After Sunday’s game against New York Red Bulls, another chapter in the teams’ storied rivalry will unfold on the pitch. Philadelphia Union’s Unified Special Olympics PA team will play an exciting exhibition match in front of a home Subaru Park crowd, taking on the Red Bulls’ Special Olympics New Jersey Unified squad!
MLS Unified soccer teams join people with and without intellectual disabilities together on the pitch, using the power of sport to promote inclusivity. Philadelphia Union’s team, made of 11 athletes from George Washington High School, has been gearing up for the match all week. In anticipation for the upcoming showdown, the club hosted the team at Subaru Park for a special Philadelphia Union signing day ceremony.
Upon arrival, the group was welcomed to the Tunnel Club decorated in blue and gold, where homegrowns Jack McGlynn and Nate Harriel joined them for a meet-and-greet lunch provided by Chick-fil-a. Head Coach Jim Curtin arrived soon after, taking to the stage for an inspiring pregame speech.
“Incredible day today, to have you guys become part of the Philadelphia Union family. I’m honored to have met you guys out in the field after our practice that we did preparing for Red Bulls. You guys have a big game in that stadium on Sunday, and we're gonna all be there to cheer you guys on,” Curtin said.
He offered some special advice for the team as well.
“I tell my players this, whether it’s Andre Blake or Julian Carranza, our leading scorer. When you walk out of that tunnel in this stadium, it's okay to be a little bit nervous, that's natural. That means you care. That's a good thing. But again once the game starts, it's the same game and you and your coaches have worked really hard to play in. Be confident, have fun, and help your teammates,” Curtin said.
“This badge is only two and a half inches, but it’s bigger than any one person. It’s bigger than any one player. What we mean by that is we want you guys to go on the field together as great teammates and help each other out in the hard moments of the game. We're really excited and we're really I know you guys are gonna play a great game.”
Each athlete was called to the stage to receive a contract alongside the Head Coach, with their friends, teammates, and Union players in the audience. After signing on the dotted line, the group was guided to the locker room for one surprise. When they entered, each athlete found their very own custom authentic Union kit and a customized Adidas soccer backpacks brimming with must-have game day essentials, including with a water bottle, scarf, lanyard, stickers, magnets, and even an Andre Blake Bobblehead.
While checking out the gear, athlete Tamir Riley, who represented the Philadelphia Union at the Special Olympics Unified Sports All-Star game, made his way to the team’s white board, where he quickly got to work game-planning with his teammates.
“My favorite part of today was the strategy board in the locker room, so we can do some strategies for the soccer game,” Tamir said.
When asked what he likes most about playing on the team, Tamir listed respecting all players, helping his teammates out and of course, scoring goals.
Fans are invited to support Tamir and the rest of his team when they kick off against Red Bulls’ Special Olympics New Jersey squad 20 minutes after the first team match on Sunday.