Thursday, June 26, 2008

Showdown in Chinatown, Pt. 1: The Match

All photos by the indomitable Spectator. That dude is poison with the lens.

People hung from the chain-link fences, while a drunk Everton fan perched precariously on an overhanging tree limb and kept yelling the name of Steve McManaman’s high school. It was a frenzy down on Chrystie Street, one that I somehow managed to force my way into.

Through some good fortune, we stumbled upon a couple of press passes for the event, and with a good degree of fatigue and sunstroke, Spectator and I took roost near Hirshey and a whole host of ESPN/MLS/AP employees for the Steve Nash v. Claudio Reyna charity match, the Showdown in Chinatown.

Rhyming name aside, it was a bit of a mess early on, as the crowds lined the outsides of the pitch three and four deep, with people standing on cars, or climbing bushes, or climbing each other, or hanging from street lights and exerting every effort to suspend themselves in their vantage points for the duration of the match.

I showed up 5 minutes before the start, and slowly wrangled my way through the masses at the media entrance in order to get in, making it just before the opening messages from the two captains and their corporate supporters. On my way through the crowds, I heard a million names and rumors mentioned: Altidore, Beckham (boy, I wish), Messi, Kaka, more stars from the NBA. Perhaps Amare was coming? Marion?

The match itself was a joy to watch. As SF from The Offside Rules pointed out, it was "like watching FIFA Street in real life", a sentiment I couldn't argue with. Steve Nash, along with his ridiculously-stacked squad, put on a fun show, as did Reyna's gang of NBA pros and a lad from Chelsea who is much better when he's not under pressure.

After the jump, some more pictures, some more thoughts, and the two teams.

Steve Nash
Steve McManaman
Raja Bell
Robbie Fowler
"Leandrinho" Barbosa
Thierry Henry
Maurizio Bacci (fashion photographer)
Rob fucking Jones
Simone Sandri (NBA TV)
Venanzio Ciampa (event co-organizer)
Davide Di Malta
Mark Quarino [Ives explains who he is]

Claudio Reyna
Baron Davis
Juan Pablo Angel [Keith: don't worry, he was fucking useless and still injured]
Jozy Altidore
Solomon Kalou
Gregg Berhalter
Jason Kidd
Alessandro Nivola
NBA writer Marc Stein
Mike Rodrino
Giovanni Savaresi
Goalie whose name I forget [but played a blinder]

And so we stood, huddled around the edge of the pitch, the atmosphere akin to a viral Nike commercial, watching as the stars put on a masterclass. All their tricks were uncorked time and again, as if the burden of an irate manager had been lifted from their shoulders. In a real match, they'd be berated and hounded for their showboating, but here, the aim was simpler, relaxed, more obvious: entertain.

Simply put, a bunch of athletes free for 90 minutes (yes, they played close to a full 90) to do as they please.

A free-for-all.

And it was absolutely fucking wonderful.

Despite sweating through my work shirt by half-time, there was little to gripe about. The production company responsible for the event hadn't really thought things out too well: aside from the obvious logistical problem of having enough free space around the park for the public to watch, the touchlines were so close against the fences that we ended up squashed back as far as we could go, three-deep ourselves without counting the thick line of spectators outside who were angling for a fleeting moment of unimpeded vision.

The touchlines had press on one side and various VIPs, luminaries, entourage members (including Caron Butler), and children from various after-school programs crammed around the edges. With players sprinting at full-speed from time-to-time, not to mention the wild abandon with which some of them took potshots at the goal, it's a miracle no-one was seriously hurt.

Henry and a few others did end up flying into the crowds throughout the match, and several shots from Nash and co. ended up lashing against the fence, narrowly missing heads, camera equipment, and memorabilia ready to be signed.

One girl did get a ball square in the face, but when it's one of your idols who took the shot, how mad can you really be?

