On the field, Nico Calabria serves as captain of the United States Amputee Soccer Team and as a member of the New England Amputee Soccer Team, arguably becoming the top player in the sport in the country.
Off the pitch, the 27-year-old has made expanding access to the sport something of his life's work. Calabria joined a special MLS Works podcast episode to detail his path into the world of amputee soccer, and how he's seeking to provide more opportunities nationwide to anyone who wants to play.
"Our goal is to provide access to the sport for anyone who wants to play in the United States," Calabria said with MLS's Soccer For All Week underway. "As a disabled athlete, you face all these additional barriers to being able to participate, and that's our goal, is to remove as many of those financial barriers as possible, so that if you have the determination and the will to play and the commitment to play, you will have the opportunity to do so."
The US Amputee Soccer team has progressed greatly over the past five years, both in the number of athletes competing and in the overall quality. Part of the reason is the establishment of regional teams like the New England Amputee Soccer Team, where Calabria is a star player. Markets like New York, Houston and Los Angeles have also established teams, with more possibly emerging in Dallas, Denver and Florida.
Calabria said he's always looking for people who might want to play, wherever they might be located. It can be challenging, but through social media and word of mouth, Calabria has reached an increasing number of prospective players.
"There’s a lot of barriers to getting things organized, but we're completely taking off right now and headed in the right direction," he said.
In an ideal scenario, a regional amputee team exists in the same market as an MLS club which can help grow the game. The New England Revolution have taken that to heart, first connecting with Calabria back in 2014 and becoming a prominent supporter of amputee soccer both locally and nationally. The New England Amputee Soccer Team has a long-term partnership with the Revolution, which has supported the team with donations and funding for team expenses, including training field usage.
"[Calabria] does this all pro bono, like he's not getting paid to build amputee soccer in our country," Revolution Director of Fan and Community Engagement Dave Campopiano said. "He's volunteering his time and energy, and so the fact that he's doing that, we can definitely do our part as a club that has a lot more structure and funding behind it."