By FRANCO PANIZO
What started out as an idea for a small clinic for children of Newtown, Connecticut wound up culminating in a successful event featuring a who’s-who of soccer stars who gathered to bring joy to a community that is still recovering from a tragedy.
Landon Donovan, Brad Davis, Brian Ching and Kenny Cooper were just some of the players who took part in Monday’s Soccer Night in Newtown, an event designed to help lift the spirits of those that were affected by the massacre that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School last month.
The event, which was organized by Houston Dynamo president and Connecticut native Chris Canetti and others, saw players sign autographs, pose for pictures and play small-sided soccer games with almost 1,500 Newtown residents.
“You could just sense that something special was going to happen today, and that the community had really opened up,” Canetti said during the event. “The only thing we regret is that we wish we had a bigger place. There were just so many people that wanted to be a part of this.”
More than 30 MLS players attended the event and each MLS team was represented by at least one player. Former U.S. Women’s National Team forward Mia Hamm, MLS Commissioner Don Garber and former U.S. Men’s National Team standouts Alexi Lalas and Tony Meola were among the soccer luminaries in attendance.
The event was originally planned to be a clinic involving just Houston Dynamo players, but an outpouring of support from members of the American soccer community, especially MLS, turned it into a major event. The evening was made up of two sessions from 4-8 pm, with only Newtown natives invited to take part.
Soccer Night in Newtown was the latest gesture from the American soccer community in support of the community. Last month, Jozy Altidore wrote the names of the 26 victims of the Sandy Hook school shooting on his cleats prior to playing in a match for AZ Alkmaar.
Monday’s Soccer Night in Newtown event featured activities for 1,200 children from Newtown, who played games with, and posed for pictures with, pro soccer players from across MLS, as well as current and former members of the U.S. Women’s National Team and Men’s National Team.
The evening was a rousing success, with the only complaint being that organizers wished they could have held the event in a larger venue, to accommodate everyone who wanted to take part in the event.
It was a testament to what the American soccer community could rally together to accomplish, and with Canetti serving as the driving force behind the event, Soccer Night in Newtown accomplished its mission of bringing some joy and happiness to a community that could definitely use some.
Here is a look at Monday’s night’s festivities: