In a prelude to Sunday’s MLS Cup final, against the backdrop of Miami’s Art Basel madness, a crew of former league stars and some lucky fans convened in the artsy Wynwood neighborhood of that city for some footy-meets-art action.
Dubbed Copa Basel and organized by global creative network Monorex and soccer lifestyle blog Kicks to the Pitch in conjunction with Major League Soccer, the event brought together art aficionados and soccer fans. After rains dampened most of Miami Art Week, including the main Art Basel fair at the Miami Beach Convention Center, the skies cleared just as Copa Basel kicked off in early afternoon Dec. 6.
Eddie Johnson, Cory Gibbs, Dwayne de Rosario, and Juan Pablo Galavis led squads in the inaugural event’s exhibition game against a backdrop that featured whimsical street murals and a classic school hip-hop soundtrack.
“Any time I can come support a good cause where soccer is involved, I’m in,” Johnson said prior to the exhibition game. “We always say soccer is a beautiful game that resembles great art.”
The recently retired D.C. United forward Johnson, along with Galavis, led a team representing the Portland Timbers, while Gibb and de Rosario represented Columbus Crew SC in a 50-minute match played at the outdoor field of Wynwood Soccer. In keeping with the spirit of Art Basel festivities, the facility features an exterior painted by world-renowned artists who are part of the Secret Walls collective.
About two dozen spectators crammed along the exterior fence to watch the exhibition game while a DJ played old hip-hop hits and street artists Greg Mishka and Inkie drew soccer-inspired sketches with black felt markers.
“I have been working with Secret Walls for a while,” Mishka said. “When they asked me to be here this year, of course I said yes. I’ve just been kicking it and doing a little soccer-inspired drawing of fantastic soccer players and inspirational quotes mixed in with my weird characters.”
The actual exhibition match foreshadowed the outcome of the MLS Cup final, with “Portland” coming out victorious. Unlike the actual Cup final, Copa Basel’s game ended in an 18-18 tie, with the Portland team ultimately winning on penalty kicks. They celebrated at midfield by dousing each other with cans of Heineken beer, a Copa Basel sponsor.
After the Portland squad’s celebration, players and patrons watched the Timbers claim the MLS cup in front of a giant projection screen inside Wynwood Soccer. Oscar Lora, a Colombian in his early twenties who played on Johnson’s team, said Copa Basel was one of his most memorable experiences he’s had.
“I was super excited to play alongside these guys,” Lora said. “And this is the coolest place to play soccer.”