Soccer Stars Give Newtown Kids Something To Smile About

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This was Chris Canetti's idea. This is Marcus Tracy's hometown.

The idea was to bring the beautiful game to a place where, for a day, ugliness knew no bounds. And while no game could ever undo the 26 senseless murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, nearly 50 stars of American soccer did their best Monday to put smiles on the faces of the children and the parents of those children who push on from one of the worst tragedies in our nation's history.

If the number of stars from Major League Soccer and the U.S. men's and women national teams and the number of joyful smiles that lit up this early January night are used to quantify that mission, Soccer Night in Newtown was a grand success.

Landon Donovan was at the Newtown Youth Academy Sports & Fitness Center. Cobi Jones and Alexi Lalas were there. Kristine Lilly, Mia Hamm and Christie Rampone were there. More than 30 other MLS stars were there, too.

They signed autographs for more than 1,000 Newtown kids and their families over two sessions. They broke down into soccer games. There were giant inflatables to romp in. Bob Ley, host of ESPN's "Outside the Lines" and one of America's premier sports journalists, was the master of ceremonies. It was fitting, because this was one of the great collections of American soccer players ever assembled in one place.

"Maybe the greatest of all time," Canetti said.

For Tracy, now playing for the San Jose Earthquakes, this was especially emotional.

"Growing up here and having lived 18 years of my life here, I was deeply impacted by it," Tracy said. "Obviously nothing like the families that suffered such great loss.

"This is my town. This is my home. Newtown is and always has been a soccer town. It's great to see the response of the U.S. soccer community. And it's important to see people out here, getting the young kids out here and show them a good time again. Sort of restore that sense of normalcy and see them smile and run around and laugh."

The idea started with Canetti, president of the Houston Dynamo. He grew up in Guilford. He went to Quinnipiac.

"I'm no different than any other American who on the weekend of the tragedy sat around my house terribly saddened and shocked," Canetti said. "I just kept wondering, 'What can we do?' On a whim that next Monday morning driving into work I picked up my cellphone and called Eric Da Costa."

Da Costa is the head coach at Quinnipiac, and Canetti had a question.

"One simple question," Canetti said. "Tell me what type of soccer town Newtown is. I had lost touch. He told me it's a huge soccer town. Big club there, good high school programs, boys and girls, and a facility. I said, well, we should do something. You're grass roots. You're tied to the Connecticut communities. I'm with the pros."

Da Costa told Canetti, "Let's do it."

Da Costa reached out to the Connecticut Football Club, which secured the Newtown facility for the night and sent over a bunch of coaches.

The initial idea was to hold a clinic. Canetti called up a number of his Dynamo players about coming to Newtown. Brian Ching, Brad Davis, Ricardo Clark, Corey Ashe and Tally Hall …

"They all said the same thing," Canettii said. "Yes, yes, yes."

After looking into it more, Canetti and others realized a clinic was not going to impact enough people.

"We might have had 20 kids here, 20 there, it wasn't big enough," Canetti said.

So they decided on a fanfest.

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