Few things can unite the many faces from around Major League Soccer like the opportunity to elevate a community from the depths of tragedy.
After the heartbreaking elementary school shooting at Newtown, Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School last month, Houston Dynamo president Chris Canetti made a call to action. Several Dynamo players quickly answered the call and players around the league followed suit, flying from all around the country to participate in Canetti’s “Soccer Night in Newtown.”
Among those players were Sounders FC goalkeeper Josh Ford, who played collegiately at the University of Connecticut a mere 77 miles away in Storrs, Connecticut, and Seattle’s 2012 Humanitarian of the Year David Estrada.
Spending the day with the nearly 1,500 people from the Newtown community that joined in the festivities, Ford and Estrada signed autographs, played games and, perhaps most importantly, shared laughs with the children and families.
“That’s one of the things about this sport – it brings people from all over the place together. It shows the character of the league and the heart that this league has, not only for the community that the players are from, but for the country,” Estrada said on Monday after the event. “It’s a big statement for soccer in the US that they put this event together and help a community that really desperately needed it at this time.”
Many of those in attendance were avid followers of MLS – some even wearing the jerseys of their favorite teams – but even those who didn’t were quick to show their appreciation to the over 40 MLS players and US Soccer alums who heard of the efforts of Canetti, who grew up in nearby Guilford, Connecticut.
That list included former MVPs Landon Donovan and Dwayne DeRosario, US greats Alexi Lalas, Cobi Jones, Tony Meola and Mia Hamm, as well as Dynamo players and Puget Sound area products Tally Hall and Cam Weaver. It was a wide-ranging group of players from around the league all coming together in an environment far different from how they are accustomed to meeting.
“The only time we really see these players is on the field as adversaries. We got together and the objective was to put a smile on their faces,” Estrada said. “We put our logos aside and focused on the big picture and everyone here wanted to make these kids smile.”
Estrada has had a busy off-season, doing community work in Seattle, his hometown of Salinas, California, and on a trip with former UCLA teammate Kyle Nakazawa in Hawaii.
And for all the work he does in the community – often going on his own to volunteer – Soccer Night in Newtown was an event that he won’t soon forget.
“They might not know our names and they might not know our teams very well, but they were smiling and that will leave a lasting impression,” he said. “This will leave a lasting impression for the rest of my life. I’m thankful that I had this opportunity. Kudos to Chris Canetti for putting this together and getting the ball rolling. It was amazing to be a part of it.”
Canetti intimated after the event that he hopes to put together a similar event in the spring.