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Special Olympics soccer team returns with vast experience

“We had a lot of fun and I want to go again,” he said with a big smile.
The unified soccer squad competed in a four-team competition at the Special Olympics World Games: Los Angeles 2015. The other three teams that competed against American Samoa were eventual gold medal winners Indonesia, Malaysia and bronze winners Philippines.
American Samoa lost all three, round-robin games — 7-0 against Malaysia, 8-1 against Indonesia and 6-3 against the Philippines.
In the medal rounds, American Samoa was pitted against the Philippines in a game that went down to the last minute with the former losing 4-3.
“It was a great game with all our players giving everything they had on the field,” explained Ryan Samuelu, one of three unified partners on the squad and also the team’s captain. “The other teams were more experienced than most of our players but they showed a lot of heart.”
The Philippines scored twice in the first half to lead 2-0 before American Samoa mounted a comeback bid in the second half. Two Samuelu goals later and it was 2-2.
The Philippines again went up 3-2 before Samuelu equalized the game with less than 5 minutes to play. In a last gasp effort, the Philippines managed to score the game-winner with less than a minute to play.
“I enjoyed the game and too bad we did not come away with the win and a medal,” said Laveaina Pua.
Special Olympics’ unified sports combines players with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. The unified partners on the team were Samuelu, Tevita Taliaoli and Willie Malele.
“I have seen a very big change in all of you, especially the unified partners,” said Tafaimamao Tua Tupuola to the team following the game. “When we first held our Camp Shriver back home, I saw the unified partners sitting apart from our non-unified players. But here in LA, I see you all interacting with one another and treating each other as friends and brothers.
“Thanks to this unified soccer experience the unified partners do not look at our other players differently,” said Tua Tupuola, who is also chairperson of the Special Olympics American Samoa.
“It was a great experience and one I will never forget,” Malale said. “It was great fun and I look forward to participating in future Special Olympics games.”
“We are very proud of the Special Olympics unified soccer team and hope that all of the players continue to play soccer so that they can go to other regional and World Games,” said Football (soccer) Federation American Samoa president, Fai’ivae Iuli Alex Godinet.

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