Davis put at least two shots well over the fences and down onto Rivington, as did some of the others, but the balls always came back. This surprised me more than anything.

Seeing Nash assisting Fowler and vice versa became oddly commonplace after a while, but the people who diligently retrieved the balls dispatched to nearby Prince or Greene or Rivington Streets completed the most stunning passes of the whole event.

If it had been me, I'd have been off, disappearing into Chinatown with a shiny silver match ball for my own pick-up games.

Instead, the sun began to ease on our shoulders, and the game flowed smoothly. Rough recap of the goals:

- Kidd square to Kalou, low shot inside the left post. 1-0 TEAM REYNA

- Davis tap-in off the rebound (sounds about right?) as Kalou's shot was saved. 2-0 REYNA

- Henry shot takes awkward bounce off keeper, Berhalter tries to head clear but knocks it back towards his own goal, McManaman tap-in. 2-1 REYNA

- Macca feeds Nash from the right, sharp finish into the top-right corner. 2-2

- Nash shot saved low, Barbosa tap-in. 3-2 NASH

- Nash shot deflected in front of goal, rebound passed to Fowler for the simple tap-in (just like the old days). 4-2 NASH

- PENALTY! Baron Davis handball, reacted by trying to take a jump-shot with the ball in hand. After some theatrics, Henry smashed it home, high into top-left. 5-2 NASH

- PENALTY! Handball on one of the walk-ons whose name I forget, Reyna with the finish low to the right. Titi gets a yellow-card for "dissent". Some things never change. It's those Gallic gesticulations. 5-3 NASH

- The LFC duo link-up, smart, weighted throughball from Macca to GOD, easy finish. Reyna calls for offside... flag stays down. 6-3 NASH

- PENALTY! Another handball from Davis. By this point, he'd truly forgotten which sport he was playing. Idea: same teams playing basketball. Think Macca's got range from behind the arc? Fowler dispatches the PK with ease. 7-3 NASH

- Henry rocket from 18 yards barely kept out [note: TH was holding nothing back in the shooting department], Nash first to the rebound. 8-3 NASH

- Reyna square pass from the left to Kalou, who slides it home inside the right post. 8-4 NASH

- Late tap-in as all the retired athletes struggle to keep pace... Nash rounds things out with a rocket with the right foot. 9-4 NASH


An impressive performance all-round as a lot of the NBA guys had some serious skills. I mean, Barbosa's from Brazil, so you figure he has to have some moves, right?

Henry was a joy to watch.

As much as I despised seeing him score goals with such grace and ease against my lot as he terrorized the EPL for some time, he was on top form yesterday. Of course, it's a charity event, but still: TH dealt with the expectations of the crowd and gave us all exactly what we wanted.

Kalou... well. You'd swear that he was a different player than the one who got mishandled by Avram for most of the season. No pressure, no real defending, but lots of ball skills and pace. If only he was playing on a team that could get the most out of him! Stepovers, backheel flicks, deliberate misdirects on his passing. Absolutely phenomenal stuff.

It was also a treat to see Jozy up close for the first time. Granted, I'm not much of an MLS expert, but I've heard his name and his potential bandied about for a while on the UF email threads, and he's gonna find a lot of love in Villareal if he delivers on half of it. He became rather anonymous in the second half, but he played his part. The sad thing was that, despite the massive crowds and the sheer diversity of everyone gathered, not many people still knew who he was. Give it 3 years, and that should change.

On the other side of the ball, watching Fowler and McManaman together again brought a tear to my dehydrated eyes. They have lost the pace and the stamina, obviously (that's what playing 20 minutes a week for Cardiff City or working the Sky Sports booth with the hirsute Richard Keys will do for you), but they linked up with the same precision and flow as ever. Seriously.

I was screaming like a schoolgirl at their 1-2 passing and unspoken connection on the pitch. Rarely did a pass stray between these two, regardless of who was running where, who was in the way, or how far apart they were. It became a little unfair after a while, as the two would always pass to one another first before moving the ball along (except in the 2nd half when Robbie starting laying it off to Henry as they advanced).

