New York Soccer: Villareal

W2W4: Juventus v. Club América at Citi Field

July, 26, 2011
After producing a packed house in June for the first professional soccer match in the building's history, what can Citi Field do for an encore?

That's the question as Serie A staple Juventus pays a visit to the home of the New York Mets on Tuesday to kick off against fabled Mexican side Club America (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN Deportes). The famed soccer sides will clash as part of the World Football Challenge, an exhibition soccer tournament hosted by Soccer United Marketing that features some of the most prominent clubs in Europe and North America.

Juventus will look to notch its first win in WFC play after dropping a 2-1 result to Primeira Liga side Sporting Clube de Portugal at BMO Field in Toronto. The Bianconeri personnel provide a major artery for the Italian national team, which includes longtime Azzuri goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, midfielder Andrea Pirlo, and strikers Alessandro Del Piero -- who scored the only goal for Juvenus against Sporting CP with a nice chip from the corner of the penalty area -- and Luca Toni among others.

Club America also seeks a boost in form after falling in a 2-0 shutout to Manchester City of the English Premier League at AT&T Park on July 16. Aguilas legend Carlos Reinoso will rely on Argentine playmaker Daniel Montenegro and US international Edgar Castillo along with a collection of Mexican national team stalwarts to make a competitive match for their Italian opponents.

Key Matchup: Supporters vs. the Turnstiles. June's international friendly between Greece and Ecuador surpassed expectations from a support standpoint as 39,656 fans showed up to cheer on the first professional soccer match in Queens since 2003, making it the second-highest attended event at Citi Field this season (since surpassed by the Subway Series).

It's an open secret that Fred Wilpon, the patriarch of the Mets ownership group that also includes his son Jeff Wilpon, has held conversations with Major League Soccer about bringing another expansion club to New York. Tonight's match, while still a friendly at heart, should provide a sterner test as the marketing gurus were unable to key in on national pride to move tickets for the match.

Both Juventus and Club America sport strong supporters groups, but both clubs are polarizing in their respective soccer spheres. Any gaps in ticket sales would need to be made up by casual fans or, more importantly, American fans. The percentage of those that show up could prove a bellwether for the Wilpons' chances at soccer success in the near future.

Back from the Brink. Juventus may look for an early statement game in America's biggest city to quell concerns about the club's recent slide to mediocrity in recent seasons. The Bianconeri have finished seventh in the Serie A table for two consecutive seasons, culminating in the winningest Serie A club of all time being unable to qualify for both the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League after the 2010-11 season.

New manager Antonio Conte, the club's fifth manager in two years, has a mandate to return the club to the respectability it lost after former Bianconeri general manager Lucianio Moggi engulfed his club in the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal in 2006. Conte has overhauled his roster by bringing in the likes of Pirlo and former Bayern Leverkusen midfielder Arturo Vidal while conversations continue about a possible acquisiton of Villareal striker and New Jersey native Giuseppe Rossi.

Second Verse, Same as the First. The Bianconeri are not the only club looking for a return to respectability as Club America looks to regain its form after finishing sixth in the Mexican Primera Division and exiting prematurely from the 2011 Copa Libertadores in the Round of 16.

Reinoso, who returned for his third coaching tenure with the Aguilas after replacing Manuel Lapuente, is also rebuilding a squad that carries the lofty expectations that come with being the second winningest Primera Ligue side after Chivas de Guadalajara.

Priority one for Reinoso is preparing the replacement for longtime goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, who departed for Ligue 1 side AC Ajaccio on July 4. Man City did not test potential replacement Armando Navarrete much in their WFC tilt, but Leonín Pineda waits in the wings if Navarrete should falter as the Aguilas prepare for the Apertura season.

Nash, Rossi headline beautiful Showdown in Chinatown

June, 23, 2011
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.