PORTLAND, Ore. – Michael Bradley is used to being the one receiving the accolades.
But on a bluebird Tuesday afternoon at Providence Park, the US national team and Toronto FC star was more than happy to be the one handing out the medals.
Bradley was on hand for the MLS All-Star week Special Olympics Unified Sports All-Star soccer match between Special Olympians from North America (consisting of Oregon and Washington Special Olympians) and a team from Germany. Not surprisingly, Bradley had the athletes and coaches smiling from ear to ear as he shook hands and presented medals to the game’s participants.
“To see the smiles on everybody’s faces and to see how much fun they had with the opportunity to play in a stadium like this, that was great,” Bradley told MLSsoccer.com after the festivities. “They were pretty tired after the game; they put a lot into it. They were just excited, and you could tell they really enjoyed the day.”
Bradley also greeted the two teams before the game, wishing them luck. The German team emerged victorious on the field, taking a 4-0 lead after the first 20-minute half before running away with a 7-0 victory. But the result was hardly the point as the athletes got a chance to play on the Providence Park pitch with Bradley looking on.
“Special Olympics can bring anyone together, from all level of soccer in particular,” said Special Olympics of Oregon coach David Stratton, who played for the North American team. “I mean, you’ve got MLS All-Stars and Hall of Famers all in the same city in the same arena meeting together with Special Olympics and regular volunteer coaches. And Special Olympics is capable of putting that all together.”
Mark Hanken, Special Olympics of Oregon senior vice president of sports, coached the North American team. He said, much like the MLS All-Stars who compete against Bayern Munich on Wednesday, his team received a minimal amount of time together.
“As you can see these guys are a great team,” Hanken said of the German team. “But our guys fought hard. We rattled the woodwork there at the end; it would have been nice to see one of those go in. But I was really proud of how hard they played. … They didn’t know each other well, but they worked hard and played for each other and I think you saw the camaraderie on the field. It was fun.”