Sigue tu pasión. Follow your passion.
The motto for the 2023 Parapan American Games evokes a spirit of determination and desire to accomplish one’s goal, fitting for the competitive nature of RSL’s Head of Academy Goalkeeping Diego Casillas.
Casillas will participate in the Parapan American Games in Chile at the end of this year as the U.S. Men’s Cerebral Palsy National Team Goalkeeper Coach, a role he has held since 2020.
Casillas’ coaching journey has been long and oftentimes unexpected, but his passion for the game has pushed him to pursue his ambitions.
“I first got involved with coaching after I stopped playing,” the former University of Northern Georgia goalkeeper said.
“I realized that I wanted to continue in soccer, and I was given an opportunity to be a goalkeeper coach at a local club while I was managing a full-time job. I quickly realized I wanted to coach full-time right after finishing college.”
When Casillas was working with Atlanta United’s academy, he was approached by an employee who also played for the U.S. Men’s CP team. After some discussion, he decided to further his pursuit of coaching for his country and began to work with the team soon after.
“When I first went in I had no idea what to expect,” Casillas said. “Now my awareness is raised since I’ve been there for three years, and now I can help in any way with anyone with these sorts of disabilities to either get involved or further their game.”
This past February, Casillas traveled to Australia with the team to play three matches in the squad’s first camp since the 2022 Paralympic World Cup as they prepare for the Parapan American Games in November. The trip proved to be invaluable, both in terms of competition and experience in a tournament-style setting.
“We played Australia in a game that was televised. We had over 1,000 fans in attendance, which is remarkable for a paralympic team. Usually there are 50, but it was a good crowd. The Australian FA put on a good event.”
Now, back with RSL Academy, Casillas reflects on the lessons he’s learned from his experience with the U.S. Men’s CP team.
“This group of athletes have a different perspective, they’ve gone through a lot of things to get to where they are,” Casillas said.
“They all have disabilities in one way or another, but they’re playing the game and loving it. It’s rewarding as a coach, and it's great to hear their stories and bring that back to this environment (RSL Academy) and realize that we can’t take anything for granted.”