The American soccer community came together Tuesday evening at the Newtown Youth Academy in Newtown, Conn. to help the community there heal from the tragic shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary on December 14.
Nearly 1,500 people attended "Soccer Night in Newtown," organized by Houston Dynamo General Manager Chris Canetti, to spend the evening with over 30 current MLS and former U.S. Men's and Women's National Team stars giving their time to bring smiles to the children in the Newtown community in the wake of the tragedy.
“You could just sense that something special was going to happen today, and that the community had really opened up,” Canetti told MLSSoccer.com. “The only thing we regret is that we wish we had a bigger place. There were just so many people that wanted to be a part of this.”
"First off, Chris Canetti, what a leader in our soccer community to step up and make this happen," Crew winger Ethan Finlay said. "MLS W.O.R.K.S., you have to give them credit, we did have a ton of kids, but they ran it so well as well as the volunteers from Newtown. They were all really nice to us and made us feel right at home."
As the Crew's lone representative, the second-year midfielder was honored to be a part of the event.
"It was a really humbling experience and something that I was really happy to be a part of, just how cool it is to make a different in these kids' lives and see these kids smiling and their parents were just as happy," Finlay said. "I think we brought a lot of life back to this community and I hope it helps the healing process that will continue.
"It's something I'll cherish forever."
Finlay joined other MLS players and U.S. Soccer legends Landon Donovan and Mia Hamm in signing autographs, played small-sided games and interacting with children of Newtown throughout the evening. In the end, neither children nor players wanted to leave the event.
"In all honesty, it was so much fun that none of us wanted to leave at eight o'clock because the kids were still jumping for joy and wanting more pictures and autographs," Finlay explained. "It was so hard to leave because these kids were so excited and so thankful."