Standing in the middle of an energized crowd, Jozy Altidore rattled off autographs and posed for picture after picture. Even after most of the other stars who played in the Steve Nash/Claudio Reyna charity match in Manhattan’s Chinatown, Altidore stood on the turf at Nike Field and signed and posed for fans eager to meet American soccer’s most exciting young star.
I stood just a few feet away from Altidore, watching the display when three young kids (somewhere between nine and 12) ran up to the group. One kid says, "I think he’s a player. Is that Solomon Kalou?" I leaned over to the boys and said, "That’s not Kalou, that’s Jozy Altidore." One of the boys followed with, "Is he a player?"
After eventually giving the youngsters a quick rundown on who Altidore was, they ran off to get his autograph. I turned to ESPN colleague Doug McIntyre, who could barely contain his grin. Yes folks, this is soccer in America.
Yes, there were hundreds, probably a few thousand, of fans lining the fences at the charity game in Chinatown on Wednesday, but they weren’t all soccer fans. Most fell into three groups: soccer fans hoping to see some good action and catch a glimpse of a soccer star, basketball fans hoping to see an NBA player and curious New Yorkers hoping to see something, anything entertaining and possibly see a celebrity or two.
What all those fans got was a funny, sometimes skillful and entertaining show that was a credit to the sport. Here’s a look back at some of the more memorable moments:
Thierry Henry was the star of the show. He did ball tricks, scored goals and showed the charisma that has made him such an international star. I have already gone on record a few times saying that I see him joining the Red Bulls eventually and I’m sticking to it. Summer of 2009. Book it.
Baron Davis gets the award for most entertaining player. He clearly hasn’t played much soccer in his life but he’s funny as can be and was still athletic enough to score a goal and strip Henry clean in a one-on-one situation. His Reverse Hand of God play (Davis punched away a goal-bound chip shot from Henry) was one of the funnier moments of the day, as was the scene of Davis shoving Robbie Fowler to the ground and laying on him for the pin.
Steve Nash can play. He hit some great shots, including the game-ending volley goal off a long-range pass, and while I’m not ready to say he could play in MLS, I do think he could have been pushing Dwayne DeRosario and Julian DeGuzman for national team time with Canada had he stuck with soccer.
Robbie Fowler showed off some of his trademark finishing and I have to say he wouldn’t be a bad pick-up for the Red Bulls. He absolultely blistered some shots and his finish off a Steve McNanaman pass had to bring a smile to the faces of many a Liverpool fan in attendance. It was still a bit sad to see the autograph seekers who horded the field after basically ignore him.
Leandro Barbosa is a beast and you can tell he knows the game (I know, he’s Brazilian, they all know the game right?). With his size and speed, if he had stuck to soccer I think he’d probably be a $50 million center back and definitely an upgrade on the national team from Juan.
Salomon Kalou showed off some nice speed and ball control, but as is the case with Chelsea, his finishing leaves a bit to be desired.
Jozy Altidore played but didn’t get too involved after the first 20 minutes. He had a nice assist on Baron Davis’ goal and he and Claudio Reyna tried to combine on several occasions. Watching him sign autographs long after most other players had left was impressive. He is in Jersey getting some rest before going to Spain next month. I asked him about playing in the Olympics and he said there would be a meeting to discuss it next week, but that he didn’t think there would be a problem. He definitely wants to play, which tells me he will.
Claudio Reyna delivered some of his trademark sharp passes and had a handful of shots in the first half. Seeing him connect with former U.S. national team and high school teammate Gregg Berhalter was memorable. I know some Red Bulls fans will call me crazy but if he can get past his current injury I still think he can help the team. That’s a big if though and at this point I wouldn’t be at all shocked if he retired very soon.
I had a chance to catch up with Gregg Berhalter after the game. It sounds like he will consider a move to MLS for 2009 depending on how things go with 1860 Munich next season. he’s 1860s captain and is eager to help the team gain promotion, but after talking to him about a potential return to the USA for the past six years he sounds more open to the idea than ever before.
Kudos to the goalkeepers for taking so much abuse. Red Bulls’ employee (and occasional reserve team player) Mike Quarino made some great saves and has already been called by D.C. United for a tryout (Okay, I made that last part up.)
For those of you wondering where I was, I sat behind the south goal (literally behind it). It was a great view to watch the game and I only wish I had my laptop with me to provide a more thorough live commentary (yes, my laptop is still on the DL, but my Glyde phone did okay in its place). I sat a few feet from NBA all-star Caron Butler, who was relatively anonymous to the people in attendance because he wasn’t wearing any elaborate jewelry and spent most of his time shooting video and taking pictures (probably to blackmail Baron Davis with). Robbie Fowler and Salomon Kalou both almost caught me in the head with shots but my cat-like quickness prevailed.
Overall it was a good event for a good cause and it’s the type of event there needs to be more of to help soccer connect with the community. Can somebody get Ronaldinho and Lionel Messi on the phone?
Were you at the event? If so, feel free to share your favorite moments from the Steve Nash/Claudio Reyna charity soccer game.