MLS and La Liga stars hit the beach

Both Christian Karembeu (left) & Brian Ching (right) celebrating after a goal. Sye Bennefield/MEDILL

By Sye Bennefield Jr.

Imagine a Copa Del Rey Champion, a World Cup winner, a MLS Cup Champion and a Gold Cup Champion having a kick about on North Avenue Beach with no clouds in sight.

Now reconfigure that image and picture those four individuals sharing an 8’ x 24’ area pitch, against several feisty youngsters. Every single one brimming with confidence and cheekiness in which a child at that age, playing soccer, usually has.

That image was reality, Sunday, when MLS All-Star week officially kicked off.

The aforementioned players on hand were La Liga legends Gaizka Mendieta and Christian Karembeu and MLS legends Brian Ching and Brian McBride.

They, and anyone who was looking for fun, participated in various beach soccer events. Individuals had the opportunity to form teams and play in tournament style matches on the main pitch while others played footvolley (beach soccer volleyball).

While this and many MLS scheduled events throughout this week build up to the Aug. 2 showdown between the MLS All-Stars and two-time reigning UEFA Champions League winners Real Madrid, these events hold a deeper and consequential outcome for the game of soccer for the U.S.

One of Major League Soccer’s many goals has been the growth of the game in the states. Look no further than Sunday’s event, All-Star Community Day, at Gage Park. Along with MLS WORKS, the community outreach initiative that joins the Chicago Fire, MLS All-Stars, the U.S. Soccer Foundation and Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) in unveiling two new mini-pitches. Not only will these pitches provide a safe place to play, but they will also improve the lives of those around the community.

Thus, these efforts could spread the love of the game and further develop soccer’s identity in this country.

“It’s a great initiative to promote soccer, here in the U.S.,” said Karembeu. Karembeu mentioned that by holding competitive events like beach soccer tournaments and hosting some of Europe’s top clubs in competitions like the International Champions Cup (ICC), “you can see all the big names of football.”

This introduces fans, young and old, to some of the world’s greatest and brightest players.

Rounding out the first day was a head-to-head match-up between the Blue Team and the White Team in a series of skills challenges brought to life from the FIFA video game, FIFA ‘18. The event was held at the PrivateBank Fire Pitch and saw the contestants test their technique, accuracy and overall soccer skill level.

The Blue team featured Portland Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri, MLS legend Dwayne De Rosario, Chicago Red Stars forward Stephanie McCaffrey and professional freestyler Indi Cowie while the White Team featured Chicago Fire defender Johan Kappelhof, Chicago Red Stars defender Arin Gilliland, MLS legend Brian McBride and freestyler Mo Ali.

The Blue team reigned triumphant in the end, besting the White Team in the various skills challenges which included penalty shots, circle passing and the bucket challenge.