Steve Nash shows he can ball

June, 26, 2008
06/26/08
11:02
AM ET
NEW YORK -- It's always been an accepted fact that in contrast to the rest of the world, most of the best athletes in the United States don't play soccer. The biggest pipe dream for U.S. soccer fans remains the thought of how good the U.S. national team would be if America's elite athletes chose to forego their more traditional career paths of the NFL, the NBA and MLB. For a couple of hours Wednesday at Nike Field in Chinatown, where the Steve Nash charity soccer game pitted mixed teams of NBA and soccer stars against each another, one gained a glimpse into that "what if" scenario.

Nash is a well-known philanthropist and avid soccer player and fan. For the event, which benefited his foundation (and Claudio Reyna's), Nash lined up a star-studded list of participants (more on that later). Upon arriving at the field, I made my way through the huge throng outside -- there were at least a couple thousand people in attendance, standing crushed against the wire fencing on the sidewalk surrounding the field. I took some time to speak with Jozy Altidore, who was warming up with former Red Bulls teammate Juan Pablo Angel and Chelsea's Salomon Kalou.

Contrary to reports that suggest Altidore will be loaned out immediately upon his arrival in Spain (Recreativo has become a moot destination), Altidore told me that isn't the case as far as he knows. "Nothing's set yet, but I hope so; I'd like to go out on loan," he said.

As for Altidore's participation in the Olympics this summer on the U.S. U-23 team, his status is yet to be finalized, although it's something he's keen on. "It's still undecided," Altidore said. "I still have to talk to them [Villarreal management] when I get over there. But I hope so."

But on to the charity game itself, which matched Team Reyna in blue and Team Nash in yellow. Notables suiting up for Team Reyna included Jason Kidd (of the Dallas Mavericks), Baron Davis (of the Golden State Warriors), Altidore, Angel, Reyna, Kalou, Gregg Berhalter and ESPN.com NBA writer Marc Stein.

Team Nash fielded Leandro Barbosa, Raja Bell and Nash (all of the Phoenix Suns), Thierry Henry and former Liverpool players Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman and Rob Jones.

Based on the lineups, it was pretty obvious to me that Team Nash was going to win easily, but it was less obvious to the Italian photographer sitting next to me, with whom I had a friendly wager (thanks for the $10).

To my surprise, Team Reyna actually started strongly, taking a two-goal lead in the first few minutes through key contributions from Kidd, who had an assist, and Davis, who shocked the crowd by scoring. Unfortunately, those were pretty much the highlights for Team Reyna, which never again reached such dizzying heights. Team Nash took it up a notch and systematically carved its opponent apart, easily winning 9-4. Here's my none-too-serious player review of the game:

Team Reyna

Jason Kidd -- The All-Star point guard showed his vision and passing touch transfer nicely from the basketball court to the field. He had a sweet assist to Kalou for his team's opening goal. He also showed pretty good technique and had several other passes that created clear-cut openings, only to see his team squander them. He was no slouch offensively, forcing a nice save with a good header and opening the second half with a cracking one-timer that thundered off the post.

Jozy Altidore -- He was in an unselfish mood all game, holding the ball up, laying it off and even helping out back on D. He took only one shot, a thunderous effort from long range that crashed off the crossbar. Red Bulls fans missed the chance to watch him combine one last time with former strike partner Angel, who sat out the entire game.

Claudio Reyna -- Looked surprisingly fit and played most of the game. Held the ball well, made some nice long passes and got on the score sheet when he converted a penalty kick late in the first half.

Baron Davis -- In a playful mood all game, Davis was expected to be the goalkeeper for Team Reyna but was instead utilitized out in the field. Clearly devoid of any real soccer background, he alternately flashed some raw skill before negating it shortly thereafter. Having said that, he did get on the score sheet by showing nice composure in slotting home a cross from Altidore into an admittedly open net. Still, that was a lot better than Chad Barrett's efforts against Chivas last week. Davis lightened the proceedings throughout, including a memorable legitimate tackle of Fowler when the ex-Liverpool man was through on goal. Davis celebrated by following up with a playful, dismissive shove that felled Fowler and then dove on top of him for a wrestling 10-count. Also earned a yellow card for "accidentally" handling a goal-bound shot on the line.

Salomon Kalou -- Tried hard all game, making endless weaving runs spliced with plenty of stepovers, but was foiled by the keeper on numerous occasions, save for a late consolation goal. Kalou was a surprise late addition to the game -- he told me Nash had found out he was on vacation in New York through mutual friends and extended an invite. As for his team's loss? "I think the other team, they had more focus on the game," Kalou said. "We didn't take our chances -- they had very good finishers and scored a couple of very good goals."

Marc Stein -- ESPN.com's senior NBA writer needs to work on his game conditioning, but he got in a couple of nifty tackles (including one on his idol, Fowler) and even almost scored on one play. Unfortunately, he also blew an open header that should have been an easy goal. He had lots of vociferous support from the crowd (either that, or he has a lot of family in Manhattan).

Team Nash

Steve McManaman -- The former Liverpool legend did his usual thing out on the wing, notched four assists and basically terrorized the porous Team Reyna defense.

Robbie Fowler -- The man nicknamed "God" by Liverpool fans showed glimpses of his famed finishing prowess, including a cheeky chipped finish and a calmly taken penalty to round off a hat trick.

Thierry Henry -- The main attraction didn't disappoint, showing plenty of artful flicks, audacious ball juggling to sidestep defenders and a plethora of skills. He looked a class above everyone else and scored four goals, including a memorable penalty kick that almost decapitated the goalkeeper.

Steve Nash -- Often cited by those in the know as someone who easily could play pro soccer if he wanted. He didn't disappoint in his charity game. Made plenty of incisive passes that split the defense and set McManaman free. Showed great technique on the ball and scored twice, the second a stunning goal on which he controlled a long pass beautifully on his chest and in the same movement swiveled and crashed a volley into the net. There's no doubt in my mind that if Nash had chosen to pursue this sport, he'd be a legit pro.

Leandro Barbosa -- As he's Brazilian, it's no surprise he can play a little futbol. He played mostly as a defensive midfielder and flashed impressive athleticism combined with a couple of nice runs in which he showed off his natural flair.

Raja Bell -- Missed what would have been the goal of the game after a beautiful move by Team Nash that involved Henry, Nash, McManaman, a series of no-look passes and a clever chip over the goalie set him up with an open goal. Other than that, played as a holding midfielder and showed a lot of defensive potential, even dispossessing Kalou and Altidore several times.

Memorable moment of the game

Henry, in full flight running at Berhalter, performed a series of quick stepovers before blowing past Berhalter with ease -- leaving the former U.S. national team defender with a thoroughly bemused expression and a rueful smile. Moments later, in almost exactly the same spot, Henry tried the same thing one on one with Davis and was cleanly robbed by the Warriors' point guard.

Final impressions

I'll leave it with Henry's thoughts about who amongst the NBA contingent impressed him the most, which he shared when I caught up with him at the afterparty. "I'm going to have to say Steve [Nash], but I kinda knew it already that he was pretty skilful," Henry said. "BD [Baron Davis] was very funny, LeAndro Barbosa was good also, but Steve was the most impressive, and also Jason Kidd. I didn't know he could play -- he told me he played as a kid; he was very nice."

Jen Chang is the U.S. Soccer editor for ESPNsoccernet. He also writes regularly and is a contributer to Soccernet podcasts. He joined ESPN Studio Production in 2004 and earned a Sports Emmy award, before making the move to ESPN.com in 2005.

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