The Chicago Fire Unified-All Star Team has their eyes set on victory this weekend, as they will travel alongside the First Team on their trip to New England.
Ready for their third season's competitive debut, the team of 7 Special Olympic athletes and 7 Unified Partners is looking forward to the challenge ahead. Since coming together as a team this March, the group has grown both tactically and culturally.
“Since March, the team has developed a much better understanding of both the game and their teammates,” said Caleb Steffens, Chicago Fire Soccer in the Community Program Manager and Unified Team coach, said. “We have put a huge focus on playing as a team and working together, and I think we are starting to see the pieces coming together.”
The team practices together 1-2 times a month, and the athletes are encouraged to develop their skills individually or in their regional groups when the team is not together. This limited amount of team time makes training a unique opportunity heavily focused on the players tactical understanding of the game. In the past few years, the interest in this program has grown, as well as the level of competition, so the team trains hard to step up their play.
Last week, the team received their game uniforms, backpacks and gear to make sure they were ready to go on game day. They also had the special opportunity to spend a day with the Chicago Fire first team members, watching them practice and learning how they fuel their bodies for competition.
Getting a chance to see the life of a professional athlete first hand is “something you miss unless you are with them for a day and get to see their intensity at practice, the focus throughout the day, and lastly their nutritional choices and recovery,” said Steffens. “Being able to see those aspects of their day gives the kids perspective and also preps them for their trip in a couple days.”
The trip to New England will be the Unified Team’s third trip in the history of the program, with the first trip to Portland in 2015 and the second trip to Dallas in 2016. The team has practiced long and hard for this event, and understands how unique this opportunity is.
“This program is the pinnacle of their sports career as a Special Olympics athlete,” said Steffens. “All our athletes play multiple sports in the Special Olympics system, but nothing stacks up to being on the Unified All-Star team and representing the Chicago Fire within MLS play.”
The Chicago Fire Unified All-Star team will take on the New England Unified All-Star team following the conclusion of the first team's match on Saturday June 17th.