ll become a soccer field. Here, soccer fields are much less common. They’re far from the level of basketball courts, which seem to appear on almost every block.
What I’ve heard most from my South American friends is that when they arrive, they become Philly sports fans almost immediately. I’m talking 0-to-100 quick, as though something in the air makes you passionately root for Philadelphia teams.
Sure, attending a professional basketball or football game is a bucket list item for any foreigner visiting the United States. It’s a thing, you know? To know American culture is to know its sports teams, and the fandom that comes along with them.
But when it comes to Philly, the feeling of belonging after sitting in your first stadium seat is unparalleled. When I stepped into the Wells Fargo Center for the first time to watch the Sixers “trust the process,” I went crazy. Every detail stood out: the seemingly endless permutations of jerseys, the buttery, cheesy smell of fresh pretzels, the constant laughter and cheers. It felt like I was inside a movie.
And even though the Sixers lost that particular game, I left singing “1-2-3-4-5-Sixers” and clamoring for a future victory. It wasn’t like any soccer match I was able to watch when I lived in Brazil, despite my home country’s obsession.
Lucia Loyola, one of my friends from Argentina, has been living in Philadelphia for 9 months. She’s gotten tastes of zealous Philly sports culture, too. For her, the most striking thing was the ride-or-die nature of Eagles fans. They dress in team gear, even when there isn’t a game on!
Loyola feels like Argentinian and Philadelphian sports culture share similarities. People gather to watch the game, celebrate victories, or mourn defeat. But it did initially seem strange to go all-out for a basketball game.
“In Argentina, basketball culture doesn’t exist,” she once told me. “[But here], the game is so interesting. It’s a real party with musical shows, lights … I loved it.”
Karen Virgen, one of my Mexican friends, echoed this sentiment: “Even if you aren’t a huge fan of these sports, just going to the stadium and feeling the vibe of excitement of everyone takes it to another level.”
The diversity of sports with intense fans here is also a big difference. In South American countries, I’d say 90% of all attention goes to soccer.
And that means soccer will always have a place in our hearts.
Juanita Godoy, my friend from Colombia, has lived in Philly for almost a year. She hadn’t been able to catch an Eagles game or try to understand the power of Gritty until recently, but she’s always followed soccer and loves to play casually. However, practicing her penalty kicks has been a little harder.
“Soccer isn’t as common here as it is in our home countries,” said Godoy. “Even though women’s soccer is stronger than men’s here, it was really hard to find a place to play.”
Watching Philly sports unite the city has turned me into a new person, someone who thinks a lot more about sports in general, and the trajectory of athletes from childhood fan to hometown hero.
Even though the cultures are very different, I hope our countries unite to use sports as a mirror for the good things in the world. May South Americans bring more love for soccer into the U.S., and may the U.S. be an example of how it is possible to value multiple sports.