CHICAGO – The 2017 Special Olympics Unified Sports All-Star match ended with late drama on Tuesday at Toyota Park.
Goals from a pair of Seattle Sounders players had helped the Western Conference team come back from a halftime deficit. But then, in the final 65 seconds of the match, New York City FC’s Umar Muftau scored his second goal of the game, saving a 2-2 draw for the Eastern Conference side.
“It was exciting,” Minnesota United forward Mikhail Pearthree said. “But I wish our team could have got ahead by one.”
“It was cool, we’ve been out there for some of their league games so we know both guys from the Chicago team,” Conner said. “It was cool just to be a part of that and see how excited they all were, obviously a really fun, cool experience.”
Muftau opened the scoring in the 23rd minute, picking off a pass and finishing low to give the East a 1-0 lead at the break. Local forward Mark Jerabek nearly doubled the lead, putting the ball in the back of the net in the 41st minute, but he was whistled offside.
Moments later, the two Seattle teammates broke through for the West. In the 42nd minute, Chance Stoneback-Schelling put away a low left-footed finish to tie the score. A minute later, Seattle’s Jesus Tepole curled a shot from the top of the box that tipped off the 'keeper’s hands and went in for the go-ahead goal.
Then, just shy of the full 50 minutes, Muftau picked off another pass and finished him second goal of the game to end things level.
“It happens,” Cleveland said. “I thought our organization in the attacking half of the field was very good, our pressing was good, we’ve just got to put some of the chances away and then it’s not a game.”
Despite conceding the late goal, the West created plenty of scoring chances throughout.
“I thought our squad was creating the better chances,” Jonathan Campbell said. “We gave up some bad goals on the back passes and playing it out of the back, so that was unfortunate, but I liked what we were bringing.”
For the Eastern side, Chicago’s Jerabek and Colin Iverson enjoyed playing host to the All-Star event.
“I feel like it was like a home game,” Jerabek said.
Iverson added that he “had a bunch of friends come out, home game, I made everyone come.”
For Doody, it was a previous connection with Jerabek that made him want to coach the Eastern team in particular.
“Dude, he’s a Neuqua [Valley High School] Wildcat, he went to my high school,” Doody said. “I was working a camp like four or five years ago and he was a freshman or something. And then fast forward to last year, and he’s with the Fire’s Special Olympic team and I was like, ‘Oh my God, Jerabek.’ So as soon as I found out we were coaching the game, I grabbed Drew Conner here, and he’s a Homegrown kid like me, and we immediately grabbed the East side. I don’t want to say all because of Jerabek, but that was a big reason.”
While the locals enjoyed the home atmosphere, the visiting players came away with a positive experience as well.
“It was amazing, I’ve met so many great people,” FC Dallas midfielder Alyson Cave said. “It was awesome in general. Everyone was so nice. Honestly I’m like best friends with some of the kids that I’ve only known for a couple of hours. It’s been a great experience and I would recommend it for anyone.”