The First Venice Invitational.
Presented by Copa90
A storybook ending, to a magical year. We were grateful to cap off a grateful 2018 that saw Venice host talent from across the globe, including FC Barcelona, Tottenham Hotspur, and numerous others. For nearly 2 years now, every Sunday at Estadio de Dogtown, locals play into the moonlight company of professional players, internationally-known musicians, local high school /college players, homeless and everybody in between. The event itself was a celebration of football's presence in Dogtown, as the local community showed up in numbers to support their hometown club. Venice Beach Football Club, in collaboration with COPA90, present to you the first ever Venice Invitational. A tournament that celebrated some of the top talent to grace the Estadio over the last year.
The first Venice Invitational 2018 did not disappoint. US Women’s National Team player Allie Long decided the all star game wasn’t enough, and she needed to play in the tournament with her husband and friends. Turned out to be a smart move, as Allie definitely got her off season touches in on the day and won the whole thing in the process. NBA MVP Steve Nash showed the people of Dogtown that his talent is universal between sports. Premier League & MLS Legends combined to put on a show during the Legends game for the biggest crowd Venice has ever seen at a soccer event. The Estadio never looked so good.
Venice Beach Football Club, in collaboration with COPA90, present to you the first ever Venice Invitational.
The party got started on the sand at Muscle Beach, right around the Estadio wall. There was Samba music being played, bicycle kicks being flung in mid-air and good vibes all around in the Venice Invitational Footvolley tournament. Exciting matches, postcard-like weather, the California sun, the beach and of course Roge and company's delicious "mate". It's quickly become tradition to sip on a cup of "mate" between games. There's no better way to enjoy futevolei in the California sun. Roge and company eventually presented Thiago Lusardi & Joao Barreto with the first Futevolei championship trophy, thus forever engraving their names in the sand of Muscle Beach forever on.
Directly afterwards, highly anticipated by players and spectators alike, the Venice Invitational pick up games kicked off. Estadio's finest footballers, almost completely comprised of participants of our Sunday pick up games throughout the year, were called upon once more in 2018 to showcase their talents on the court. This time, the audience was larger than ever. Fans, players, tourists, locals, neighbors, family and friends were zll part of a diverse crowd. Local talent was abundant on the day, featuring the likes of Nick Santhiago (VBFC, UC Berkeley, Golden State Force) and Alessandro Canale (US Beach National Team, UC San Diego, Orange County FC). Sunday regulars Michael Rosario, Karim Barcelo, Igor Lants, Ashley Oswald and many others. Special guest, Allie Long (US Women's National Team, Seattle Reign), brought her crew of New Yorkers to rep the east coast in America's most sought after pick up game; only now trading the Atlantic breakwater for the cool, Pacific breeze. All eyes were on the court, no one wanted to miss a second of 5 straight hours of high-stakes concrete futbol.
To decide who would battle it out for the right to call themselves "Dogtown Royalty", all 11 teams competed in a simple pick-up style group stage. Just like any other Sunday, but now with more at stake. Same rules: one goal and you're off. Top two teams with the most points would compete in a final match of two 10 minute halves, following the Legends Match. There were silky moves, desperate tackles, and raw passion for 3 hours. DJ Ptrix had the music pulsating through the veins of everybody in and around Estadio. Professional barbers and Sunday regulars, Marcos (@lavishfades) and Oliver (@revilomota) were dishing out fresh fades behind the goal. Guest MC, Antonio (local legend, VBFC Reserve Team Captain), provided riveting Spanish commentary when he wasn't scoring golazos on the court. "Oohs" and "ahhs" rung around the Estadio throughout the event, as the crowd showed nothing but love for the ankle-breakers, assertive tackles and flare put on display by the players.
As the qualification matches winded down, Allie Long's New York crew started racking up a ridiculous amount of wins. Igor's baby blue squad and Michael Rosario's gold-striped amigos ended the qualification matches in a deadlock with 13 wins a piece. However, before the deadlock could be broken to see who would face Long's New Yorkers in red, the Legends would set foot on the Estadio court.
We didn't call it the "Legends Match" for nothing...
Lee Nguyen (former US National Team, LAFC) brought his smart, skillful and calculated play to the court for the pink squad, while playing alongside crosstown rival, Servando Carrasco (UC Berkeley, LA Galaxy). Lauren Sessleman (Canadian Women's National Team) brought the hustle for the pink squad, with goal-saving tackles. Stu Holden (US National Team, Bolton Wanderers) of the baby blue squad, had the highlight of the legends game, sending former Bolton Wanderers teammate, Zat Knight (former England National Team, Bolton Wanderers), to the skatepark with a silky snake with his back to goal. Steve Nash's (back to back NBA MVP with the Phoenix Suns) vision and touch had the local crowd scratching their heads, wondering why he wasn't drafted into the MLS, instead of the NBA. MVP by default, was without a doubt, US Women's National Team player, Allie Long. This woman did not stop. She balled out in every minute of every game from the start of the qualification matches, rallying her squad to top the leaderboard in total wins. She balled out in the legends game, stringing passes together for the baby blue squad, winning the Legends Match. Now, to the Venice Invitational championship match.
The stage was set. But first, a tie-breaker had to be played. Igor vs Michael. Drew vs Antonio. Chris vs Karim. Nick vs Ronaldo. Ashley vs Nicole. Baby blue vs gold-stripes. It was a tense match, as the usual rules were in place; one goal and you're off. After a high-paced and intense back and forth, baby blue squad finally broke the deadlock after Nick Santhiago drew the attention of two defenders and dished a ball to Chris Lopez, who guided the ball into the net with a no look, backheel touch. Just like that, Rosario's luscious, flowing curls were banished from the court. Pain on one side. Joy on the other.
Enter, Allie Long.
The championship match between Allie Long's squad and Igor's local crew was a tense one. Two 10 minute halves. Nothing more, nothing less. Everyone on the beach had their eyes on Estadio. The local kid, Nick Santhiago repping his hometown club in the baby blue kits he designed himself; Allie Long reppin' the east coast in the red. The local crew took an early lead. Two goal by the local kid, Nick Santhiago and one more by part-time dentist, full-time baller, Igor Lants. The baby blue squad went into halftime with a lead, but were edged out in the second half, as Long's squad pounced on some rare mistakes. That's the New York state of mind. Time was winding down. The local crew, heartbroken, but proud, accepted their fate. The east coast had taken the championship on the westside in the first annual Venice Invitational. Mad respect for Allie Long.
Mark, or "Pops" as he's affectionately referred to by the locals, closed out a truly amazing day with a heartwarming speech while players, fans, and spectators all helped pack up shop. Remember, this ain't Gunsmoke, it's Cops and Robbers. The pen is mightier than the sword. Communication rules the nation.
The sun was setting at Estadio de Dogtown. For one day, people from all walks of life witnessed the first annual Venice Invitational. It was day that was not only a celebration of the sport, but of all the people that made that day possible. Everyone who came to a pick up game on a Sunday. All the families who want their kids to be part of a club that's bigger than them. All the characters in this club who bring color and feeling to what used to just be a stretch of unused concrete.