With just over five years until the team makes its Paralympic Games debut in Los Angeles, the USA Blind Soccer Men’s National Team dipped its toes into the international competition waters with a pair of friendlies against its neighbor to the north, Canada. The matches were held March 19 and 20 at the Salt Creek Soccer Arena in Chula Vista, Calif., with the U.S. prevailing by scores of 1-0 and 3-0.
The opening friendly was a tight affair with the teams battling through a scoreless first half but the American side getting the majority of scoring opportunities. The score remained deadlocked midway through the second half before Alvaro Mora Arellano (Phoenix, Ariz.) took a corner kick out from the sideboards, moved past two Canadian defenders and rocketed a right-foot kick inside the near post past goalkeeper Richard Amelard with 6:15 to play. The partisan U.S. crowd went crazy as Arellano returned to midfield and buried his face in his hands, overcome with emotion.
“It was something historical. It was a work from coaches, from teammates…everybody was prepared to come and play,” said Arellano after the game. “We have been training for a long time and I got the opportunity to put the ball in the net.”
The U.S. team used the momentum from the opening night’s victory to defeat Canada, 3-0, the following night. Again, the U.S. dictated the pace of play for most of the contest with Arellano putting a left-footed shot into the goal with 7:53 remaining in the first half and following it up with a right-footed blast off the post just 52 seconds later to give the Americans a 2-0 halftime lead.
Canada had several penalty kick opportunities in the first half, but goalkeeper Kyle Knott (Brevard, N.C.) denied each one. Then, with 11:07 remaining in the game, captain Noah Beckman (Columbus, Ohio) added an insurance goal as he moved in from the right wing and blasted a shot past Amelard.
“Despite all those penalties, we came out in the second half, and we cleaned it up a lot,” said Beckman. “We calmed down, we held our structure, we were able to come together as a team and not allow Canada to advance too much. I’m just really humbled to have this opportunity to represent my country.”
Boisterous crowds packed the bleachers for both games and the USABA live stream of the opening match received thousands of views on YouTube. The game served as the initial international competition for both teams and also helped educate and spread awareness for the game in both countries as well as increase the fan base of blind soccer enthusiasts.
“Hats off to Team Canada,” added Beckman. “I’m very happy that they came down here to partner with us in promoting and raising awareness for blind soccer. Together we’re showing exactly what blind people can do and hopefully encouraging others out there to move to the next level.”
The USA Blind Soccer Men’s National Team is led by Head Coach Katie Smith (Columbus, Ohio), and Assistant Coaches Fil Wilkinson (Mooresville, N.C.) and Ryan Lazaroe (Slidell, La.). Joining Arellano and Beckman on the roster for the friendlies with Canada were Cody Kirchner (Columbia, S.C.), David Brown (Chula Vista, Calif.), Antoine Craig (Richmond, Va.), Kevin Brown (Falls Church, Va.), Charles Catherine (Brooklyn, N.Y.), Ahmed Shareef (Staten Island, N.Y.), Ricky Castaneda (Fort Worth, Texas), John Marquez (Fort Worth, Texas) and sighted goalkeepers Knott and Brandt Herron (Palm Coast, Fla.).
Enjoy the live stream of the March 19 match below.