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MLS Prospects Try Their Feet At Art

Major League Soccer has tried new ways in recent years to generate publicity for the SuperDraft – when college graduates and others are signed to the league. On January 11, the day before the SuperDraft took place in Kansas City, MLS prospects mixed it up...at a museum.

Inside the massive hall at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, limestone walls were covered in tapestries flanked by tall black marble columns. Museum patrons Nyna Kynoad and Bob Sloane stopped to sit on a wooden bench after lunch.

“I thought it was an interesting opportunity,” Nyna said.

“An unusual combination, the art gallery with the soccer,” added Bob.

That’s right…soccer in an art gallery. On the eve of the Major League Soccer SuperDraft in Kansas City, a handful of MLS prospects – college players in light blue sports jerseys and black shorts – laced up their cleats and approached a green field. Well, a 200-square-foot green felt canvas centered on the floor of the vast hall.

Fans wearing Sporting KC jerseys, families, and museum staffers gathered.

Museum director Julian Zugazagoitia grew up in Mexico City, he was educated at the Sorbonne in Paris, and he stepped in to emcee.

“Today you will see six of the top MLS prospects who will demonstrate many of their skills in a new skill that is painting,” Zugazagoitia announced.

It was not only members of the art community on hand, but also MLS spokesman Dan Courtemanche who flew in from New York City to help spark some excitement about the SuperDraft picks.

“Take a look at them today because they are going to be on the world stage one day,” Courtemanche said. “Maybe not for their painting, but for their soccer exploits.”

The six soccer players gingerly passed silver soccer balls back and forth, and up with knee kicks and headers until the whistle cued them to start.

Aluminum trays filled with brightly colored paints lined the canvas field. Three players unlaced their shoes and plunged their feet into the wet paint. Tony Cascio stamped his feet in light blue and Nick DeLeon slid into a darker shade. Chandler Hoffman also had some fun, spinning on feet dipped in yellow paint.

“You see the elegance in that jump,” Zugazagoitia said. “You can see immediately…now we’re getting into the feeling.”

The next group stepped with cleats into the paint, as Zugazagoitia continued his “color” commentary.

“Another type of quality with the cleats on,” he said. “It will give some different parts, a different sort of imprints.”

In the final stage of play they stood near the edge of the canvas – and nudged soccer balls dipped in orange, creating zig zags.

Zugazagoitia called it a splash of art, a splash of spontaneity.

“I don’t know what Jackson Pollock is thinking today,” he said.

“It was a lot of fun,” said Tony Cascio of the University of Connecticut. “It beats staying in my hotel room.”

Cascio said he’s taken art classes, but this was his first public art performance.

“I was a little nervous at first, with all the people around,” Cascio said. “I’m not really used to that…I guess I’ve got to get used to that, now that I’m going to be in the MLS.”

“I thought it went well,” said the University of Maryland’s Casey Townsend. “Obviously, we’ve never done anything like that, so it was kind of cool to get out here and experience something you don’t do very often.”

Dan Courtmanche weighed in on the results.

“If they’re as creative as they were today on the canvas, if they’re that creative on the field in MLS, then they’re going to be a treat for soccer fans, that’s for sure,” he said.

Zugazagoitia believes arts and sports can go hand and hand.

“Definitely, the arts bring passions into people’s lives. Sports, people are very passionate about it. So, in capturing that passion, there’s a lot of bridges.”

The painting called “Creating the Beautiful Game” is on permanent display at Livestrong Sporting Park, home of Sporting KC. The 2012 MLS season begins on March 10.

This story originally aired on NPR and WBUR's Only A Game.

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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