The U.S. Paralympic soccer team garnered a fourth-place finish in the Atlanta '96 games that took place Aug. 15-25.
Paralympic soccer is played by teams of seven players (all of whom are ambulatory) with varying degrees of cerebral palsy or traumatic brain injuries. Competition follows FIFA rules of play, with certain modifications, such as a slightly smaller field.
The Americans opened pool play with a thrilling 4-1 victory over Brazil before a crowd that included Brazilian legend Pele. The U.S. trailed early, but tied the score on an own goal late in the first half. After the break, Josh McKinney scored a pair of goals, and Eli Abarbanel-Wolff added the final tally. Mike Peters assisted on all three American strikes.
The U.S. fell to Russia 5-0 in their next match, but rebounded to beat Ireland 3-0 behind goals from Peters, McKinney, and Abarbanel-Wolff. U.S. goalie Craig Baker notched the shutout, and the win advanced the U.S. into the semifinals, where they faced the top-ranked (and undefeated in Paralympic play) team from the Netherlands.
Unfortunately, the Americans found out why the Dutch are the elite of Paralympic soccer. Paul Hoersink, described by U.S. coach Alastair Young as "the most intelligent soccer player in the world," had a hat trick and an assist in the Netherlands' 4-1 victory. McKinney scored in the 47th minute for the U.S.
In the bronze medal match, Spain edged the Americans 2-1, denying the U.S. its first medal in Paralympic soccer. McKinney scored on a long blast in the 37th minute to give the U.S. a 1-0 lead, but Juan Vasquez and David Jimenez countered for the Spaniards.
"I love these guys as brothers," said Young after the match. "Sydney will be wide open. We'll learn from our mistakes and contend for a medal."
Eli Abarbanel-Wolff (Washington, D.C.), Adolfo Aguilar (Garland, Texas), Craig Baker (Moultrie, Ga.), Tim Klatner (Houston, Texas), Matt Lavin (Grand Prairie, Texas), John McCullough (Washington, D.C.), Josh McKinney (Hilton Head, S.C.), Dan Nicholson (Richmond, Va.), Mike Peters (Tucson, Ariz.), Brian Robinson (Sparta, N.J.), John Theobald (Syracuse, N.Y.).
Note: All matches played at Clark-Atlanta University.