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Through the Unified Sports Soccer Exchange Program, Unified soccer teams from MLS cities travel to other MLS markets to compete in exhibition matches with their Special Olympics counterparts. Unified matches are scheduled in conjunction with MLS club matches, providing fans an opportunity to witness first-hand, the talents and abilities of Special Olympics soccer players. This year, Special Olympics PA – Philadelphia represented Philadelphia Union as they took on New England Revolution in Boston. This year, Special Olympics PA – Philadelphia put together an All-Star team consisting of students from all around Philadelphia who became a Unified Philadelphia Union. After signing contracts with Philadelphia Union and practicing as a team, it was time to hit the road and head to Boston for the 2018 MLS Exchange Game.
Our Unified All-Star team left early on Friday, August 10th and arrived at the hotel after a traffic-filled seven-hour bus ride. After barely settling into our rooms, most of the team grabbed their swimsuits and headed to the hotel pool to unwind. After a quick dip, it was time for dinner, courtesy of New England Revolution at Moe’s Southwest Grill. Once everyone was fueled up again, the team headed to 5 Wits which offers exciting escape room-like adventures. Our group split into two and one had to save the world from an evil, underground crime syndicate. The other had to escape the grip of a giant squid. If that wasn’t enough fun for one night, the evening ended with bowling, again courtesy of New England Revolution. After bowling, it was finally time to hit the hay before the big day on Saturday.
Saturday morning, the Philadelphia Union first team were all eating breakfast as our Unified team waited in the lobby to meet with our competition from Massachusetts. As we waited, players from the Philadelphia Union first team generously signed autographs, high fived, and encouraged the whole Unified team. We spent the rest of the morning and afternoon playing laser tag, arcade games, and eating chicken fingers and pizza with the athletes and partners who made up the Unified New England Revolution from Special Olympics Massachusets. After a short, mid-afternoon break, we all met again outside of Gillette Stadium to watch pre-game warmups on the field and be part of the tunnel as both Philadelphia Union and New England Revolution came back onto the field for the game. On top of all that, each fan who entered the stadium was given a team card that listed both Unified teams by name and number right next to the professionals whom they would be playing after (see photo below).
During the first-team game, both unified teams were treated to dinner in a suite. As the MLS first-team game was ending, both teams headed to the locker rooms to get ready. As our team emerged from the locker rooms and took the field, we were greeted by a lot of fans who stayed after for the unified match including a traveling Sons of Ben, who even had specific cheers for some of our players. Unfortunately, our unified game was met with rain throughout the full 40 minutes. Luckily, Philadelphia Union has amazing fans and stayed with us the entire time.
The unified match saw us fall to Special Olympics Massachusetts 2-0. Despite the loss, our unified team played extremely well and was as close to a truly unified team that we have ever sent to an exchange game. Some of our athletes were on par or better than some of our partners and were sprinting right alongside them. As this was the first time we pulled together a team from various schools, we could only hope that the team would become that – a team. They came together as a team despite that they all check very different demographic boxes well beyond their athlete or partner label.
Congratulations to all of our wonderful athletes and partners who made up the Unified Philadelphia Union and a huge thank you and congratulations to our three coaches – Coach Bull Coach Tosto, and Coach Paul.
On Saturday, August 5, 2017, two Unified Teams took on a quest of venturing around Philadelphia before going head to head in a Unified Soccer Match. A unified team from Abraham Lincoln High School represented Philadelphia Union while a group from Special Olympics Texas came down to represent FC Dallas. At the end of the day, it was a Unified Philadelphia Union Takes Home 4th Straight Gold!
The day started with a double-decker bus tour around Philadelphia. Our athletes and partners, as well as our Texas guests, got to see South Philadelphia, Old City, and Center City as a tour guide pointed out various points of interest and history. After the tour, each group got to rest and relax before heading over to the Talen Energy Stadium where the evening games were planned. Our Unified group headed over to Talen Energy Stadium to soak in the pre-match fun at the Toyota Plaza where they walked around and competed against each other in an inflatable obstacle course. Both teams rejoined for a picnic dinner before heading into the stadium to watch the first-team game. After an exciting game, ending in a 3-0 Victory for Philadelphia Union, the Unified Philadelphia Union had high spirits that their game would end in the same fashion.
After a quick warm up session, the match between a Unified Philadelphia Union and a Unified FC Dallas began. The first half was intense with an early goal from Alvin Bayoh on the Unified Philadelphia Union (UPU) team, Alvin’s goal was quickly followed by a goal from Unified FC Dalls. Derrick Spence (UPC) was quick to reply to the Unified FC Dallas goal with a goal of his own, making the score 2-1. A Unified FC Dallas fought hard and a few minutes later scored another two goals, tying the score and surpassing the Unified Philadelphia Union. Before the first half was over, Edwin Teah (UPU) was able to sneak in two quick goals, bringing a lead to the Unified Philadelphia Union with a new score of 4-3.
