The Global Legends Series was created for retired soccer stars to suit up again and for fans to see their favorite players up close and personal.
Both missions were accomplished in Las Vegas — especially the latter.
Fans rushed the field at Sam Boyd Stadium on Saturday after Team Landon Donovan defeated Team Luis Figo 8-5. Fans bombarded the soccer players and requested selfies.
A few of the players ran into the locker room and some soaked in the rock-star treatment that they have received for many years.
French standout Christian Karembeu stayed on the field the longest and took numerous pictures with the wild fans.
“The fact that there was a bit of hysteria at the end with people going crazy for these guys shows how famous, how much of a legend they are,” said James Davies Yandle, who co-founded the GLS event.
The public address announcer at Sam Boyd Stadium asked the fans multiple times to return to their seats, delaying the trophy presentation. The announced crowd was 10,148.
“I didn’t like it,” Yandle said about the fans. “I care about my players’ safety. They’ll (players) complain, but secretly they loved it … it was a bit dangerous, but it was all done in good faith.”
Donovan, as he did for many years with the U.S. national team, got the fans to calm down and thanked them for their support. Speaking in Spanish and English, Donovan said it was his dream to play with 28 of the most decorated soccer players and being a captain.
Donovan, the youngest on the field, still had plenty in the tank. The 33-year-old U.S. soccer legend scored two goals and recorded an assist. His stellar play didn’t change his mind about retirement.
“After this night I don’t think I’m going to be able to walk for a week, but at the moment I’m happy with my life,” Donovan said. “I’m OK with watching the professionals on television. I don’t feel like I can come back.”
Donovan was a maestro in the box, distributing perfect crosses to teammates.
Italian great Christian Vieri recorded a hat trick for Team Donovan, and on one goal he appeared to tweak his back extending for the shot. Turned out, the 42-year-old striker was fine.
“The play was a bit slow, but the technique and skill that we saw tonight was still there,” Yandle said. “How they moved the ball around the pitch was still amazing.”
Brazilian legend Cafu was the most active on Team Figo. The only player to compete in three World Cup finals, Cafu constantly attacked Team Donovan goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek (Poland) and found the back of the net twice.
Cafu got a loud cheer in the second half after he raised his right hand while dribbling near the right corner.
Fans from all over the world were at Sam Boyd to see the greatest players of their era one final time. One fan who rushed the field made it his mission to find England’s Paul Scholes.
“Where’s Paulie Scholes?” he said in a British accent.
Latino fans roared for Mexicans Oswaldo Sanchez and Jared Borgetti and made plenty of noise for Donovan.
One fan snuck into the postgame interview scrum hoping to get an autograph from one of the Mexican players. No luck.
“Now I can talk to fans more up close,” Donovan said. “Playing before, it was hard, but now it’s more laid back, and it’s an opportunity to talk to people who support me, and I know very clear the Latino people are very important for us in this sport.”
Yandle said the event was a success and he would like to see the match return to Las Vegas.
“I’m satisfied,” Yandle said. “I think we can do an even bigger game next year. We want to come back, but I do feel Vegas is in need of some soccer identity, and I think with what we’ve done is a bit groundbreaking, and I think if we can build on that for next year even better.”
— Contact Gilbert Manzano at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0492. Follow him on Twitter: @gmanzano24