The game of soccer can be played in so many ways, and Team USA is proving that every time they hit the pitch.
The American Amputee Soccer Association is quickly growing in the U.S., with regional teams in New York, New England, Texas, southern California, Seattle/Portland, Chicago and the Delaware/Philadelphia areas.
“Our mission as an organization is to not just prepare for international competition at the most elite level, but it's to provide a place for anyone who loves the game of soccer who's living with amputation to have a place to play to develop a sense of community, and those that are willing to take the sacrifice of the dedication, the training and the skill will find their way onto the national team,” said Team USA head coach Eric Lamberg.
Codified in 1980 by Seattle native Don Bennett, amputee soccer is played on a field three quarter the size of a usual field with seven players to a side. Field players use forearm crutches and may play the ball with only one leg. Goalkeepers defend a net seven feet by 16 feet in size and may use only one arm.
Team USA qualified for the 2022 World Cup in March during the region’s first ever Amputee Soccer World Cup qualifying event. They will head to Istanbul, Turkey in September to compete in the 24-team tournament, an impressive feat for a team of volunteers.
“This is not a pay for play type of experience right now, but they are the elite athletes from their parts of the country,” said Lamberg. “We come together a few times a year since we've qualified, and this is the strongest team that we've ever put together. We're very excited to compete at the World Cup.”
The field is where players like captain Nico Calabria have grown to feel right at home. Born with one leg, he’s been a member of Team USA for 12 seasons and a captain since 2014.
“The President of the Board found me when I was like four years old playing on crutches,” said Calabria. “I think everyone craves those opportunities, and getting to represent your country, getting to go out and play a sport that you love, pushing your own personal level as far as you can take it; that's what I look for.”
While playing on the world’s biggest stage is an incredible accomplishment for any athlete, this team is out to prove they are as elite as anyone.
“Disabled people want to compete too, and I think getting that opportunity to compete is special,” said Calabria. “I think leaving it on the field is an expectation that everyone here has, and I have no doubt we're not going to fall short of that. So, we'll just see how far we can go.”
“This is the third World Cup I've been a part of the organization going to, but this is the first time that the World Cup has had qualifiers for teams to make it,” added Lamberg. “We’re very excited and we believe that we're going to go far.”
You can learn more about Team USA Amputee Soccer and help donate by clicking on this link.