MLS WORKS - Special Olympics Unified - 2017 All-Star

MLS, ESPN Announce Special Olympics Unified Sports Soccer Exchange Program

MLS WORKS, Major League Soccer’s community outreach initiative, in collaboration with ESPN and Special Olympics, announced today the kick-off of the 2018 Special Olympics Unified Sports Soccer Exchange Program.

MLS, 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 this collaboration is the Unified Sports Soccer Exchange Program. Unified soccer teams, compromised of players with and without intellectual disabilities, travel from their home city to other MLS markets to compete in exhibition matches with their Special Olympics counterparts.

Unified matches are scheduled in conjunction with MLS club matches, providing MLS fans with an opportunity to witness first-hand, the talents and abilities of Special Olympics athletes and Unified partners. The first match of the season will take place this Saturday, May 5 when Special Olympics Georgia competes against Special Olympics Illinois at Toyota Park, following the Chicago Fire vs. Atlanta United first team match. Click here for the full schedule of Unified matches.

The Unified Exchange Program not only provides Special Olympics athletes with top-level training and competitive skills, but also excellent life experiences that they might not otherwise engage in. MLS Clubs offer team tryouts, signing days, jersey unveils, clinics and training sessions, buddy programs with MLS first-team players and pre-game/halftime recognition ceremonies. Unified teams also represent their home MLS club, outfitted in authentic uniforms provided by adidas.

This summer, MLS and ESPN will host the 5th annual Special Olympics Unified Sports All-Star Soccer Showcase as part of MLS All-Star in Atlanta.  The Unified Sports All-Star soccer teams will play an 11 v. 11 match, featuring Unified players representing all 23 MLS clubs. The first exchange match was held on August 5, 2014, during MLS All-Star in Portland, Oregon, when Unified soccer All-Star teams from the United States and Germany played in a match at Providence Park.  Since then, the format has changed to East vs. West to highlight league-wide participation throughout the U.S. and Canada.

“The Unified Sports Soccer Exchange Program embodies the spirit of our new platform Soccer For All, which signifies that everyone is welcome to MLS,” said JoAnn Neale, Chief Administrative & Social Responsibility Officer, MLS. “In collaboration with our clubs, we’re proud to work with ESPN and Special Olympics to foster more inclusive communities and provide unique experiences to Special Olympics athletes and partners.”

In addition, this summer, the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games will take place in Seattle, Wash. July 1-6, uniting more than 4,000 athletes and coaches from across the nation to compete in 14 Olympic-type sports. The Opening Ceremony will air live on ABC, with daily highlight shows airing on ESPN2.

“At ESPN, we believe in the power of sports to change lives, and we’re proud to have enabled over 1.2 million Special Olympics athletes and their teammates to do just that through Special Olympics Unified Sports since 2014,” said Kevin Martinez, vice president of ESPN Corporate Citizenship. “We’re excited to team up with MLS to further foster social inclusion through the Unified Sports Soccer Exchange Program.”

This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the first Special Olympics Games held on July 20, 1968 in Chicago, Ill. As part of the 50th anniversary celebration, Special Olympics will host the first-ever Unified Cup, a tournament consisting of male and female teams from around the world. ESPN will broadcast the tournament semi-finals and finals from Toyota Park, home of the Chicago Fire. The finals will air live on ESPN2 on July 21.

The collaboration between Major League Soccer, ESPN and Special Olympics North America leverages the strength of MLS and its clubs to promote awareness, respect and inclusion of Special Olympics athletes throughout the soccer community, creating opportunities for new participants, coaches, and fans needed to grow the sport of soccer within Special Olympics North America programs.

About MLS WORKS
MLS WORKS, Major League Soccer’s community outreach initiative, is dedicated to addressing important social issues and serves as a platform for both League and club philanthropic programs. MLS WORKS seeks to establish Major League Soccer as a leader for improving the lives of people through sport. This year, Major League Soccer, through MLS WORKS launched a new platform called Soccer For All, which signifies that everyone is welcome to MLS, regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status. Soccer For All emphasizes Major League Soccer’s commitment to end discrimination and foster more inclusive communities. Follow us on Twitter & Instagram @MLSWORKS.

About ESPN
ESPN is proud of its relationship with Special Olympics, which spans more than 32 years. Over the past four years, ESPN has continued to deepen its relationship with the Special Olympics movement.  In addition to being the Official Broadcaster for the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle, ESPN will also be the Official Media Partner of the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games, hosted in Abu Dhabi.  For more information go to www.espn.com/citizenship.

About Special Olympics
Special Olympics is a global movement that unleashes the human spirit through the transformative power and joy of sports, every day around the world. We empower people with intellectual disabilities to become accepted and valued members of their communities, which leads to a more respectful and inclusive society for all. Using sports as the catalyst and programming around health and education, Special Olympics is fighting inactivity, injustice and intolerance. Founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the Special Olympics movement has grown to more than 5.7 million athletes in nearly 172 countries. With the support of more than 1.2 million coaches and volunteers, Special Olympics delivers 32 Olympic-type sports and more than 108,000 games and competitions throughout the year. Visit Special Olympics at www.specialolympics.org. Engage with us on: Twitter@specialolympics, fb.com/specialolympics, youtube.com/specialolympicshq, instagram.com/specialolympics.

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