It made me laugh to see Team Nash start with Fowler and Henry, two of the most prolific and beloved strikers in Premiership history, playing in central defense alongside one another. Somewhere, Steve McClaren can breath easy, as there's one manager in the world with less common sense than him.

Barbosa and Bell played well too, as did Nash.

In Steve's case, the skill is there. He could have easily gone pro with soccer if he'd wanted to, perhaps taking the torch of Owen Hargreaves and trying to fudge his way onto a more glamorous national team. However, one can hardly blame him for his decision-making in life, considering where basketball is in the public eye compared to our beloved game. Leandro and Raja made it up as they went along, making the most of their natural athleticism and getting more confident on the ball as the match went on.

Also, full credit to Baron Davis. A guy for whom soccer skills do not come easily. He scrapped around and struggled to find his place in the match, and eventually realized that he was not there for soccer tricks, but for entertainment. Two handballs, including one sublime slap that he tried to blame on the crossbar, one yellow card [amazingly], and one perfectly-executed wrestling takedown on Robbie Fowler.

And finally, we must spare a thought for the goalies. Treated like sacrificial meat to the hungry lions, they took an assault of shots at both ends as players lined up to take shots. Quarino was almost knocked out towards the end as Savaresi let one fly from close-range, knocking the goalie down and leaving him dazed.

Truth be told, we were all dazed by what we saw. When do you ever see events like this?


The Fan's Attic said...

You bastards.


Andrew said...

If no one recognized Jozy, who the hell recognized Kalou?

I second TFA's comment.

In second to last picture, the spectator behind the net in the plaid shorts fails at something. Being a spectator?

ü75 said...

Also in the same pic--Amy Winehouse?

The Fan's Attic said...

No Team Reyna Pic?

Andrew said...

@ u75 - no, she's too healthy-looking for a winehouse.

Chad said...

What TFA said...

Must have been amazing, thanks for the recap.

Sarah said...

Sounds like a blast. Now let's see some events like this at the National Mall.

And if Titi ever comes to play for MLS, I am so stalking him. Yes, I am a bit of a creeper.

The NY Kid said...

dammit, Sarah, I told you that Titi is mine!

Sarah said...

*sigh* Fine, I'll just move to London then and stalk Cesc.


Andrew said...

CNN had a report about the game this morning. Every single meme and cliche about soccer in American was repeated. Beckham was mentioned, even though he wasn't there. Mannix would be proud.

The NY Kid said...

That's fine, but you stay away from Clichy!

Andrew said...

The video is here.

Sarah said...

Claiming all the Frenchies for yourself NY Kid? Does that mean I can't have Nasri either? :*(

The NY Kid said...

eh, he's a little too young for me. Nasri is all yours.

Mike Georger said...

so .... no posts today? the fuck do you expect people to get through a friday at work with nothing new to read

ü75 said...

Yeah. We're way behind today. Expect a post-gasm about the time you leave for home.

Goat said...

I hope that CNN reporter took a stray shot to the nuts. Douchebag. Nike needs to do shit like this around the country. US Soccer should also take it upon themselves to build and maintain fields like this in cities so that people can play pickup games just like they do with basketball. It would be great to see a Rucker Park of soccer that could potentially develop the next US soccer star.

Mike Georger said...

id like to see futsal catch on in america. youd think with the latino populations in the big cities it would have a chance, but i think thats something that would help the development of the youth game

and wtf orwell whered the turkey post go!!

ü75 said...

The Turkey post will be back, sometime. It will be double plus good.

That is all you need to know, citizen, now move along.

Goat said...

Baron Davis kinda looks like the homeless dude in my neighborhood.

Lingering Bursitis said...

Oi Georger, keep yer knickers on!

/back to fucking business
/did this match really happen?