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MLS WORKS and ESPN Announce 2019 Special Olympics Unified Sports Soccer Exchange Program

April 12, 2019 - Major League Soccer (MLS) News Release

NEW YORK - MLS WORKS, Major League Soccer's Social Responsibility platform, in collaboration with ESPN and Special Olympics, announced today the kickoff of the 2019 Special Olympics Unified Sports® Soccer Exchange Program. The program, aligned with the League's Soccer For All platform, promotes an environment of social inclusion by uniting people with intellectual disabilities (Special Olympics athletes) and without intellectual disabilities (Unified partners) on and off the playing field.

Unified Sports soccer matches are scheduled in conjunction with MLS first-team matches, providing MLS fans with an opportunity to witness first-hand the talents and teamwork of Special Olympics athletes and Unified partners. The first match of the season will take place on Sunday, April 14th when Special Olympics Missouri/Kansas take on Special Olympics New Jersey following the Sporting Kansas City vs. New York Red Bulls match at Children's Mercy Park.

A cornerstone of the partnership, the Unified Exchange Program provides Special Olympics athletes and Unified partners with top-level training and important life experiences. MLS clubs conduct signing days, jersey unveils, buddy programs with MLS first-team players, and gameday recognition of Special Olympics Unified teams. Unified teams represent their home MLS club, outfitted in authentic uniforms provided by adidas.

This summer, MLS and ESPN will host the 6th annual Special Olympics Unified Sports All-Star Soccer Showcase as part of MLS All-Star Week in Orlando. The Unified Sports East and West All-Star soccer teams will play an 11 versus 11 match, featuring Unified players representing MLS clubs.

"Through our Soccer For All platform, MLS strives to provide an environment where everyone is welcome," said JoAnn Neale, President & Chief Administrative Officer. "The Special Olympics Unified Exchange Program is a great example of how we're collectively working to build inclusive communities. We're proud to continue collaborating with our clubs and great partner ESPN for the Unified program's sixth season, providing authentic MLS experiences and opportunities for all to play the game."

"At ESPN, we believe in the power of sports to change lives, and we're proud to have enabled over 1.2 million Special Olympics athletes and their teammates to do just that through Special Olympics Unified Sports since 2014," said Kevin Martinez, Vice President of ESPN Corporate Citizenship. "We're excited to team up with MLS to further foster social inclusion through the Unified Sports Soccer Exchange Program."

In celebration of Special Olympics' 50th Anniversary, ESPN is airing 50 Game Changer film shorts - original documentary features that run weekly on SportsCenter in the U.S. and on digital through July 2019. Each story showcases an athlete, coach or parent, among others making a profound difference within Special Olympics over the years. ESPN is committed to helping Special Olympics achieve their goal of building Unified Sports programming and resources in 10,000 schools, in reaching 100,000 new or re-certified coaches and realizing 7 million acts of inclusion by 2020.

As the Official Broadcaster of Special Olympics and the Global Presenting Sponsor of Unified Sports, ESPN is asking its partners, viewers, and sports fans around the world to take the "Choose to Include" pledge to help Special Olympics reach the goal of 7 million acts of inclusion and support ESPN's mission to use the power of sport to inspire social change. Individuals can take the pledge by visiting www.specialolympics.org/MLS or by texting 'MLS19' to 51-555.


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