WASHINGTON D.C., July 19, 2023 – Hours before the Major League Soccer (MLS) All-Star Game, Matt Braithwaite and Joseph Toland, representing Sporting KC, joined other Special Olympics athletes and Unified partners from across the United States and Canada for the Special Olympics Unified Sports All-Star Game.
MLS Clubs and their Special Olympics counterparts nominated a Special Olympics athlete, a Unified partner and one coach to serve as their local All-Star representatives. Braithwaite and Toland of Bonner Springs were chosen for their strong character, leadership, and work ethic on and off the field. Braithwaite and Toland competed on the West Team in the 11 v. 11 competitive soccer match.
Their Unified coach David Toland wasn’t surprised by this decision.
“Joseph is one of the most supportive players on our team. Always being there to keep us all included. Matt has such a helpful personality, and he is also one of our most coachable players on the team,” he said.
The 2023 Unified All-Star Experience took place from Monday, July 16 to Thursday, July 19 in Washington DC as part of 2023 MLS All-Star Week festivities. These two helped bring home a win for the West All-Star Team, their first in four years, against the East Team 6-1.
“The energy and excitement from all the delegates makes it an unforgettable chapter in an athlete’s life,” Coach Toland said, “but having West win was such an amazing feeling.”
The teams included players with intellectual disabilities (Special Olympics athletes) and without intellectual disabilities (Unified partners). The coaches for the game were MLS Greats.
Unified Champion Schools is an inclusive school strategy that is a partnership between schools and Special Olympics Kansas in more than 100 schools across Kansas. This strategy gives students with and without intellectual disabilities an opportunity to play sports together.
The Unified Sports All-Star Soccer Match is part of the season-long Special Olympics Unified Soccer Exchange program that provides opportunities for Unified soccer teams to participate in a first-team MLS experience.