Close to 50 excited soccer players got to play out their childhood dreams as they tried out for the LA Galaxy Special Olympics Unified Team on Sunday, March 10 at Dignity Health Sports Park.
The MLS Unified Soccer Experience brings together athletes with and without intellectual abilities for a unique opportunity to participate on an MLS Unified team where they all train, compete, and partake in social experiences together. The athletes selected for the LA Galaxy Special Olympics Unified Team will compete against the Houston Dynamo Unified Team on Friday, April 19 and against the New York Red Bulls Unified Team on Saturday, May 4.
Each one of the athletes at the tryout brought their best soccer skills, and their even better attitudes. After all, being on the unified team is about so much more than just winning games. It’s about learning how to work together as a team, trust one another, and never forgetting to have fun.
For first time unified partner Missael Gutierrez, his love for the game and hearing about the experiences of both parties was all he needed to come out for the team. “We’re all beautiful characters so just to bring a unified team of partners and athletes, it would’ve been a wonderful experience that I didn’t want to pass on.”
The tryout featured games and stations that tested the players’ soccer skills and ability to work as a team. Possibly the most important, however, was that from 1 – 5 p.m. everyone on the field was a shining example of inclusivity and acceptance. Cheers of encouragement could be heard from every corner of the field for every player.
Of the 50 that tried out, roughly 20 players, comprised of both athletes and partners will be selected. The selection process began shortly after the tryouts concluded with hopes that the team will be formed by the following week.
Athlete Alice Umipig became a Special Olympic athlete in 2015, but left after a year to focus on college. She has now returned, and says that encouragement from her friend and boyfriend are what made her come to the tryouts. She says sports help her focus and build her confidence so she is motivated during classes. Her take away from SOSC and the unified team is that everyone is welcome, and she encourages others to join.
“It doesn’t matter if you have an intellectual disability or not; keep believing in yourself and keep trying.”