There are moments in sports where the final score doesn't matter, where merely playing the game is enough to distract people from what is happening in the real world. From rainy New Britain, CT, the New England Revolution, New York Cosmos, Real Boston Rams and Newtown Pride gathered to play soccer to benefit the Newtown Parent Connection, a charity started in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting.
For Newtown Pride FC, a member of the 12 team Connecticut Soccer League, a team who has dedicated their entire season to Sandy Hook ES, this is just another in a long line of benefit games. They played the U23 Harrisburg City Islanders in a match recently as well, adding fixtures to an already busy league schedule. But to be the first team to play against the New York Cosmos in almost thirty years is something else.
Newtown starting goalkeeper Brad Jeeves doesn't try to live outside the moment. As a volunteer coach for the Newtown Youth Academy (NYA) recreation leagues, he has strong ties to the community.
"One of the kids I coached at NYA, just six years old, was killed," Jeeves said after the game. "To be able to come out here and represent Newtown is very special to all of us.
Jeeves arguably had the highlight of the night, stopping a penalty kick in the first half from Cosmos midfielder Ayoze to keep the game at 0-0.
"The moment the penalty kick is awarded, I just pick a side and go strong," said Jeeves. "To deny a team like that their first goal in 27 years I think, that's a special moment for me."
Jeeves and the Pride could do nothing a few minutes later when Ayoze buried a direct free kick into the net for the opening goal of the game. While only 1-0 at halftime, the Cosmos were pressuring the Newtown defense and finally found their finishing touch in the second half. Goals by Henry Lopez and trialist Alessandro Noselli made it 3-0 before a red card to Newtown's Diego Orlandi brought the Pride down to ten men. Then the floodgates opened, with the Pride allowing three more goals in the closing minutes for the final scoreline of 6-0.
Newtown head coach Michael Svanda was still proud of his team's performance, noting that the scoreline was not something he was worried about, especially with a CSL quarterfinal playoff game the next day. (Newtown lost the game 6-5 in extra time to Danbury United).
"We had three or four good scoring opportunities in the first half but then we just weren't able to keep up with the pace of the game.' Svanda reflected. "I tried to get as many players into the game as I could, because to be able to say you played against the Cosmos is amazing."
In the first game of the evening, the New England Revolution played their PDL affiliate the Real Boston Rams despite the torrential downpour of rain that plague most of the state Tuesday night. The Revs sent out a very strong second team lineup that featured regulars like Jerry Bengtson, Andy Dorman, A.J. Soares, Kalifa Cisse and Matt Reis. Soares opened the scoring in the first half of the scheduled sixty-minute game before Dimitry Imbongo made it 2-0 just after halftime. However, the Revs were unable to keep a clean sheet as the Rams' Fabio Machado's low shot tucked into the corner past Luis Soffner and the 2-1 final score.
"It is very special to score against my 'old team,' "said a grinning Machado, a Revs academy product who played at Drexel and will play at Providence this year, and has featured in reserve league games for the Revs in the past. "It's my first game here with the Rams, which is such a great organization to be a part of and it's great to see the fans come out and watch."
For the Rams, in their first season in the Professional Developmental League's (PDL) Northeast Division, who also played the Newtown Men SC team in May, were appreciative of the opportunity to play not only their new MLS affiliate, but also for Newtown.
"We are extremely honored to play here tonight and to have our fans show their support for Newtown," said Rams President Mike Madden. "This is the second time we've played a benefit game for Newtown, some of our front office has ties to the Newtown community and the opportunity for our players just makes it a great night."
The Rams have a record of just 1 win, 4 losses and 1 draw in their first season, but with their affiliation to the Revs, they're looking forward to long term success.
"There are always going to be peaks and valleys of a new squad, especially a young squad of 19, 20 year olds in an U23 league," said Madden. "But in the long run, the ability to get academy and homegrown players from MLS more games between the college season is only going to help develop more great players for all leagues."
Throughout the first game, Revs first teamers such as Kelyn Rowe, Andrew Farrell, Lee Nguyen, Bobby Shuttleworth and Kevin Alston were signing autographs and taking photos with fans. The Revs promotional team also set up a demo of FIFA 13 for fans to play. A silent auction of signed merchandise from the Revs, Cosmos and MLS was also for the benefit of the Newtown Parent Connection.
For me, being a short 20-minute drive away from Newtown, where my mom teaches at Newtown Middle School, it gives me a tremendous sense of pride to see the Revs, Cosmos, Rams and Pride come together for this event. Just witnessing the atmosphere at the game, with several hundred people braving the elements for the first game and "La Banda Del Cosmos" supporters group drumming, chanting and singing throughout the second game made this an experience I won't forget. The reaction on the Newtown bench from Jeeves' saved penalty, to Machado's goal, and to the group of four kids chanting "Let's go Newtown" while down at least three goals.
There are just moments in sports where the final scoreline doesn't matter.