In preparation for an upcoming trip to Dallas, the 2016 Chicago Fire Unified Soccer All-Star Team held a training session Tuesday under cloudy conditions at Toyota Park.
The team – a group consisting of six athletes, five unified partners, and two alternates – is in the midst of its second season after a successful debut in 2015. Tuesday's practice was another step towards taking their first competitive match of the season, which will come when they join the Chicago Fire first team in their away match at FC Dallas on July 16.
Training on the main field at Toyota Park, Tuesday's session featured drills and scrimmages with coaches from both Special Olympics Illinois as well as the Fire’s Soccer In The Community initiative. As the program continues to build, the individual qualities of the players on the team are growing along with it.
“The team skill level is significantly higher than it has been in previous years,” Jen Marcello, Director of Young Athletes at Special Olympics Illinois, said. “It’s fun to watch the skill improvement that they’ve been getting with the professional training and watching their skills – as good as they are to start with – continue to grow.”
After training, the players received their customized Chicago Fire kits, training gear, and equipment bags to get them officially ready for a big trip south in a few weeks’ time. However, representing the Fire in Frisco is just one of the perks of being a Unified Team All-Star.
Photo Gallery | Chicago Fire Unified Soccer All-Stars Practice
“In all honesty, they are looking more forward to traveling with the team and being able to be on the same flight and stay at the same hotel and be treated like a professional athlete,” Marcello said.
The Unified All-Star Team is taking on new challenges this year, building upon a first season that culminated in a trip to Portland to play the Timbers’ unified team last summer. In year two, they’ll also get to play an official match at Toyota Park for the first time.
"This is an incredible program,” Chicago Fire Chief Operating Officer Atul Khosla said. “In year one, we took the special Olympics unified team for an away game in Portland. This year we get to host Orlando City’s Unified Team at home, which will be the first time for our athletes to play in front of our home crowd. I think that’s pretty special.”
The match will conclude the Unified All-Star Team’s 2016 season and will coincide with the Fire first team’s home match against Orlando City SC on Sunday, August 14.
Additional information on the Special Olympics Unified Sports program can be found here.