HOUSTON — In times of need, bridging the gap between the sports and everyday world can go a long way to contributing to a cure for some of society’s worst moments.
That is exactly what Houston Dynamo president Chris Canetti has in mind for his Soccer Night in Newtown event on Jan. 7.
An event born on a whim in an effort to “just do something” in the aftermath of last month’s tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary school on Newtown, Conn., the Dynamo’s chief executive will lead 40-plus representatives of the US soccer community in an effort to bring some relief to a community sorely in need of it.
The event has garnered national attention and notice, but it’s not exactly what Canetti (right) had in mind when he first started to organize a low-key, low publicity day of soccer to help provide a diversion to a terrible tragedy.
“We just had something small in mind and once word started to get out there was tremendous response from others to get involved,” said Canetti, a native of Guilford, just 45 miles from Newtown. “Being the Dynamo and being a long ways away from Newtown, I didn’t think it was appropriate to close it down to others that are closer. So we opened it up … and now we have over 40 players and have something big brewing.”
It didn't take long for Canetti’s phone to start to ringing, and the first call came from his friend and former US soccer star Alexi Lalas, who the Dynamo president credited with kicking the interest into high gear.
Lalas got the ball rolling, and now USWNT legend Mia Hamm, former USMNT ‘keeper Tony Meola and LA Galaxy star Landon Donovan lead the star-studded roster that will be signing autographs, posing for photos and playing soccer at the event on Monday. Major League Soccer has thrown its weight behind the event as well, as Commissioner Don Garber will attend the event along with 31 MLS players, at least one from each club.
With the added star power, however, comes the challenge of keeping the scope and focus of the event intact.
“The event is still very small. It’s a private event for Newtown residents only,” said the Dynamo president, who added that the event’s location is being kept private to keep it local. “That’s one of the challenges, to be honest, that the event and star level has grown and we needed to keep focus on why we’re doing this. We’re doing this for the Newtown residents, the kids and families.”
And while the event has grown from a small gathering to star-studded event, nothing has changed for Canetti. It’s still about those affected by the tragedy.
“We were very pleased with just having five Dynamo players, but the event has grown greatly,” Canetti remarked. “I don’t think we ever expected it to grow to this level. Now we just want to make sure this is a successful event and that we achieve our goals, and that’s the focus right now.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.