On the morning of July 31, hours before the Major League Soccer (MLS) all-stars took the pitch at Orlando’s Exploria Stadium to face Spanish power Atletico Madrid, MLS WORKS and the Special Olympics hosted another all-star game featuring some of the best soccer players from across the country.
The sixth annual Unified Sports All-Star Soccer Match pitted partners and athletes representing teams from the Eastern Conference against those from the West in an 11-on-11 match at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. The New England Revolution were part of the festivities. Franklin High alum Farley Asmath was chosen to be the Revs Unified partner at the event, teaming up with athlete Preston Hall III.
Asmath, who earned HockomockSports.com Second XI honors in 2016 as a senior striker for the Panthers and who led the region in goals and points last fall at MassBay Community College, was thrilled at the honor of representing the Revs in Orlando.
“I’m just very thankful that they’ve noticed what I’ve been doing with the team…that I’m putting in the work at practice and things like that,” he explained. “I’m very thankful for that.” (Asmath and the Eastern Conference pulled out a 2-1 victory on Wednesday morning.)
The Unified team is a collaboration between the Revolution and Special Olympics Massachusetts. The team consists of seven athletes with intellectual disabilities and six Unified partners. The program is in its fifth season and features signing days, jersey reveals, and games scheduled in conjunction with first-team matches, giving everyone involved a taste of soccer at the MLS level.
This is Asmath’s second season with the Revs’ Unified program. He is one of three Franklin partners on the squad, along with former Panther Calen Frongillo and rising senior Carly Alston. Milford rising senior Olivia Marshall is also a partner on the team, while J.P. Young of Milford and Shawn Barton of Stoughton are athletes.
The Hockomock has seen a dramatic growth in Unified sports over the past several years. Asmath wasn’t able to participate in Unified programs while at Franklin because his soccer and track schedules didn’t allow it, but he was familiar with the Best Buddies program and when he was able he volunteered at Unified track meets at the school and made the effort to support the team. “I cheered them on and made sure they had a good time,” he said.
He jumped at the opportunity to join the Revs. Asmath attended a tryout and was selected to be part of the team. As he got set to start his second season, Asmath pushed his friends and former classmates to join him on the pitch.
“It’s so much fun. You get to play soccer and practice and meet great people,” he said. “I get to work with a lot of different people from different backgrounds and especially looking forward to helping people with their soccer, which I’m very passionate about.”
Last summer, the Unified team played one game, beating the Philadelphia Union 2-0 at Gillette Stadium. This year, the Revs went on the road to play D.C. United at Audi Field in July and will host New York City FC in September. Adding a second game, including a road trip, meant another unique opportunity for the athletes to share.
“It was so much fun,” Asmath said. “Everybody was really excited, they were really looking forward to it.” After the game in D.C., an athlete’s mother came up to Asmath to explain how much the trip meant to her son. “She said that every time he came to practices and games that he was very happy afterwards, which made them really happy,”
He added, “When she came to me and told me that, I was very happy. I felt like I made someone happy at home…We try to have a good time so they go home and talk about it and be excited about it.”
Asmath credited the Revs organization for its support of the Unified team. He mentioned that the Revs first-team players are frequently around practices and in the locker room and that he has gotten to know several of the players well over the past two seasons.
Revs defender Andrew Farrell said, “I think it’s important to give back to the community and give your help whenever you can. It’s not a lot that I’m giving, just my time and effort and my smile and my energy and I think everyone should be able to give back like that.”
Farrell’s support of Unified athletes started at the University of Louisville, where he volunteered for three years at a camp for athletes with disabilities that was run by his head coach. That recognition of the importance of inclusion carried over to his professional career.
“You can see it on the signing day and how excited they are to become a part of the club and the organization,” Farrell said. “It’s amazing. They’re always smiling and have a good vibe and good energy. It’s important to give everyone opportunities.”
Soccer brought these players together and offered the chance for new friendships and experiences, but Asmath believes that the Unified program delivers a new perspective that extends well beyond the pitch.
“The first year I did it, I didn’t know what to expect,” he explained. “I was just going with the flow, see how it goes, but then you start talking to the athletes and then you can see what it’s all about.
“You can see in their heart that they’re passionate about the game. You can see the joy and enthusiasm that they have not only for the sport, but for life.”
You can support the Unified program at its annual Bowl for a Goal fundraiser, which takes place on Wednesday, Aug. 21 from 6-9 p.m. at Splitsville Luxury Lanes at Patriot Place. The event features first-team Revs coaches and players, as well as members of the Unified team and local celebrities. All proceeds benefit Special Olympics Massachusetts. Purchase tickets at https://www.revolutionsoccer.net/community/bowl-for-a-goal.