Last week was an interesting week to be a New York soccer fan. On one hand you had the Showdown in Chinatown, a memorable charity game in Manhattan that featured some of sport’s biggest stars, while on the other you had the Red Bulls beating Chivas de Guadalajara in a friendly. Except for Claudio Reyna playing in the charity match, there was something for Red Bulls fans to be happy about.
That was before Kevin Goldthwaite blindly sent a pass to nobody in the dying first-half minutes against Chivas USA. Ante Razov, ever the poacher, gratefully took the turnover and finished it off for the equalizer in what wound up a 1-1 tie. The Red Bulls played well enough to earn three points, but for the second time in three league matches they had to settle for a tie after holding a lead.
SBI correspondent Andrew Keh took in the action, as well as attending the Showdown in Chinatown, and gave us his take on the action.
A memorable week for a New York soccer fan
By ANDREW KEH
One of the great sorrows of growing older, as a sports fan, is losing grasp of that magical element in games that so captivated you in your youth. As you become privy to the excess, greed, and blatant commercialism in sports—and not only in its players, but within league administrators, team owners, and even media—it takes a special moment to lower your guard of cynicism and enjoy a sporting event at its essence.
Steve Nash and Claudio Reyna’s “Showdown in Chinatown” charity soccer match, for me, was one of those moments.
As I sat on the sideline Wednesday night among the press and players—a few bodies apart, in fact, from Juan Pablo Angel, who dutifully rested his sore hamstring—I could barely contain my excitement about how the event was coming together.
Baron Davis, to my left, was developing an easy repartee with the crowd. “If I score a goal, it’s for y’all,” he said to a few fans behind him. I offered my fist for bumping, and he graciously accepted.
This level of access, you see, is virtually non-existent in sports. At Giants Stadium, the press box is located even above the nosebleed seats. Up there, it feels like you’re watching a game in a commercial jet making its runway approach. On Wednesday, I was close enough to hear Robbie Fowler implore his friend Steve McManaman for the ball. “Put it on me head, Macca!” he said.
Fowler, up close, created the sort of visual contradiction that transpires when the wee Takeru Kobayshi eats 63 hot dogs. This man they call “God,” I thought, was slightly shorter and in a tad worse shape than the guy that had mixed my Bloody Mary earlier that afternoon. But only one of them has scored Premier League goals into the triple digits.
Thierry Henry, meanwhile, was, as expected, the match’s star attraction. He dazzled the crowd, particularly in the second half, with step-overs and juggles. Fowler, for his velvet touch and scoring acumen, seems to scurry around the field. Henry glides.
I’ve always thought Henry to be the type of player that could spend a match checking himself out in the mirror, if there were one readily available on the pitch. If you’ve watched him play for Arsenal, Barcelona, and France, it always seems like he’s posturing and preening to some extent for the crowd and cameras. It didn’t seem much different in Chinatown, where he didn’t quite humanize himself to the crowd as the other players did. That said, I’d run up and down the sidelines at Red Bull Park with a mirror if that would help convince him to play in New York in 2009.
When the match ended, the players lingered on the field to sign autographs and answer questions from reporters. In an era in which players’ images are so tightly controlled by their handlers and the disconnect between athletes and their fans becomes more and more pronounced, it was refreshing to see the athletes not only accept but embrace handshakes and pats on the back the people that had come to see them perform. When Claudio Reyna, surrounded by fans and reporters, offered his justification for playing the full match, he was responding to a question posed by a kid in a backwards cap and baggy jeans, who, to my eyes, was probably not representing an accredited media outlet.
Reyna, though fit enough to play a leisurely 60 minutes in the park, was not yet ready for the rigors of a Major League Soccer in Carson, California. So the Red Bulls, without Angel and Reyna, suited up once again, this time against Chivas USA, with the attacking threat of a house cat. But as Ives so lucidly pontificated last week, their lack of fangs on offense has not been the disaster it could very well be right now.
If you haven’t noticed in the past two years, Dane Richards is fast as hell. On multiple occasions Saturday night, he set his sights on a ball ahead of him and completely burned Francisco Mendoza, no tortoise himself, en route. His decision-making and finishing touch admittedly need work, but he created all sorts of problems for the Chivas defense in the match, which relieved some pressure from the Red Bulls depleted lineup.
Continuing the recent trend of scrappy goals from unexpected places, Dave van den Bergh curled in a cross that sailed over everyone, fooling Brad Guzan in the process, to give the Red Bulls the lead. Richards, it should be mentioned, was fouled to set up the free kick on the right wing.
If not for a fluke goal in the dying minutes of the first half, the Red Bulls might very well have taken all three points from the match. Granted, Jon Conway was called on to make a couple of huge saves—something he has been doing with great frequency and to good effect lately. But the Red Bulls deserve credit for riding out the storm without their designated players. And with the return of Reyna and Angel imminent, things might be looking up in East Rutherford.