The U.S. Power Soccer Team went head to head with the best in the world last fall and came away champions of the 2011 FIPFA World Cup. It’s the second win for Team USA, which previously won the 2007 Cup in Japan.
Returning as undefeated champions, expectations were high for the U.S. players.
|With an English player bearing down, Case Calvert, right, who has DMD, makes a shot.|
“It was more difficult this time around knowing that every team wanted to beat us,” said J.C. Russo, 21, Team USA’s goalie. Russo was one of five players making her second World Cup appearance.
Taking place over four days in November 2011, in Paris, France, the World Cup is the premier international competition for power soccer, the first competitive team sport designed specifically for power wheelchair users.
The Fédération Internationale de Powerchair Football Association, or FIPFA, hosts the single-elimination tournament every four years, drawing teams from 15 power soccer organizations worldwide from countries such as England, France and Japan. New to the 2011 games were clubs from Australia, Canada, Ireland and Switzerland.
Representing Team USA were 11 players — eight starters and three alternates. Of the 11, seven have muscular dystrophy or a related disease.
|Katie Dickey, who has SMA, blocks an English pass.|
On the roster is Russo (Indiana); brother and sister duo, Jordan, 18, and Katie Dickey, 20 (Indiana); and Omar Solorio, 26 (California) — all of whom have a diagnosis of spinal muscular atrophy (SMA).
Filling in as far wing was Case Calvert, 24 (Indiana), who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). Alternates Jerry Book, 22, and Danny Gorman, 20, have diagnoses of SMA and DMD, respectively.
Rounding out the team were players Michael Archer (Indiana), Kendra Scalia-Carrow (California), Pete Winslow (Minnesota) and alternate Peyton Sefick (New York). Chris Finn reprised his 2007 World Cup role as head coach alongside assistant coach Mike Hayes.
“I love my other teammates, and we are all a part of one bigger family,” said Calvert, who plays locally with the Circle City Rollers of Indiana, alongside national teammates Archer and Russo. “Many of the other players have been rivals of mine since I started power soccer.”
Expressing a similar sentiment was Katie Dickey, a junior at Arizona State University majoring in global studies. Several teammates were “some of my biggest rivals, but it was great to play with them because they’re the best.”
As they prepared for their trip to France, members of Team USA set aside their old rivalries and focused on defending their title.
Picked as favorites to sweep the World Cup, the undefeated U.S. team was stunned by an early 1-0 loss to England.
|With eyes riveted on the ball and fingertip control, Jordan Dickey, who has SMA, battles an English player for control.|
“Everyone was down and very worried about the rest of the day. We played our second game of the day [against Switzerland] and won, but our intensity was still very low,” said Russo, a senior in computer graphics technology at Purdue University.
“It wasn’t something we wanted, but it really prepared us for the games after that,” added Calvert.
Sensing the need for an energy intervention, Coach Finn scheduled an impromptu training session at a nearby gym. No sooner had it ended that their next game versus hometown favorites France was set to begin.
“We entered the competition to a full house; the stands were filled with French fans, but we ignored it,” recalled Russo. “We were in such a frame of mind after that training session that no one could stop us and that’s how we played.”
Team USA beat France 2-0, which sent the team to the finals and against a familiar foe — England.
This time the odds were in favor of the re-energized American team as they dribbled, passed and defended their way to a 3-0 win — a victory sealed by a late assist from Katie Dickie to Calvert that netted the third and final goal of the game. “I will probably remember that feeling forever,” she said.
For full high-definition videos of the games, visit vimeo.com and search for channel 25708 or use the keywords “Coupe du Monde Foot Fauteuil.” (Videos are in French only.) Information about the sport, as well as bios of team members, is available on Team USA's website.
The Who, What and How of Power Soccer
Who: Each team has four players — three offensive players and a goalie.
Where: The game is played on a regulation basketball court.
Equipment: A guard (similar to a bumper) attached to the front of the wheelchair allows players to maneuver the 13-inch ball.
The rules of power soccer follow those of able-bodied soccer, and game play is similar — incorporating penalty and goal kicks, and the use of red and yellow cards. The United States Power Soccer Association is the official governing body of the sport nationally.
“I love soccer cause it gives me the opportunity to be an independent athlete,” says Case Calvert, a graphic designer and owner of Case Calvert Designs in Indianapolis. “This sport is for anyone of any age who uses a power chair to compete and learn what it means to be a part of a team.”
In October 2009, power soccer players from across the United States were invited to apply for a position on the national team. Of those who applied, 20 were selected to try out at a special camp held in Indianapolis. Ultimately, 11 were chosen. For the next two years, the members of Team USA met every three months to train together, relying on weekly practice with their local teams to sharpen their skills.
“It’s a real sport, not a recreation,” says J.C. Russo, a two-time World Cup champion. However, power soccer “teaches so many more lessons than just playing a sport. You naturally will become more outgoing and meet so many great people.”
Many of the athletes divide their time between school and practice, coordinating with teachers to complete assignments and reschedule tests when necessary. Others, like Calvert, own their own businesses and learn to balance their various commitments to work and the sport.
“I had to learn to prioritize. I knew if I wanted to get better, I had to practice. If I wanted to practice, I had to get my homework done,” said Katie Dickey, who recently joined a power soccer team in Phoenix, Ariz., where she attends Arizona State University. Her brother and fellow Team USA player, Jordan, is a freshman at the same university.
Power soccer is one of several sports out there for adults and children with disabilities. For a list of other associations and activities, visit MDA’s Transitions Resource Center.