NEW BRITAIN, Conn. – Newtown Pride FC coach Mike Svanda located a bit of cover from the rain underneath the grandstand at Veterans Memorial Stadium and marveled at the scene bustling around him on Tuesday night.
Fans milled in the narrow thoroughfares and sought out autographs from New England Revolution players. Jerseys hung from one of the underpinnings – Newtown native Marcus Tracy sent a San Jose Earthquakes kit to complement the offerings made by the Revolution and the reborn New York Cosmos – to urge people to participate in the silent auction. Children stepped into the Revolution tent to play FIFA 13 on Xbox when the halftime whistles blew.
And, most importantly, four teams took the field – including the Pride squaring off against the Cosmos – on this dreary night to raise money for the Newtown Parent Connection, a non-profit organization established by concerned parents to combat substance use and abuse among children in the tragedy-stricken town where 20 children and teachers were killed by a lone gunman six months ago.
“It's hard to believe that we're here,” Svanda told MLSsoccer.com. “The fact that soccer teams at this level are willing to stretch themselves and come here and do this for us, it just is truly amazing.”
Three professional and semi-pro clubs – the Revolution, the Cosmos and PDL side Real Boston Rams – all jumped at the opportunity to participate in this one-off event.
Revolution president Brian Bilello said the origins for the idea first emerged after he traveled down to Soccer Night in Newtown, an effort spearheaded by Houston Dynamo president and Connecticut native Chris Canetti, earlier this year. Bilello said he and the Revs always wanted to contribute to the efforts. It was just a matter of figuring out the best way to help.
“The idea came from Newtown Pride soccer club, the Newtown Parent Connection,” Bilello said. “Really, it was others who came up with the idea. All we had to do was say yes. I think that's the way you need to do it. You have to ask the community what do you want, what can be helpful instead of trying to push ideas on them.”
A modest break in their schedule allowed the Revolution to spend a Tuesday night in June playing a 60-minute friendly against the Rams. Most of the regulars watched from the stands instead, but a seasoned group including Jerry Bengtson, Kalifa Cissé, Andy Dorman and A.J. Soares took the field in the 2-1 victory.
Revolution coach Jay Heaps said he brought his entire squad on the two-hour journey from Foxborough to show the club's support for the event.
“This goes beyond anything,” Heaps said. “Being from New England, this tragedy in December, it just wiped us all out emotionally, to be honest with you. I know we wanted to get back here and be a part of it and help any way we could. It's a great opportunity for us to give back. We brought everybody. I think it was that important to be a part of something like this.”
One evening of soccer won't alter the events of last December or provide a solution to the hurt and the turmoil still to come, but it does supply a momentary respite on the long and winding road toward recovery.
“I like to look at it as a special night for children everywhere,” Svanda said. “It just reminds us that there is some balance in the universe. When bad things happen, there are good things that can come from them. It doesn't change the things that have happened, but there is some kind of balance. This night is a reminder of that.”