My heart may have been beating fast but I dominated my nervousness. I'm just so happy for everything. Showing pride for the state of Utah, it's been so awesome. I'll be a fan until I die," —Ivan Yin
“Can you capture the sound of tears?” asked D’Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, the Special Olympics Utah CEO when asked what the Real Salt Lake Unified Sports team meant to her. It was a magical night for everyone involved with the event. The Real Salt Lake Unified team won its inaugural match against the Colorado Rapids Unified team on Friday, Aug. 26, in Sandy.
“It was such an amazing experience. Thanks to all my crew, my coaches, my goalie coach who was a master. I couldn’t of done it without him. I’ve always dreamed to play for Real Salt Lake and it came true. We’re all champions," said RSL Unified goalie, Ivan Yin.
In November of 2015 a woman named Mary Van Minde with RSL contacted Pignanelli and told her about the opportunity that could happen. Major League Soccer partners with Special Olypmics as part of the MLS Works program. The program helps create and promote awareness, acceptance, opportunities and acceptance of Special Olympic athletes in the community.
RSL Unified held tryouts this past spring on July 8 and RSL signed the inaugural team, which includes athletes with and without intellectual disabilities. Each athlete was given a new kit, signed a contract and were even expected to give back to the community by doing community service.
“It’s such a positive moment. When there is so much that is negative when you come to Unified Sports everything is positive. Everything is about being together, cheering for each other. When I walked in this stadium, and when I saw those athletes take the field it was a really powerful, magical moment,” said Pignanelli
RSL Unified won the match when goalkeeper, Yin, blocked two penalty kicks to the win for the team in extra time. It was a dream come true to be able to play for RSL Unified for Yin.
“My heart may have been beating fast but I dominated my nervousness. I’m just so happy for everything. Showing pride for the state of Utah, it’s been so awesome. I’ll be a fan until I die," said Yin.
Greg Green, father of RSL Unified player Natalie Green spoke of how the whole experience for everyone has been one to remember.
“It has been exceptional. As a family we’ve played soccer since 2005. Natalie first started playing in a special needs soccer program in 2011 and what we are constantly looking for are activities that encourage these kinds of healthy lifestyles for our kids. This has just been fantastic. We’ve honestly been on could nine.”
Van Minde, who helped put together the whole event, said, “From April try-outs to Friday’s game, the experience ha been great for our club. Players and coaches from Real Salt Lake and the Monarchs have joined together for this cause.”
The Unified game is going to be an annual event and part of the proceeds from RSL license plates will fund this team. RSL hopes to have enough licenses plates sold next year so the Unified team can travel with RSL to play the Colorado Rapids.
“So many people get benched in life," said Pignanelli. "Unified Sports is about taking people, those with or without intellectual disabilities, that too often get benched, and putting them together on a team, putting them on a field and letting them compete together.”
Carra McManamon is a native of Washington state and is attending the University of Utah. Contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter: @curramac22