The Los Angeles Film and Entertainment Soccer Tournament (LAFEST), in partnership with The Mia Hamm Foundation and Grassroot Soccer, kicked off its first annual celebrity soccer charity event on Saturday at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. Sony Pictures Classics' team emerged the victor of the industry portion of the tournament.
LAFEST co-founders and soccer enthusiasts Dylan Leiner and Jeffrey Saunders hosted the event, alongside pro-sports power couple Mia Hamm and Nomar Garciaparra, as well as Ethan Zohn -- a pro soccer player and the $1 million winner of Survivor's third season -- who also served as co-founder.
Among the celebrities who participated in the tournament was Gale Harold (The Secret Circle) who played for the Donaldson & Calif. team, while actor Diego Luna and his producer Pablo Cruz represented CANNA. Also spotted scoring goals in their hot pink The Hollywood Reporter uniforms were True Blood’s Stephen Moyer and Teen Wolf star Daniel Sharman. Leiner recruited his very own Sony Pictures Classics dream team which included Alessandro Nivola (Coco Before Chanel), The Expendables’ Gary Daniels, and former Major League Soccer defender Jimmy Conrad.
The goal? To raise money for cancer and HIV charities. The Hollywood Reporter served as media sponsor.
“We had 40 different teams from the studios, the agencies, production companies, law firms, a youth showcase...and the whole day caps off with the big Mia and Nomar Challenge,” said Leiner, referring to the portion of the day's events dedicated to competition between professional athletes and celebrities. Before that, a youth and industry tournament brought together such companies as WME, CAA, Gersh, ICM, the Kennedy/Marshall Company, Lionsgate, Sony Pictures and Warner Bros., plus reality-show teams such as The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, The Amazing Race and Survivor.
Each team was guaranteed three games, and those who rose to the occasion moved on to single elimination playoff rounds. In the end, it was Sony Pictures Classics that took home the trophy, along with bragging rights.
LAFEST then concluded with Hamm and Garciaparra’s 4th Celebrity Soccer Challenge, which included such athletes and celebrities as Alex Morgan, Chris Harrison, Clark Gregg, Anthony LaPaglia, Mike Medavoy, Demian Bichir and Eric Wynalda.
Even Miss USA Nana Meriwether and Miss Universe Olivia Culpo traded in their sashes and tiaras for cleats and shin guards. When THR asked Culpo about her background in soccer, she jokingly answered: “I’ve never played soccer before. I just so happen to be playing against Miss USA, who’s playing on the Mia Hamm Foundation team, and she’s an All-American volleyball player, so moral of the story is -- it will be a fun day.”
Hamm’s team, FC Mia, and Garciaparra’s team, Nomar United, displayed much hustle during the first half of the game, leaving fans at the edge of their seats. With shots deflecting off the goalpost and goalies diving on the rubber tiles for gut-wrenching saves, the teams ended the half tied at 6-6.
During halftime, Hamm and Garciaparra took center stage and educated everyone about The Mia Hamm Foundation by sharing success stories and reuniting bone marrow donors and their recipients for the first time.
“This is the most important part of the day," Hamm said. "So if one of you happens to be called to become a potential donor, say yes. Please, say yes...We throw around the word ‘heroes’ all the time, but today you have true heroes, both on the giving and receiving end."
U.S. Soccer 2012 Female Athlete of the Year Morgan added: “Today I am here helping Mia Hamm and her foundation out and playing in this charity match, but really what it’s all about is the halftime show and seeing the bone-marrow transplant donors and their recipients finding and meeting each other for the first time.”
After half-time, players entered for the final 30 minutes of competitive soccer. In the end, it was FC Mia that came out as the event champions, with a final score of 12-8.
Zohn, diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in 2009 which is currently in remission, summed up the LAFEST mission when he later said of the influential participants, “They have recognition, and they can use their celebrity to go out there and create change in the world. I think that’s what it’s all about. They’re using the sport that they love to give back.”
A full list of participating LAFEST teams and organizations:
BAFTA Los Angeles
The Amazing Race
Cutting Edge Group
Donaldson & Calif, LLP
Films Exclusive Media
The Jeff Probst Show
Magical Elves Productions
Music for Relief
Sony Pictures Classics
Sony Pictures Entertainment
The Hollywood Reporter
The Picture Production Company
Warner Bros Distribution
Wasserman Media Group