It didn’t take long for Adam Ballou to achieve a lifelong dream Thursday night.
And he didn’t even see it happen.
Three minutes into the U.S. Paralympic National Team’s 2-2 draw against the Netherlands, Ballou netted his first career Paralympic goal.
Following a long pass from goalkeeper Sean Boyle, Ballou banged home a goal from just outside the penalty box for a quick 1-0 lead 2:07 into the match. Ballou went down headfirst into the turf after connecting with the ball, but he knew what had happened.
“The first goal was a whirlwind,” Ballou said. “All I saw was space in front. I had one thing on my mind – get to the ball and shoot. …As soon as I hit it, I didn’t even see it hit the back of the net, and the music went off so I knew it was in.
“Then I got to celebrate with my teammates, which was an incredible feeling. First goal of Rio 2016. Absolutely something I’ve been dreaming about,” Ballou said. “To be honest, I haven’t had time to let (this goal) sink in. I’m sure this is going to be one to cherish and remember.
That initial goal helped set the nerves of some of the players, and it helped give the USA plenty of confidence the rest of the match. Head coach Stuart Sharp said the goal also helped “set the tone for the game,” and the rest of the match was an end-to-end battle.
Although the Netherlands’ Jeroen Saedt and Thomas Kleinlugtebeld tallied goals in the 44th and 57th minutes, respectively, to take a late lead, the U.S. battled back to knot it at 2-2 in the final minute. And Ballou was at the center of it again.
With less than 20 seconds remaining, a long sideline throw-in by Seth Jahn set up Ballou. The midfielder then stuck his nose into a crowd to nail a header. The ball then bounced off a Dutch defender and snuck its way into the back of the net. Ballou’s goal set off a raucous celebration on the sidelines, and the PNT held on for the tie.
“The movement was excellent (on that final play). The ball in from the long throw went well, and we got a little break with the ball coming off the defender,” Sharp said. “What I saw was a team that was prepared to fight right until the final whistle.”
Garza guts it out
Perhaps the unsung hero of the match was David Garza.
The defender was dominant on the back line, blocking several Netherlands players’ shots – the Dutch attempted 32 shots, with only 14 of them on goal. Garza was crucial in the U.S. success on Thursday.
His toughness won’t be called into question anytime soon, either. Garza broke his foot in the 24th minute of the first half when a Dutch player made a cleats-up tackle on him. But Garza gutted out the injury, and finished the game.
However, he will be out 8-10 weeks, and he will miss the rest of the 2016 Paralympic Games.
“This time around (being at the Paralympics) means something completely different from 2012,” Ballou said. “The team has grown. The program has grown. We’ve put in so much work. To make this roster and be on the field with these guys, it’s a dream come true. And we’re ready to sit here and do work.”
The U.S. will get right back to doing that work with a match against Iran on Saturday at 3 p.m. ET (WATCH LIVE), followed by a matchup with rival Argentina to wrap up group play on Monday.