Alvaro Mora Arellano made history on March 19 when he scored the first-ever goal for the USA Blind Soccer Men’s National Team.
While playing an international friendly match with Canada in Chula Vista, Calif., he jumped up with joy after scoring. He was elated to be on the team and be able to showcase his skills.
It took him years to get to that very moment, Mora Arellano told The Arizona Republic.
“I felt happy for him, for all of his accomplishments,” said Victorina Arellano, his mom and biggest supporter. “Since he was a little kid when he lost his eyesight, I always thought that one day he would be victorious. Since he was little, he had the strength to keep pushing forward.”
After losing his eyesight at the age of 3 to retinoblastoma — an eye cancer that starts in the retina — the 36-year-old is now a forward for the U.S. national team for blind soccer and is the only player who hails from Arizona.
“When you have a disability, it’s complicated, it’s a challenge,” Mora Arellano said. “I really like challenges. It’s difficult, but I always find a way to succeed.”
According to the United States Association of Blind Athletes, blind soccer has been part of the Paralympic Games since 2004, but the U.S. has never fielded a team. But that’ll change come 2028 when the U.S. will host the Paralympic Games in Los Angeles.
Mora Arellano is ready to be a part of that.
He immigrated from Cocula, Guerrero, Mexico, to Arizona in 2003 and has always been a lifelong fan of the sport. Twenty years later, he could not imagine that he would rise to the position he’s in now.
‘I wanted to play soccer again’
The first sport Mora Arellano ever learned to play was soccer. He had to rely on the sounds of the bouncing and rolling soccer ball to figure out where the ball was.
Soccer has always been his thing, according to his cousin Cesar Mora. He recalled visiting Mora Arellano in Cocula while they were growing up and witnessing his passion for the sport.
He always wanted to be the goalie, Mora recalled. Their grandma had a long driveway where they would play — they would close the two wide gates at the end of it that would serve as the goal. Mora Arellano would stand by the gates and Mora would kick him the ball.
Mora Arellano immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 16 and immediately enrolled in Carl Hayden Community High School, near Roosevelt Street and 35th Avenue.
While in high school, he started playing goalball — a paralympic sport specifically for those who are blind or visually impaired.
Fernando Tarazon, one of his goalball teammates and oldest friends, said Mora Arellano was always thinking of his future, even when they were younger.
Having met when Mora Arellano was 16, the two played on a goalball team and found friendship through their shared experiences.
“Whatever you give to Alvaro in friendship, advice, laughs, he returns,” Tarazon said. “Everything he has is always available to his friends.”
Mora Arellano later attended and graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s in Spanish literature in 2010. He went on to get certified as a Spanish medical interpreter at Estrella Mountain Community College and now works at a call center in Phoenix.
In 2019, Mora Arellano spotted an invitation on the USABA website for a camp to identify new talent for the U.S. national team — something he knew he wanted to be a part of.
According to his cousin, Mora Arellano has always strived for more. “He’s always wanted to be as independent as possible,” Mora said. “He doesn’t let his disability hold him back.”
Heading to the camp was just one more adventure for him.
When he went to the first camp in San Diego, Calif., he saw that he still had the skills to play the sport he had grown up loving.
“I just went because I wanted to play soccer again,” he said.
As he continued his training for the U.S. Men’s Blind Soccer Team and attended various camps, his family knew he would make it.
In October 2022, USABA announced who would be on the national team.
Mora Arellano’s name was on that list.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said.
Preparing for the 2028 Paralympics
According to the USABA, Spain is considered the pioneer in blind soccer, dating the start of the sport to the 1920s. It wasn’t until 1996 that official rules were developed when the International Blind Sports Federation took the sport under its wing.
Blind soccer debuted at the Athens 2004 Paralympics.
A highly physical and technical sport, this is how it’s played, according to the USABA:
- Played on a solid, smooth, flat and non-abrasive surface on a pitch that is roughly 130 ft x 65 ft wide. Pitches are ideally outside to ensure that the acoustics are correct for players and are surrounded by ‘kick-boards’ — a physical barrier that indicates the boundaries of the playing area.
- The goals are roughly 12 ft wide and 7 ft high.
- Each team has five players, including a goalkeeper. Outfield players must wear eye patches and eyeshades. The goalkeeper can be sighted or partially sighted and cannot leave the area.
- The ball must contain bells or another system that ensures it makes a noise.
- There are no offside rules or throw-ins, but there are corner kicks.
- Each half lasts 20 minutes and teams can request a one-minute timeout per half.
- Penalty kicks are permitted if a winner needs to be decided by the end of the match.
In January 2022, the USABA was certified by the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee as the national governing body for blind soccer, giving way to the first men’s national soccer team.
After making the team in October 2022, Mora Arellano is constantly training for the 2028 Paralympic Games.
“I never thought I’d have the opportunity of playing this sport that is my passion,” Mora Arellano said. ”At my age, it’s like returning to my childhood.”
A few times a week he practices with one of his friends, Don Marshall, to make sure he’s elevating his skills.
He’s had to change his diet and exercise more frequently to prepare for the 2028 games. The weekly practices have helped him become more confident in himself and have a deeper understanding of the game — which differs from sighted soccer.
“It’s been fun to see him get his confidence up,” Marshall said. “He’s got the most amazing positive outlook on life. He’s just a happy person.”
Mora Arellano has known Phoenix as home since he was a teenager and is excited to be attending the Paralympic Games and says he is proud to represent the United States.
“The U.S. has received me with open arms,” Mora Arellano said. “I’m so proud to represent the country internationally.”