Well, yet another Showdown in Chinatown in the books. It briefly looked like it mightn't happen this year thanks to the Biblical rains that New York has been suffering through lately. Then, like a crack of lightening, the announcer said, "Here are the players!" And sure enough, there they were, jogging on to the field to a scrum of kids, "media" and people who had snuck inside the fence.
The event still had a magical Dr. J at Rucker Park feel to it. Steve Nash, Claudio Reyna and the rest of the organizers have done exactly the right thing by keeping the game at the small Nike field. It's intimate, with players literally falling into the crowd on several occasions. And I can only guess what the event looks like to people walking past on their way home from work - "What's going on here? Who? Playing soccer??"
We've spent the past couple days collecting our thoughts, sorting through photographs and editing video (if you haven't watched it yet, do so here).
After the hop, words by Ian and photos by Spectator.
We were all on a high after watching the shocking win over Spain, and despite my continued erroneous iPhone weather updates (“The blob looks like its moving through”), we spent the next hour or so huddled four or five deep under a tiny umbrella as a rather tall Englishman laughed at our Yank grumbling about the rain.
The rain mercifully let up before 6pm or so, and then suddenly the players appeared from one corner of the pitch. They were soon mobbed by the “media” (lets just say that there were lots of people with media badges that were wearing Prada shoes).
We were able to talk with Babel, Kalou, Mutu, and others, who were great, although the NBA players were much more standoffish. Henry was mobbed, as was Steve Nash. In general though it was great access that you wouldn't normally get as a humble blogger.
About 15 minutes later, the call came for everyone to clear the field, and eventually it was just the players doing warmups. Finally, at around 6:30, the arbitro blew the whistle and we were off.
Let it be said for the record that of the NBA players, the skills hierarchy was Nash>Parker>Hill>Bosh. I don’t think Bosh had ever played before, and it looked like it. Awkward 6-11" man loping down the right wing with horrible touch.
By the end of the match the crowd was practically begging for a goal from the big man, and he nearly connected on a perfectly set up header down at the far end of the pitch. He also took a bit of heckling, at one point yelling “Don't boo me man!”
Grant Hill, on the other hand, who isn’t much shorter than Bosh, looked very good, even executing a ridiculous stepover move and generally showing great touch.
Tony Parker managed to bag a few goals, but Steve Nash looked like he could be slotted into the midfield for a professional side. By the end of the match he was soaked with sweat, and was definitely taking the game seriously.
The Inter Milan backline of Ivan Cordoba and Javier Zannetti looked pretty solid in the match, although there wasn't much in the way of tackling going on. The running joke was that Cordoba didn't know it was a kick around because he looked pretty intense patrolling the back.
Babel looked dangerous but his touch was a bit suspect, while Reyna looked pretty slow. Titi came on in the second half but due to a knee injury was only at like 50% speed compared to everyone else. He spent much of the game back on defense.
Salomon Kalou was easily the fastest man on the field. The best soccer player to my eye was Adrian Mutu, who despite wearing an arm brace bagged himself an, er, brace, and looked very skilled even on a questionable and wet plastic pitch.
Also a special shout out to the goalkeepers, who got in front of some pretty hard shots and single-handedly kept the scoreline in the single digits. Marc Stein also came on for a brief cameo, and he didn’t look that bad, and even had a chance to bag a goal himself.
Edgar Davids spent much of the match dribbling and showboating. But it was hard to blame him. Even though he's retired, it looked like he could start tomorrow for the New York Red Bulls (hint hint).
Despite the rain, the sideline was packed, although the vibe wasn't very underground. Lots of groupies, hangers on, posses, clueless suits and extravagantly dressed women. I think they were handing out VIP passes by the cartload. ESPN was there, along with Fox Soccer, although the level of soccer knowledge amongst the TV people was pretty dismal. Let's hope the weather cooperates for next year, and we get a few more surprise stars – especially from the NBA – to play in the game.
That all said, it was a hell of a way to spend an afternoon. We can't wait until next year.