When it came to picking captains for the 2022 RSL Unified team, the choice was an easy one for head coach Jenna Holland, naming two third-year members of the team, Jaden Hartman and Kylie Wilson, her co-captains for the season
Holland says she chose Hartman and Wilson as her captains because no matter what is going on they are always there, while representing themselves, Real Salt Lake, and their team both on and off the field to the best of their abilities.
“They all love the sport,” Holland said. “But having those two always represent, not just on the field but also in their community, is huge.”
In addition to being named captains of RSL Unified, both Hartman and Wilson were named to the 2022 Unified MLS All Star game to be played later this summer in Detroit, Michigan.
Wilson, in particular, is excited about this honor, sharing that she has never been able to travel that far east in the United States, nor has she really gotten an opportunity to travel with her team or for any Special Olympics events.
“I joined right before COVID when everything just stopped,” Wilson said. “Things are happening again now and I’m super excited to be traveling.”
Wilson and Hartman are excited for their team to get to travel to San Jose, but for Hartman the trip to the Unified MLS All Star is one of the “coolest things I’ll get to do with RSL Unified.”
Not only has Hartman had the opportunity to represent RSL Unified at MLS All Star, but he has represented Team Utah at the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle, as well as playing both baseball and Unified basketball in high school. Hartman is known for loving sports and being very competitive, but ultimately his favorite part of the teams he’s on is the ability to not just win but develop friendships and new skills.
Wilson also enjoys the relationships she’s gotten to build throughout her time with RSL Unified. In addition to working with RSL Unified, Wilson works in Special Olympics programs at the University of Utah. She has played football, softball and e-sports up at the University of Utah and has found she has met some of the “coolest people ever.”
“You can really give back to the community through the Special Olympics,” Wilson said. “Some of the nicest, most amazing people are in this community.”
Both Hartman and Wilson echo the importance of supporting these players when they have matches, as well.
“The energy these players have is just different from anything else,” Wilson said. “It’s super fun to watch, even if you might not think it is. You think the Special Olympics is not as competitive, but these athletes are competitive, and they will make you work for it.”
The intensity of Special Olympics Unified matches is something that Hartman enjoys and is one of his favorite parts of playing. He knows he can go out and play highly competitive soccer and work to improve individually and as a team.
“I’m excited to play my best and to play in front of fans,” Hartman said.
This is the first year since Hartman and Wilson joined RSL Unified that they are able to play another team and in other stadiums. For Kyle Schroeder, RSL’s Director of Player Development and Community Outreach, he is excited that these athletes get to experience a true professional experience with fans in the stands and an opponent from another club for the first time.
“It’s really great that they get to play in these world-class stadiums,” Schroeder said. “They get to play against great competition across states and really get that first team experience.”
Wilson reminisced fondly on their 2021 match against RSL Unified Alumni, their only competition they have been able to have since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“We all felt like we were famous,” Wilson said. “Kids were having us sign their bags and soccer balls. It was like we were legit part of RSL.”
The experience of playing in front of fans and at Rio Tinto Stadium is what both Hartman and Wilson enjoy most about being a part of the RSL Unified team. Having that memory alongside their team that they consider to be a part of their family is invaluable and something they love.
“It’s so different from watching in the stands,” Wilson said. “Being on the field and getting to play with such cool people is incredible.”
Wilson and Hartman will be back at the RioT for the team’s July 9th match versus the Colorado Rapids Unified team following RSL’s battle for the Rocky Mountain Cup. Additionally, they will be in action on July 30 against the San Jose Earthquakes Unified team as well as you can watch them in the 2022 Special Olympics Unified MLS All Star game.