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Staten Island man, who was blinded after Iraq bombing, named to first-ever USA blind soccer national team

The U.S. Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) announced the 10-man roster for its inaugural blind soccer men’s national team — and one Staten Islander is among the chosen. Ahmed Shareef, originally from Iraq, lost his sight during a bombing in his hometown of Baghdad in 2004.

Now, his dream of playing high level soccer is coming true.

Shareef, an Arrochar resident and graduate of Curtis HS, was caught in the wake of an explosion when he was just seven-years-old — rendering him blind and resulting in the amputation of his right arm. Now 25, he was first brought to the U.S. by the Global Medical Relief Fund charity. He attended his first USABA blind soccer camp in 2019 and it has rekindled his aspirations of playing soccer once again.

Shareef and company will begin international competition in 2023, the first step on the journey to competing at the Los Angeles 2028 Paralympic Games. The team was selected after a four-day selection camp held Oct. 27-30 in Chula Vista, Calif. The roster features eight athletes with visual impairments along with two sighted goalkeepers.

The sport of blind soccer has been part of the Paralympic Games since 2004, but the U.S. has never fielded a team. That will change in 2028 when Los Angeles plays host to the Olympic and Paralympic Games and the U.S. will receive an automatic entry into the blind soccer competition as the host country.

“In the next six years, the world’s two biggest sporting events will happen on American soil,” said USABA CEO Molly Quinn. ““In 2026, the FIFA World Cup will be played throughout the U.S. for the first time in three decades. In 2028, the Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games will take place in Los Angeles. It will mark the first time that L.A. has played host to the Paralympic Games.”

The eight athletes with visual impairments named to the team are Noah Beckman (Columbus, Ohio), Cody Kirchner (Columbia, S.C.), Ahmed Shareef (Staten Island, N.Y.), Ricardo Castaneda (Fort Worth, Texas), Kevin Brown (Falls Church, Va.), Antoine Craig (Richmond, Va.), David Brown (Chula Vista, Calif.) and Alvaro Mora Arellano (Phoenix, Ariz.). The two sighted goalkeepers selected are Brandt Herron (Palm Coast, Fla.) and Kyle Knott (Brevard, N.C.).

“We are so excited to name the first ever USA Blind Soccer Men’s National Team,” said head coach Katie Smith. “It was incredible to see the growth of the athletes at this first national selection camp. It is truly incredible being a part of this revolutionary team and to have another Paralympic sport for blind athletes all over the country to aspire toward. I look forward to seeing how this National Team progresses toward our goal of the 2028 Paralympics.”

Alternates for the USA Blind Soccer Men’s National Team are John Marquez (Fort Worth, Texas) and Charles Catherine (Brooklyn, N.Y.). The team will begin competing in international friendlies in 2023.

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