By Kevin O’Rourke
Residents will have a rare opportunity to watch a unique soccer team play a unique version of “the beautiful game” this weekend at the Maryland SoccerPlex.
The team will be made up entirely of players that are missing one leg. The American Amputee Soccer Association will hold a practice weekend and final tryouts for the United States National Amputee Soccer Team. According to Rick Hoffman, vice president of the American Amputee Soccer Association, players from all around the country will be vying to represent the US in the Amputee Soccer World Cup in Mexico this December.
The Wounded Warrior Soccer and the Maryland SoccerPlex is hosting the event which will include a charity tournament and game between the USNAST and a which is what Hoffman termed “a traditionally configured” adult mens soccer team, -- meaning they have both legs -- at the SoccerPlex. Originally, the game was to be played against the Liberian National Team, but the match had to be postponed due the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.
The game is part of a fund raising event by the Wounded Warriors Soccer Program. The event will include a Small Sided Tournament which will feature local soccer teams, many of which play in the SoccerPlex regular adult leagues competing in small-sided, or seven-vs-seven games from 8:00 am to 2:00 pm, according to Thomas Goubeaux , the chief operation officer of the Wounded Warriors Soccer Program.
The USNAST game will begin at noon. Admission to all events is free, but donations will be accepted and the event will include fund raisers. The tournament and game will take place on Fields 20 and 21 at the SoccerPlex.
While the A.C. Montgomery team will have both legs, they won’t be allowed to use them, according to Hoffman. “While we will often put the other team on crutches, this time they’ll be playing high-sock, low sock, meaning the can only kick with the low-sock foot and will have to touch the ball twice before passing. It levels the playing field a bit.”
“The AC Montgomery guys are getting a little scared,” said Goubeaux, who is a long-time referee at SoccerPlex games. “I sent them some videos of the USNAST guys playing, and they are getting nervous. There are real athletes on that team.”
According to Goubeaux, the six tournament teams and corporate sponsors have covered the cost of the holding the tournament and any funds raised at the event will go to the Wounded Warrior Project.
Among the players hoping to nab one of the ten outfielder spots on the US National Team will be 15-year-old, Urbana High School student Noah Grove. “He’s a very strong candidate,” said Hoffman. “He is very probably going to make the team.” Grove is so good that the AASA has petitioned the World Amputee Football Federation, which is the governing body for the sport, to make an exception to the 16-year-old age restriction for players. “The WAFF Members agreed by vote,” said Hoffman. “So, he’ll be eligible to play in Mexico in December.”
Another hopeful is Matt Castillo del Muro, an Afghan-war veteran form the 101st Airborne. “We recruited him right out of rehab at Bethesda,” said Hoffman.
Folks are encouraged to come out and watch this brand of soccer. “Amputee soccer is very powerful, fast, physical and exceptionally inspirational game,” according to Hoffman.
Rules for amputee soccer stay as close to FIFA rules as possible with some major differences, the biggest being, in official games, field players have to have a lower extremity amputation and goalies must have an upper extremity amputation, and no one can use prosthetics, which creates an even playing ground. The field is smaller and each team plays seven players, including a goalie. Throw-ins become kick-ins, no slide tackles, unlimited substitutions and players may re-enter the games. The games are also shortened to 25-minute halves. Other differences from the traditional game include, no offsides, and the goal keeper cannot leave the goalie box and the goals are smaller. “The keepers have one arm,” said Hoffman, “we have to give them a break.”
Another unique rule is that neither fielders nor keepers may use the residual limb to control or direct the ball. “The reason,” explained Hoffman, “We are all [cut] off at difference places. The individual with the most residual limb left has a mechanical advantage over those with shorter residuals. Therefore, to maintain a level playing field, no one can use the residual limb to control or direct the ball.”
Finally, any offensive use of the crutch, such as tripping, cross-checking or slashing will earn the offending player an immediate red card and suspension.
In 1980 Don Bennett, of Seattle, created amputee soccer and held the first international competition in 1984 in the U.S., according to the American Amputee Soccer Association. Though the sport has taken off in many other countries where there are leagues and smaller tournaments it remains marginally unknown in America.
“From eight national teams in 2005, we now have 24 Members in the world organization, with six more in various stages of membership application,” said Hoffman.
Hoffman says that other countries large government-fund programs for amputee soccer. “For the most part ours is a relatively young, inexperienced team,” he said. “Lots of great skill and talent, to be sure, but they have yet to encounter government-subsidized programs like those in Russia and Uzbekistan.” Uzbekistan has won three straight World Cup titles.
Top: The US National Amputee Soccer Team practicing at the Maryland SoccerPlex on Friday.
Middle: Noah Grove, of Fredrick, Md. during practice on Friday.
Bottom: USNAST during a drill.
Video: The USNAST working on passing and defending at the Maryland SoccerPlex.