Leveraging the power of sport, MLS WORKS, ESPN and Special Olympics have teamed up to promote an environment of social inclusion by uniting people with and without intellectual disabilities through Special Olympics Unified Sports®.
Cornerstone to the collaboration is the Unified Sports Soccer Exchange Program, which is aligned with the League’s Soccer For All platform and provides opportunities for Unified soccer teams to participate in a first-team MLS experience. Unified soccer teams travel to MLS markets to compete in exhibition matches scheduled in conjunction with MLS club matches. MLS clubs provide unique experiences such as signing days, jersey unveils, buddy programs with MLS first-team players, and gameday recognition. Unified teams represent their home MLS club, outfitted in authentic uniforms provided by adidas.
The Unified Exchange program not only provides Special Olympic athletes with top-level training and competitive experiences, but also excellent life experiences that they might not otherwise engage in.
On July 31st, MLS and ESPN hosted the 6th annual Special Olympics Unified Sports All-Star Match as part of MLS All-Star Week in Orlando, FL. The Unified Sports East and West All-Star soccer teams played an 11 v. 11 match, comprised of individuals with intellectual disabilities (Special Olympics athletes) and without intellectual disabilities (Unified partners). After a hard-fought match that was aired on ESPN3, the Eastern Conference emerged victorious, defeating the Western Conference 2-1. MLS Greats Cobi Jones and Oguchi Onyewu served as celebrity coaches for the match. The Unified teams were also recognized on-field during pre-game of the MLS All-Star Game presented by Target.
To help Special Olympics reach the goal of 7 million acts of inclusion and support ESPN’s mission to use the power of sport to inspire social change, MLS is asking individuals to take the “Choose to Include” pledge by visiting www.specialolympics.org/MLS or by texting ‘MLS19’ to 51-555.