NEW YORK — The fifth installment of Steve Nash’s charity soccer game in lower Manhattan was played this past Wednesday. Watching the final of the 2006 World Cup together, Steve and NBATV writer Simone Sandri hatched the idea of bringing soccer and basketball players together for charity and thus the Showdown in Chinatown was born.
The event raises money for the Steve Nash Foundation, which aims to promote healthy lifestyles for kids.With the European Cup still going on and the Olympics right around the corner, many of the world’s top soccer and basketball players had other responsibilities that kept them out of the game this year. So even though I went in with expectations of the talent pool to being a little shallower this year (especially on the basketball side), Nash was still able to bring in plenty of very skilled individuals in the name of charity. The team’s stacked up like this:
White – World
Simone Sandri (NBA TV, soccer player at Seton Hall)
Salomon Kalou (Chelsea, England / Ivory Coast National Team)
Carlalberto Ludi (Novara Calcio, Italy)
Emmerson Boyce (Wigan Athletic, England)
Allessandro Noselli (Sassuolo, Italy)
Elton Brand (Philadelphia 76ers)
Green – USA
Stu Holden – Non-playing Captain (Bolton, England / US National Team)
Robbie Rodgers (Leeds United, England / US National Team)
Maurice Edu (Rangers, Scotland / US National Team)
Jimmy Congrad (retired U.S. National Team)
Marc Stein (ESPN NBA reporter)
Danny Green (San Antonio Spurs)
Mike Dunleavy Jr. (Milwaukee Bucks)
Mehdi Ballouchy (New York Red Bulls, USA)
The players were ushered in on a black bus and they filtered through an opening in the chain link fence that surrounded the field. One by one they made their way onto the turf greeted by huge applause from the fans that filled the bleachers on the north end of the field and the sea of others that crowded against the outside of the fence.
When the whistle blew to start the game, the park was buzzing with energy and everyone was all smiles. The game began cheerful enough with big laughs as soon as Danny Green and Elton Brand touched, or should I say, lunged in the general direction, of the ball. It took a few minutes, but Marc Stein opened up the scoring and lit the competitive fire.
Nash, who is undefeated in his annual game, was soon flying around the pitch dishing balls off almost to a fault — literally passing up scoring opportunities. It’s pretty amazing how his ambidextrous nature on the court parallels his style on the field. You can’t tell if he’s stronger with his right or his left foot, and that’s a compliment some of the world’s best soccer players will never get (see Lionel Messi). Nash did shoot the ball a few times, including a majestic back-heel effort, but he couldn’t seem to find the back of the net.
The game went back and forth between the World and the USA from start to finish. There were at least a few lead changes and with five minutes left to play, it was tied 7-7. The smiles from the first whistle had turned wry and the banter went under their breath as each team went for the knockout blow. Salomon Kalou provided the eventual game winner with a deft finish on the break, and moments later he danced with the ball along the endline before dishing it off in front of the net to Emmerson Boyce, who slotted it home to end the game. So the World won 9-7, extending Nash’s winning streak to five.
The entire event grants great access to the players, and before the game they signed dozens of autographs and answered questions from the media. Nash was of course asked about his looming free agency and his answers maintained the same open-minded attitude that he’s had all summer.
“We’ll see what happens Sunday,” Nash said. “I’m looking forward to what teams are interested and what they have to say. I haven’t been able to sit down and talk with teams. Sunday, I’ll get a chance to meet with some teams and see what happens. I don’t necessarily want to visit every team. I just want to talk and hear what they have to say.”
On the possibility of staying in the desert, Steve said, “Phoenix has been home for eight years. It’s a very important place. I’m a Sun, still am. It’s still possible.”
The fact of the matter is that Steve will have plenty of suitors this offseason and the inverse relationship between his age and his chances of winning a championship are going to be an important factor in his decision. It is also worthy to note that Robert Sarver, who was in attendance with his family at last year’s game, was noticeably absent this year, along with every other Sun with exception of Grant Hill. This may be an indication of where the Suns will be concentrating their efforts in the offseason.
Hill was also prodded about his NBA future but made it a point to let the media know that he wasn’t interested in talking about his future and that he was in New York to support his friend Steve and the game.
Jason Lalk is a guest writer for ValleyoftheSuns.