The Atlanta United Special Olympics Unified Team defeated FC Dallas in their last game of the season on Saturday night.
Atlanta United Special Olympics Unified Team traveled with the first team for a double matchday in Frisco, Texas on Saturday. Following Atlanta United's first team draw 2-2 vs FC Dallas, the Unified Teams from both clubs too the field at Toyota Stadium.
With heat above 85°F and a humidity of 37% the game kicked off at 9:55 pm local time (10:55 pm ET), both teams played 11v11 on a smaller pitch, same width but shorter length than the first team. The match consisted of 25-minute halves with a halftime of five minutes, as well as some hydration breaks in between.
Atlanta United worethe 17s' kit, while Dallas wore their primary red and blue uniform.
The first few minutes of the game were passive for both teams as they looked to accommodate and retain possession, but it was Atlanta who took the lead in the ninth minute. Joe Villar sent a lobbed pass from his own half of the field which went straight to the wing where Xavier Hairston cut back a defender and took a left footed shot to the near post, opening up the score.
The 5-Stripes gained confidence with the lead, and two minutes later found the back of the net again.
The play was initiated by the other Villar in the squad, Nick Villar, who sent a through ball from the middle of the field to find Liam Stuart, who didn't hesitate and shot while running towards Dallas' goal. Both Nick Villar and Stuart were named to this year's MLS Unified All-Star Game in Washington, D.C.
Atlanta had many more opportunities to stretch their lead, but Dallas' backline organized itself following the two goals. The home team started to gain confidence and balanced possession in the middle of the field looking to come back into the game.
Despite the good balance from both sides, Dallas found what they needed to put pressure on Atlanta, with a magical finish by Kevin Rupich. A loose ball in the center of the pitch ended up on Rupich's feet and after faking a defender took an incredible shot from about 25 yards which ended up on the top left corner.
The second half started with Atlanta dominating defensively and not letting Dallas progress in the final third. Nick Villar became the leader of the team, recovering balls in the back and sometimes dribbling forward by himself, leaving opponents behind.
In the first 15 minutes of the second half, both Hairston and Stuart had plenty of chances to increase their goal tally but neither were enough to score the third goal. More than 400 people were in attendance, including family members from the Unified Teams, and before departing back home, Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan and Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra made an appearance to talk with some of the Unified staff and players.
Grace Chaplin, one of the most recognizable names in the ATL UTD Unified roster also contributed with her quick reactions to generate some danger on Dallas goal, by distributing precise passes to Stuart and Dylan Lenze.
In the closing stages, following a clearance by Nick Villar and a rebound from Dallas' defense, Maggie Williams found a well-positioned and unmarked Hairston. The goal scorer took the opportunity to send the ball to the back of the net in the 25th and last minute of regulation.
Hairston's low shot to the far side was the proof the ATL UTD Unified Team had come to Dallas to look for a convincing victory. But they didn't stop there, because Savion Brown had two more chances to increase the lead for Atlanta United.
The first was one minute after Hairston's second goal but Dallas' defenders were able to close the gap and prevent a fourth goal by the visitors. The second one in the third added minute was a precise shot from about 30 yards out that was incredibly saved by Dallas' goalkeeper Thomas Park, but in the end the 5-Stripes took home the 3-1 victory.
At the end of the match the players received medals from Clark Hunt, Chairman and CEO, FC Dallas, and Dan Hunt, President of the club.
Atlanta United Unified Team finishes the season with two away wins vs New York Red Bulls and FC Dallas, and one draw at home vs Charlotte FC. It is the first time in its seven year history that the Unified Team goes undefeated.