Saturday night at Sun Life Stadium, a stop of the World Soccer Masters Tour, set up like a dream of the late Joe Robbie:
The stadium he built, originally designed for football and fútbol, hosting an all-star game with the best soccer player of the age and many of the world’s best players not tied down to Euro 2012. An appropriate kickoff to a hat trick of summer soccer events at Once Joe Robbie Stadium.
And then it rained on the parade of stars. For 90 minutes plus a 15-minute halftime. Drizzle to deluge back to drizzle. “Dry” could be found only with the fans and maybe martinis in the suites.
More than a few of you just chuckled that it proves the former Dolphins owner’s spirit doesn’t reside in close proximity to the Supreme Weather Maker. But while the wet undoubtedly hurt actual attendance — maybe two-thirds of the 48,327 official attendance — it didn’t prevent the superstars from showing up and showing out on the pitch.
The best player anybody 25 or under has seen, Lionel Messi, played all 90 minutes, scored three of his side’s seven goals, assisted on two others and would have a another assist on another if soccer dished out secondary helpers the way hockey does. Messi even sprinted into a dashing give-and-go with the score tied in the 86th minute.
Didier Drogba, who will be going from Champions League champion Chelsea to China’s Shanghai Shenua, played 61 minutes, assisted on Messi’s first goal and scored off a zig-zag sequence of passes begun by a wonderful Messi ball across to the feet of Ezequiel Lavezzi. Uruguayan Luis Suarez converted beautiful service from longtime AC Milan star Clarence Seedorf.
Yeah, it was an all-star game played at all-star game pace. Mini-ballets of skillful touches danced at the lazy Saturday-in-the-park pace, particularly during the heaviest rain, popped into attacks of just enough pace to be impressive.
But you couldn’t blame some of these players if they had gone totally Pro Bowl. Nobody wants to leave a potential Champions League title writhing on Miami Gardens grass.
“You can’t go in there thinking about that,” said U.S. national team captain Carlos Bocanegra, who played all 90 minutes. “You saw in the second half, the intensity picked up. Guys didn’t want to lose. The biggest thing that was scary was lightning. I thought they would bring us inside.”
The only anthem played before the game was The Star-Spangled Banner. Despite the presence of Bocanegra, Maurice Edu and Jozy Altidore, it proves once again the playing of anthems honors not the players’ nations, but the nations of those bringing the money. Even if those bringing the money come dressed in the colors of another nation’s team.
Argentina and FC Barcelona shirts predominated among the crowd. That reminds me of an ominous sign for the main tenants of Sun Life Stadium I’ve seen daily for the past four years.
When I pick up my daughter at school, I see Heat jerseys (LeBron and Wade), Heat backpacks, Heat lunchboxes, Messi jerseys, a smorgasbord of other soccer jerseys and merchandise, the occasional Marlins and Panthers merchandise … but nothing with a Dolphins logo.
Among those other jerseys I see are those for Chelsea and AC Milan, who will meet here July 28. The third exhibition soccer match this summer at Sun Life, Argentina’s storied Boca Juniors vs. Colombia’s famed America de Cali, will be Aug. 16.
Afterwards Saturday, I heard no complaints as I headed down winding walkways surrounded by soaked fans. The only disappointment seemed to be from the crowd beyond the barrier outside the Dolphins players’ parking lot vainly chanting, “We want Mes-si!”
Their target got hustled from the locker room and into a black Lincoln Navigator. As the SUV started to exit the lot, Alejandro Garcia did what nobody has been able to do since the 2010 World Cup — stop Messi.
That provides little hope to Real Madrid as it’s probably impractical for Real defenders to thrust 6-year-olds at the Barcelona star. Garcia, who had come from Mexico for this match, held up his rain slicker-clad son, Marcelo, to the passenger side rear window. The window descended, and Messi vigorously shook the boy’s hand with a look that reflected Marcelo’s glee.
And then the Navigator ferried Messi into the night.