Team USA headed to soccer world championships as potential dark horse

By Richard Mctiernan, International Paralympic Committee | June 11, 2015, 10:51 a.m. (ET)


Adam Ballou (No. 7) is feeling confident as Team USA heads into the CPISRA Football 7-a-side World Championships

Team USA knows they are not the same team that finished last four years ago at the Cerebral Palsy International Sports and Recreation Association (CPISRA) Football 7-a-side World Championships.

Come Tuesday, June 16, they have a chance to prove that when the 2015 World Championships take place at St. Georges Park venue in Burton-upon-Trent, Great Britain.

Team USA fell 10-1 to eventual champions Russia in 2011. But in a recent warm-up tournament in Portugal, the U.S. took third over the Netherlands and the host nation. For USA’s Adam Ballou, that showing makes him confident that his team can sneak up on others.

“It was the first time that we had played with the starting lineups we used in some of the games,” Ballou said. ”We learned important things about each of us as a squad in those games.”

The World Championships, which wrap up on June 28, will serve as the main qualifier for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

The United States are hopeful that they can progress from a group that features Brazil (who finished fourth in 2011), Scotland and Venezuela. Ballou, though, is not taking his opponents for granted.

“We respect them and know that they have been working hard in preparation for the world championships,” he said. ”That being said, my dad has always said any team can beat any other team on any given day. There are many things that come down to whether or not we qualify, and that is why we have been meticulous in our preparations because at this point, even the smallest of details could make the difference. ”

Different for Team USA this time around is how the team’s leadership has been gearing them up for next week.

“Coach [Stuart] Sharp and the rest of the staff have done great things for the program and given us every opportunity to be successful,” Ballou said. ”The coaching staff has a specific strength-training program for each individual. So we are calculated with our approach and are certainly doing more as a program then we have ever done in the past.”

It will be a grand feat if the U.S .could pull out the championship title. But they would have to make it past powerhouses Russia, Ukraine and Iran, who won gold, silver and bronze, respectively, at London 2012.

Still, qualification for Rio 2016 is enough to motivate Ballou for another Paralympic Games appearance.

“London was an experience that I will remember for a lifetime,” Ballou said. ”It was so heartwarming to be able to finally share an experience of this magnitude with my loved ones. Usually our Games are as far away as Ukraine or in South America, but this Paralympics was the apex and many of my teammates had support along with us in England. ”

“Looking forward to Rio is a great thing and it is something that would be really special. But at this point in time, we have to keep focus on the task at hand, and that is qualifying. Now it is our time to go out and diligently do our work as a team so that we have the opportunity to represent the United States in Rio. ”

More information about the CPISRA Football 7-a-side World Championships can be found here.