Carnegie Mellon University women's soccer head coach Yon Struble recently returned from Sofia, Bulgaria, where he led the U.S. Deaf Women's Soccer Team to its third straight Deaflympics gold medal after a 2-1 defeat of Russia. This marks the team's second gold medal under Struble, as he led them to the same height last summer at the World Deaf Football Championship in Ankara, Turkey.
The U.S. Deaf Women's Soccer Team has won three straight Deaflympics, which is the biggest event world-wide for the deaf community, and is on a 15-game winning streak at the Deaflympics. The team also won gold in Australia (2005) and Taipei (2009).
The women started the tournament with an 11-0 victory over Greece and went on to defeat Poland, 2-0, and Japan, 7-0, to advance to the semifinals. The U.S. then beat Great Britain 5-0 to advance to the gold medal game.
What might be hard to comprehend is how this team continues to have the success it has without the same kind of support other nations provide, thus the self-imposed moniker: "The best team you've never heard of." The U.S. team is not funded, which means each player incurs the cost of travel and participation. The team trained three times prior to the Deaflympics, each a four-day stint, with only one time having all players in attendance. A prep game was played against the Kansas City Shock of the Women's Premier Soccer League during the last week of training before heading to Bulgaria.
This training schedule is different from its international counterparts. Internationally, soccer is a profession where players train year-round and are paid for their involvement with their respective national teams. In addition, should Greece have won the gold medal, all the players would have been guaranteed a job for life, and for Russia, each player would have received 100,000 euros ($133,210), a "heroes pay" as it is known.
"When the Great Britain coach heard we trained together just three times, his response was 'WOW,'" Struble shared.
"What makes this team so special is the bond between athletes and their genuine love for being together," Struble added. "Most of the players are current club or college players or have full-time jobs outside of soccer."
Much like the Olympics, the Deaflympics has an opening and closing ceremony and the athletes stay in an Olympic Village. The ceremonies were held in Sofia, while the soccer matches were played in Pravets, home to the Bulgarian National Team. The soccer-only Olympic Village hosted all the men's and women's national teams participating.
The next event for the U.S. team will be the World Deaf Football Championships in 2016 with the Deaflympics happening in 2017 in Turkey.