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Sporting KC's Special Olympic Unified Team travels to Minnesota for their first match of the season

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Wheels up! Sporting KC’s Special Olympic Unified Team traveled to St. Paul, Minnesota, for the first match in a two-match series against Minnesota United’s Unified Team on June 1, 2024. While the match was the highlight of the trip, Sporting’s Unified Team had a jam-packed schedule leading up to and after the match.

May 31, 2024

The Unified Squad gathered at Kansas City’s downtown airport to embark on their journey to their first match of the season. The team met up on the tarmac, traveling from different parts of the Kansas City metro. For a couple of athletes, this was their first plane ride and what an exciting first flight it was. The Unified players flew to Minnesota with Sporting’s first team who would also face Minnesota in their own match. The players boarded the plane with the full first team experience being filmed and photographed by Sporting staff. On the plane, the players were given a camcorder and digital camera to document their trip.

Once the Unified and First-Team players were on the plane, the trip began. Flying through the sky, the excitement grew. Unified player Antonio Romero shared his flight experience, rating his first flight a 10 out of 5. The flight was just the beginning. After landing in Minneapolis, the Unified Team boarded the bus and went to dinner hosted by Minnesota United’s Unified Team. The dinner was an opportunity for both teams to get to know each other and build friendships on and off the pitch.

The players enjoyed a delicious meal, conversations, and games at the dinner, but the next stop had the team excited. Minnesota treated Sporting’s team to a fun night of games and friendship at the Nickelodeon Universe inside the Mall of America. Between rollercoasters, rides, and attractions, players were able to relax and enjoy their evening before matchday.

June 1, 2024

Matchday. The team met in the lobby of the hotel to embark on the first activity of the day. In the lobby, the Unified team met with Sporting’s first team. Sporting’s first team players greeted the Unified Squad, and they got to talk about the match ahead. Between conversations, laughs, and some piano playing, both teams continued with their matchday preparation.

The Unified Team took a took walk in Minneapolis’ famous sculpture garden. At the garden, players were encouraged to walk around, stretch, and use the time in the garden to get matchday ready. The team visited the sculptures, took pictures, and enjoyed the wonderful weather in the city.

2024 Sporting KC Unified Team in Minnesota | June 01, 2024
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Match time.

Finally, it was time to depart for the match. Sporting KC’s Unified team boarded the bus en route to Allianz Field. There, the players got to watch the Minnesota United vs Sporting KC first team match as a team before heading down to play their own match. The Unified squad enjoyed the match, cheering and reacting to every play and goal. In the 70th minute of the match, both teams went down to the locker room to prepare for their match. Sporting’s Unified changed into the Hoops kit they received during signing day and, one by one began lining up in the tunnel to walk out on the pitch. As the Unified team was getting to take the pitch, Sporting players high-fived and cheered them on.

Both teams had a supporter section cheering them on as they took the pitch. Families of the players traveled to Minnesota to cheer on the team, and players were greeted with applause as the lineups were announced. Each player got to show off their personality as their names were called, waves, salutes, and even a Cristiano Ronaldo “Siuuu” were present in the Starting XI announcements.

Sporting’s Unified coaches gave a rousing pre-match speech, followed by team captain Conner Schonlaw, who found out the day of the match that he would be leading the team for the match.

“It was exciting,” Conner said. “I was shocked when coach told me I was captain. I told them [the team] to hustle, and let’s try to beat those guys.”

The team came out ready to score, and that’s exactly what they did. In the second minute of the match, Sporting was creating a great build; Isaiah Adcox started the play from the backline with a pass to Joe Toland, then German Castillo, and up to Cohen Nimz, who sent a center for Gentry Scheid, to net the first goal of the match. Gentry celebrated by chest-bumping Isaiah as the team gathered to celebrate the goal. Sporting continued creating dangerous plays, and two minutes later, the team found their second goal. Off a Minnesota throw in German was able to recover the ball in the midfield and pass the ball to Antonio, who chipped the ball over the keeper, giving Sporting the 2-0 lead early in the match. Antonio celebrated his goal by high-fiving Matt B and Captain Conner.

Minnesota scored one goal in the first half, narrowing Sporting’s lead. The second 15-minute half saw great plays from Sporting players. Jayden Depierro made some incredible saves in the second half and was crucial in keeping the scoreline close. Minnesota took the first goal as momentum and came out with a 3-2 win over Sporting.

As the final whistle blew, Sporting’s Unified Team was met with applause and cheers from their traveling supporter section. The Unified squad played an intense match and showed off their preparation and skills against a great team. After the match, both team players gathered to take a group picture, showing the unity of the beautiful game. After the match, Unified partner German described the game as a lesson not a loss,

Sporting’s Unified Team returns home and will begin preparations for the second match in this series. Make sure you come out and support the Unified team as they take on Minnesota United on Sept. 21 at Children’s Mercy Park. Secure your spot today and follow along with the Unified Team at SportingKC.com/Unified.