Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash and legendary American midfielder Claudio Reyna organized Wednesday's celebrity soccer match at a Lower East Side park for noble reasons.
But was the game beautiful?
While looking to escape the rampant speculation surrounding the NBA draft and international transfer window, some of the biggest names in basketball and international soccer certainly gave a charitable effort. The competitors -- including Giuseppe Rossi, Tony Parker, Brandon Jennings, and Grant Hill among others -- took the pitch as part of Showdown in Chinatown, a celebrity soccer exhibition designed to raise awareness for the endeavors of The Steve Nash Foundation.
The blue-and-white clad Team Nash crushed Team Reyna with a 15-11 final score that wasn't as close as it sounds, but that was never really the point of Wednesday's match. Nash and Reyna designed the event to celebrate soccer in an intimate venue that would heighten the entertainment value for the fans.
"There’s no pretense," said Nash, "Taking it back to the streets where we all grew up playing. It’s free for the fans. They can come and see guys they don’t often get a chance to see. New York City adds a real element of player and character to the event because of the atmosphere.”
Villareal striker Giuseppe Rossi made the most of his cameo appearance on American soil for Team Nash. The New Jersey native heard a smattering of boos during introductions for his decision to play for the Italian national team rather than his native United States, but quickly won over the crowd with his clever dribbling and efficient passing.
He reciprocated the pocket of Azzurri supporters singing and cheering his name on many occasions, including one inspired sequence where Rossi collected an assist by crossing a ball across the penalty area to Nash at the insistence of a spectator.
Rossi, who won Man of the Match honors for his efforts, admitted feeling at home in the intimate setting while his form reminded everyone about his experience playing on soccer's biggest stages.
“When I came here last year, they were asking me, ‘Giuse, how do you run for 90 minutes on fields like this?’" said Rossi. "I was like, ‘This is not a real field. You have to go check out the bigger field.’ So it’s all different from basketball to soccer.”
That disparity especially showed itself through the awkwardness of some of the NBA players, including Suns center and Team Reyna 'keeper Marcin Gortat. The net looked small behind the six-foot, 11-inch tall Polish Hammer, who stands five inches taller than the tallest of the English Premier League in former Manchester United 'keeper Edwin van der Sar.
All of that extra height helped Gortat cover his area from a persistent Team Nash attack, but it did little to close the experience gap between his past goaltending experience and the professionals lining up against him.
“I used to play soccer, so I hope I didn’t forget anything," Gortat said before the match. “I hope they don’t kick too hard. I still have to play the season.”
No one left injured. No controversies erupted. No one minded playing or watching through the torrential downpour that coincided with the start of the second half.
Instead, the spectators watched combination passing from John Nash, Steve's father and former Highlands Park FC player, to Martin Nash, Steve's brother and former Canadian soccer player, followed by Martin hitting the woodwork and Gortat making a diving save to block a Rossi rebound attempt.
They saw Jared Dudley celebrate a goal by removing his jersey, twirl it over his head, and making a celebratory belly flop at center circle. They then saw Grant Hill top Dudley by finishing a soft touch inside the right post and following it with a celebratory jig.
For everyone who stayed through the rain and humidity, they received moments of brilliance from every inch of the pitch on Wednesday evening.
Was it pretty? Not always.
But for those fans peeking through every inch of chain-link fence engulfing the soccer cage at Sara D. Roosevelt Park on Wednesday, it was a beautiful sight to see.