The Eastern Conference took a 3-0 victory over their West counterparts in Wednesday's Special Olympics Unified All-Star Game presented by MLS WORKS, ESPN and Coca-Cola at the National Sports Center in Blaine, Minn.
The sides featured 40 Unified team members, representing 20 MLS clubs for an 11-v-11 competitive match. The teams, comprised of players with intellectual disabilities (Special Olympics athletes) and without intellectual disabilities (Unified partners), played two 40-minute halves.
The breakthrough for the East, coached by MLS great Eddie Pope, came in the 36th minute through David Wilkerson of Atlanta United, who finished off a clinically worked counterattack with a far-post strike.
The West, coached by LA Galaxy legend Cobi Jones, looked to have equalized in the 46th minute through a finish from the Galaxy's Douglas Molina, but saw the goal disallowed for offside. The East then doubled the advantage in the 57th minute, when Cesar Barreto of Orlando City SC pounced on the rebound and converted it into an open net after the initial shot from D.C. United's Malcolm Andrews was saved.
The third goal came through Chicago Fire FC's David Ha, who chested a cross in the air to elude his defender in the box and converted a close-range effort. The East had a chance to add to the lead from the penalty spot late, but Houston Dynamo FC's Paulo Alvarez made a diving denial.
- 36' —East — David Wilkerson
- 46' —East — Cesar Barreto
- 57' —East — David Ha
The Unified All-Star Game is part of the season-long Special Olympics Unified Soccer Exchange program that provides opportunities for Unified soccer teams to participate in a first-team MLS experience. MLS Unified soccer teams travel for exhibition matches, scheduled in conjunction with MLS first-team matches, to reinforce inclusivity and showcase the talents and abilities to MLS fans. MLS clubs provide authentic MLS first-team experiences such as signing days, jersey unveils, practices and scrimmages with MLS front office staff and first-team players, and gameday recognition. Unified teams are outfitted in authentic uniforms provided by adidas.
Cobi Jones and Eddie Pope, coaches on the occasion, distributed medals to each athlete and unified partner. Additionally, Douglas Molina and Evan Andrews each won the Spirit of Fair Play Award presented by Coca-Cola, which is given to one Special Olympics Athlete and one Unified Partner who exhibit the traits of good sporting conduct at all times. This includes fostering an inclusive team environment, reinforcing mutual respect between opponents, and recognizing all individuals for their contributions to the team regardless of their ability both on and off the field.