Drew Bremer Has Grown Into A Key Veteran As U.S. 7-a-Side Soccer Team Aims For Another Parapan American Games Medal
by Michael Lewis
For as long as he can remember, Drew Bremer has viewed his cerebral palsy as a challenge to excel at whatever he’s doing. It’s an approach that drove him to compete in several sports while growing up in East Grand Rapids, Michigan, including baseball, basketball, hockey and swimming.
Ultimately, though, Bremer followed his brother Austin’s footsteps in soccer, concentrating on that sport in high school and then going on to play at a Div. III level at Kalamazoo College in Michigan.
“I grew up, and half my body didn’t work as well as the other half,” explained Bremer, who was born with hemiplegia, a type of cerebral palsy that affects the right side of his body. “I learned that I really had to focus and learn about the game, be analytical about it and be better positioning, be better at awareness, knowing where players are. So, I adapted through understanding the game at a higher level to make up for what I couldn’t physically do.”
That skill set ultimately earned Bremer a call-up with the U.S. Para 7-a-side national soccer team, for players with cerebral palsy, followed by an appearance at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio. Now, starting this week, he has another major opportunity to represent his country when the competition at the 2023 Parapan American Games kicks off Saturday in Santiago, Chile.
“It’s an exciting time,” he said.
Bremer, a defender who is now 27, didn’t even know a CP national team existed until he stumbled into it online while in college. After shooting a round of golf with Austin, Bremer was scrolling on Twitter (now known as X) and discovered there was a men’s team. Head coach Stuart Sharp’s email address was on one of the documents, so Bremer inquired about trying out with the team, sending a video taken by his sister Ally.
“I could see right from the start that he possessed a good amount of skill,” said Sharp, who has led the team since 2014. “I could tell by the video that he understood the game, so that allows me to then bring him into a national team camp.”
Bremer joined the team in 2015, while still in college. Things moved quickly from there.
“Within two weeks of finding out there was a team to really get an invite for the first camp in October was kind of crazy,” Bremer said.
And a dream come true.
“I didn’t believe that I could be a national team player and really thought I had only a year or two left of playing soccer in my life,” he said. “So, it’s been pretty big blessing.”
His transition into the team went rather smoothly.
“He really fit in really well with the group,” Sharp said. “He was a typical young college student, hadn’t really traveled the world at that stage compared to where he is now. He had a lot to learn about the international camp environment. But certainly on a soccer field, he was smooth in his decisions, and then from there he performed well.”
Bremer’s debut came at a pre-Paralympic tournament in Salou, Spain, near Barcelona in 2016.
“I had expectations,” he said. ”I thought I was pretty good for our team going to the first and second training camps leading up to that competition.”
The U.S. lost, 4-1. Bremer admitted he didn’t play well.
“I was just frantic and just nervous the entire time,” he said, “but just recognizing that there was a whole other level in Paralympic soccer out there was a wake-up call for me and definitely inspired me to step up my game.”
Bremer went on to make the U.S. team for the Rio Games the next year, where he scored a goal and helped the team finish seventh. He’s been a regular on the team ever since.
Sharp has seen the veteran refine his game.
“He’s evolved as a player,” he said. “When he came in at first, he was more of an attacking fullback. He has a great range in passing, and his ability to beat players 1v1 has always been there. Right from the start that was a real weapon, a real asset to the team. His game used to be about getting up and down the field and attacking players and in wide areas 1v1s.
“As with a lot of players, he’s matured. He’s got more experience. He’s a little bit more thoughtful in his game. He isn’t one-dimensional, as an attacking player. His ability to find the right paths is a lot better, and he’s a threat from about 30 meters and proved it recently. He added leadership and calmness to his play as well.”
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound center back will get another opportunity to test his leadership skills and remain calm under pressure this month. Though CP soccer was dropped from the Paralympics after 2016 (5-a-side blind soccer remains on the program), it’s still contested at the Parapan American Games.
The Americans kicked off against the hosts on Saturday, then faced Argentina on Nov. 19 and Brazil on Nov. 20. They will face Venezuela on Nov. 22 and Canada on Nov. 23. The medal round is set for Saturday, Nov. 25.
Bremer said that he liked the U.S. chances in Chile. At the 2019 Parapan Am Games in Lima, Peru, he helped the U.S. earn a bronze medal.
“It’s going to be a good competition for us,” he said. “We just had a training camp in Rome, Georgia, last month, and we were looking pretty sharp. There’s a couple of teams — Brazil Argentina, notably — that are going to be tough competition for us, but we’ve beaten both those teams effectively the last couple of years.
“There’s a good chance that we could medal, and even hopefully take gold.”