In a couple months West Ham is going to play the Seattle Sounders in a friendly, but it's a game that still matters a bit. The EPL side will be in preseason training focusing fitness and tactical changes. Sigi Schmid will have a few players trying to prove that they are ready for league time. Every player on the pitch will be a pro.
The Zakuani & Friends Charity Game was an uber-friendly, or a platonic friendly. These are no longer pros. Instead the blue and red squads featured former MVPs, World Cup players, coaches, broadcast analysts, authors, the unemployed, an agent, Guam's keeper, an NFL kicker, probably an insurance salesman and that's ignoring the fans that spent money to play along side those former pros.
It was soccer showtime, a pickup game among friends and colleagues. There were maybe two hard tackles and probably 100+ stepovers. At one point Tetteh juggled the ball from foot to knee to foot and eventually caught it on the back of his neck.
Things started with Steve Zakuani getting the first goal, and the blue team was off to the races. They had Landon, who was both booed and cheered. The American great drew an audience that was possibly only rivaled by fan-player (and SaH reader) Beezley. BB had a crowd with two-poles, flags and chants. Donovan merely had a few dozen in USMNT gear.
Landon and Eddie Johnson were the potent attacking threats, both with hattricks (sorry Rick), but the goals of the game were from Sounders U23s/Tacoma Stars coach Darren Sawatzky with a looping chip from about 27 yards out that just dipped under the bar. Mike Chabala banged the match winner (blue's seventh) from a tight angle into the crossbar and then the goal. Patrick Ianni blasted a goal from distance. The former CB was at CDM for the game and took an Alonso-distance shot, nailing it.
There was nothing link added time. It was all about joy, and a slower pace. Zakuani mentioned that the second half was rough. Current ultra-marathoner and sub Nate Jaqua did not tire out.
Fan-player John Beezley was the only one to make the boxscore as he assisted one of EJ's goals. But the list of other fan-players is a sampling of joyful men that got to play soccer with heroes. Lane Smith, Seth Taylor, Dubs, Dan Redwin, Eric Pravitz, Dan Price and Doug Pellett had the time of their lives.
So did those of us in the stands. We chanted for the Sounders to sign Steven Hauschka after he nailed a penalty. We sang for Brad Evans as he supported his friends and teammates. Marcus Hahnemann, Roger Levesque and James Riley all heard their names chanted.
Mike Fucito did not. He did get an assist (probably wouldn't be an assist in MLS play, but I'm writing this story, so it's an assist). Late the game red was forcing the ball to either DeRo or Fucito. Mike had the opportunity, but toyed with the defense, dribbling around rather than shooting.
It was that kind of night. A game of trick moves, real FIFA Street type stuff. Everyone tried shit - pure soccer as joyful poetry.
The 2016 Zakuani & Friends match is over. Almost everyone is already thinking about next year. It could have lasted another hour and attendees would be thrilled. The players wouldn't be able to do it, they were clearly tiring.
These aren't the MLS and National Team stars of their personal histories. These are coaches, broadcast analysts, authors, the unemployed, an agent, Guam's keeper, an NFL kicker, and probably an insurance salesman playing soccer because they still all love the game. Even if they aren't paid to play any longer.