On July 8th, RSL (Real Salt Lake) signed its inaugural Special Olympics Utah Unified Soccer Team pairing athletes with and without intellectual disabilities together for the Unified Sports exchange program. This program is the cornerstone of the ongoing partnership between MLS (Major League Soccer) and Special Olympics North America. Unified soccer teams from MLS cities receive training from MLS players and coaches, as well as compete in exhibition matches with their Special Olympics counterparts in that MLS market. Unified matches are scheduled in conjunction with MLS club matches, providing MLS fans with an opportunity to witness first-hand, the talents and abilities of Special Olympics athletes and unified partners. The exchange program not only provides Special Olympics athletes with top-level training and competitive experiences, but also excellent life experiences that they might not otherwise otherwise engage in.
Players were selected at tryouts on April 27, 2016 at Rio Tinto Stadium and during the High School Unified Sports Championships. RSL’s Unified Team will play their first home match against Colorado Rapids Unified Team directly following the MLS match on Friday, August 26, 2016 at the Rio Tinto Stadium. The public is invited to come cheer on the team at the match. Admission is free; however, the gates will not be open to those attending the match until the end of the RSL game.
The Unified Team will be coached by Jenna Holland. Coach Holland is certified in coaching Special OlympicsUnified Sports, track and field, soccer, Bocce, snowshoeing, basketball and swimming. In 2014 Jenna went to Special Olympics USA Games as the Utah Unified Head Soccer Coach.
On Tuesday, July 26, MLS WORKS and ESPN hosted a Special Olympics Unified Sports All-Star soccer match featuring Special Olympics All-Stars representing 18 MLS clubs from the U.S. and Canada. The two Unified Sports All-Star soccer teams (comprised of players both with and without intellectual disabilities) played a match, consisting of two 35-minute halves, at Avaya Stadium following MLS All-Star open training. The teams were East vs. West and SOUT athlete Ivan Yin and his Unified Partner Boston Iacobazzi represented Special Olympics Utah/RSL team at the All-Star game.
Special Olympics Utah is thankful to Real Salt Lake, MLS Works and ESPN Citizenship for this amazing partnership which will continue to promote awareness, respect, inclusion and acceptance of Special Olympics athletes throughout the community.