PNT 101: What is the U.S. Paralympic National Soccer Team?

The U.S. Paralympic National Soccer Team (PNT) kicks off the 2017 IFCPF CP Football World Championships on Monday, Sept. 11 against Australia in San Luis, Argentina.

The squad is made up of players with a neurological condition, such as cerebral palsy (CP), a stroke or traumatic brain injury. While these conditions may not be plainly visible, they can cause balance and coordination issues as well as impaired muscle functions. The team competes around the world at international championships, invitational tournaments and challenge matches.

About the Sport

Paralympic soccer is also known as “7-a-side” or “CP” (cerebral palsy) soccer. As the first name suggests, seven players play on each team.

Rule variances from standard soccer include no offside and allowances for one-handed and underhand throw-ins if players are physically unable to execute a standard throw-in. The game is shorter, played in two 30-minute halves, and played on a smaller field with smaller goals.

Classification

The seven players on the field are regulated by classification, the degree to which their impairment impacts their performance. Players are organized into four classes from Class FT5 the most impaired, to Class FT8, the least. (FT indicates that the classification is for football/soccer as classes signify different impairments across sports). Teams must have at least two FT5 or FT6 players on the field at all times and are not allowed to have more than one FT8 player on the field.

To determine classification before competition, each player goes through athlete evaluation- a series of physical and technical assessments coupled with game action observation. This tournament’s formal classification period began on Tuesday, Sept. 5 and runs through Saturday, Sept. 9. Athletes are given a pre-competition classification before the group stage that is updated after in-game observation. Depending on their classification history, athletes are noted for future review of their status or locked into a confirmed class.     

Competition Cycle

Like the rest of the soccer world, Paralympic soccer plays on a four-year competition cycle. The Paralympics have been the sport’s most important competition, and the last cycle ended last summer at the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio.

This year’s World Championships mark the beginning of a new competition cycle.

The next two years bring continental competition with 2018’s IFCPF Americas Cup and 2019’s ParaPan American Games.

A top-eight finish at this year’s World Championships earns a spot at the 2019 IFCPF World Cup. Paralympic soccer will not be included in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic program, so the World Cup will be this cycle’s biggest event. A new IFCPF World Top 8 Tournament will take place in the summer of 2020 to fill in the Paralympic gap.

History/Governance

The sport’s first international competition came in 1978 at the third International Cerebral Palsy Games in Edinburgh, Scotland. Four years later, the first world championships were held at the 1982 CPISRA (Cerebral Palsy International Sports and Recreation Association) Games.

The Paralympic debut came at the 1984 Summer Games in New York and  the sport has been included on every Paralympic program since. The IFCPF (International Federation of Cerebral Palsy Football) is the sport’s governing body.

The U.S. PNT at the World Championships

The PNT’s No. 6 world ranking is its highest-ever. Head coach Stuart Sharp, now in his fourth year leading the program, has named 14 players to the PNT squad for the 2017 World Championships. Ten players return from the Rio roster, joined by four new additions in Cameron DeLillo, Marc Estrella, Ben Lindau and Nick Mayhugh.

The players have overcome the challenges of their conditions to face the challenges of elite international competition. They juggle full-time careers and lives as engineers, store clerks, and students with representing their country on the pitch.

Check out below the road the U.S. PNT will take at the 2017 World Championships:

Date

Time

Matchup

Monday, Sept. 11

5 p.m. ET

Australia

Wednesday, Sept. 13

3 p.m. ET

Northern Ireland

Friday, Sept. 15

3 p.m. ET

Ukraine

Sept. 17 - 18

TBD

Quarterfinals/Second Round Placement

Sept. 19 - 20

TBD

Semifinals/Third Round Placement

Sept. 21 - 23

TBD

Final/Final Placement