Team USA will play to win at Amputee Soccer World Cup

During a recent practice at Sportime in Kings Park, U.S. National Amputee Soccer Team players were counting down the days until the 2022 Amputee Soccer World Cup in Istanbul.

"I've earned this position," forward Jovan Booker, 29, said. "We all have every single one of our teammates, our coaches."  

 The team that's made up entirely of volunteers beat Haiti and El Salvador in the qualifiers earlier this year and now they have their eyes set on the World Cup.  

 "I feel very happy representing the amputee soccer and USA is an honor," midfielder Carlos Ayala, 33, said. "Representing where you're from, El Salvador." 

 Their head coach Eric Lamberg said it's not about who they play, it's about how they play. 

"Every field player has crutches and uses one leg and all of the goalkeepers need to have an amputation or leg limb difference on one arm," Lamberg said. "When you first watch the game, you're kind of like 'Oh my goodness look at the athleticism that we see,' as people are playing. After the first five minutes, all you see is soccer." 

Amputee soccer, which has slightly different rules than the traditional game, includes kick-ins instead of throw-ins. The sport is now played in over 50 countries and nationally it brings together the best of best — athletes of all ages. 

"We play this sport not just for inspiration, we do it because we have a responsibility for our community, the disabled community," Booker said. "We owe it to them to go out and give it everything we have."

The majority of athletes train in their individual region and every one of them has a story — a life of limb loss or amputation that hasn't slowed them down or stopped them from achieving success.  

"I was born with three toes and I was missing parts of my fibula and tibia so I had my leg amputated when I was 10 months old," Booker said.

 Overcoming the odds is something Booker learned at a very young age.  

"Having a prosthesis since 1 year old, I pretty much had my whole life to practice and figure out how my life was going to function," he said.    

Coach Lamberg helped get the team to the 2014 and 2018 Amputee Soccer World Cups. This go around he's going for the gold.  

"We have players and staff that are from 10 different states," Lamberg said. "Each one of these players has trained their heart in order out to be there." 

The first games will be round-robin style starting on Saturday, Oct. 1. Team USA will play England, Argentina, and Indonesia. The top two teams will move on to the elimination rounds in the days after.  

For Booker, making it to the World Cup gives him a chance to prove disability is not a deterrent.  

"We don't feel sorry for ourselves," he said. "We just want people to recognize us for what we're doing." 

For physical therapist James Pierre-Glaude and coach Jim Franks, who are both going to Turkey with the team, it's about showcasing these athletes on the soccer field.  

"They are no different," Pierre-Glaude said.  

"You forget that you're watching adaptive athletes," Franks said.

"We're going to go and we're going to play in this World Cup and we're going to do what we came to do," Booker said. "And that's take care of business."