Half time brought a quick pep-talk from Coach Michael Turchi and surprise pep-talk from Philadelphia Union Head Coach Jim Curtain. Curtain had been watching the first half and wanted to let the team know that they had been playing great and to keep it up to secure another win for Philadelphia Union that evening. The pep-talk must have hit home, because, within the first two minutes, Brandon Velez-Roa scored, making the score 5-3. Determined to catch up, the Unified FC Dallas came back and scored another goal, the new score was 5-4 Philadelphia. The second half saw both teams battle it out to. Texas had the goal of tying it up again and Philadelphia had the goal of winning. In the end, Philadelphia came out on top with Sam Desir scoring the last goal of the game, closing it out with a final score of 6 Unified Philadelphia Union – 4 Unified FC Dallas. Both teams were awarded medals based on finish by their host MLS Soccer Team coach, Jim Curtain and FC Dallas Head Coach, Óscar Pareja.
Our team thought the night was over, but the Sons of Ben (who also celebrated their 10th anniversary that evening), had one last surprise for our team. They made a Play Unified Banner with each plauyer’s number on it. Our athletes and partners got to sign one that would remain at Talen Energy Stadium and got to take another home to hang up in their gym. After a long-exciting day, it was time to go home and get a good night’s rest.
Thank you to the wonderful partnership between ESPN, MLS Works, and Special Olympics for making events like this happen. We would also like to thank Philadelphia Union and the Sons of Ben for being such gracious hosts to us the entire day and giving us an experience we will never forget.
Click here for all of our photos from the day!
It was a hot and muggy evening for a soccer game, but that did not slow down our Unified Team or the Philadelphia Union. On July 31, 2016 prior to the Philadelphia Union vs Real Salt Lake match, our George Washington High School Unified Soccer Team was honored for their win against the Colorado Rapids earlier in May. The George Washington Unified Soccer Team competed as the Philadelphia Union during an exchange game made possible by the collaboration of Special Olympics, MLS Works and ESPN. Each year, through the Unified Sports soccer exchange program, Unified soccer teams from MLS cities travel to other MLS markets to receive training from MLS players and coaches, as well as compete in exhibition matches with their Special Olympics counterparts in that MLS market. Special Olympics Philadelphia has had the amazing opportunity to represent the Philadelphia Union. In the last three years as our Unified Team has taken on a Unified D.C. United, Unified NJ Red Bulls, and this year, a Unified Colorado Rapids.
As the Philadelphia Union warmed up, our Unified Team watched from the sidelines as they also prepared to walk on another MLS Field. As they entered the field, the journey of their trip to Denver to played on the jumbo screen. The video, which originally aired on The State of the Union on June 17, 2016 can be viewed here. Our athletes, partners, coaches, and some lucky supporters made their way onto the field with huge smiles on their faces to be recognized. As they stood midfield, they waved to a roaring crowd. As our Unified Team exited the field, the Sons of Ben, the Philadelphia Union Fan Club, gave each member of the team a Sons of Ben Membership Pin to officially integrate them into the pack. After an amazing experience on the field, our Unified Team took to the stands to cheer on the Philadelphia Union as they took on rivals Real Salt Lake. During halftime, our Unified Team met up with Marisa Pilla, Host/Sideline Reporter for Philadelphia Union Pregame Live, to grab a quick picture on set!
On Saturday, August 1, 2015 members of our Martin Luther King High School Unified along with two students from Chester team played against players from Rowan University’s ‘SO College’ Unified group. a Unified New Jersey team at PPL Park prior to the Philadelphia Union game against the New York Red Bulls. Our athletes and partners arrived to a Union-fied locker room with Union jerseys with their last name on the back, shorts and socks. Once they changed, you could have easily mistaken them for the actual Philadelphia Union!
Prior to the starting whistle, some Philadelphia Union members came to wish our team luck including midfielder Jimmy McLaughlin, forward Andrew Wenger, and defender Raymond Lee. With high fives all around, our team was ready to play! Our Unified Philadelphia Union team looked great on the field. During the first half, Philadelphia Union goalkeeper, John McCarthy, joined us on the bench laughing, talking, giving advice, and of course giving high-fives to our team. Luck was with us because as the whistle blew signaling the first half was over, the score was Philadelphia Union 3 – New York Red Bulls 0. All three goals were scored by athlete, Kenny Lamont.
During half time, Philadelphia Union midfielder Jimmy McLaughlin brought manager, Jim Curtin, along to see our athletes and congratulate them on their first three goals. The second half started off strong as we were leading the New York Red Bulls Unified team 3-0. After more thrilling play by both teams, the Red Bulls scored a goal, followed by another goal from our Unified team by Denzel McFadden. The Red Bulls were able to score one more time on our team leaving the final score Philadelphia Union 4 – New York Red Bulls 2.
After the Exchange Game, our Philadelphia athletes and partners were able to enjoy the Philadelphia Union vs New York Red Bulls game. During halftime, both Unified teams were brought on the field one last time to be awarded their medals. Sons of Ben (Philadelphia Union’s fan club) gave both Unified Teams roaring applause and support as all athletes and partners received their award. Following the Union/Red Bulls game, both Exchange teams and their families were invited to a reception before heading home.