The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has hosted a myriad of competitive events in its history. Whether the first soccer match held on the Speedway is remembered remains to be seen.
IZOD IndyCar Series drivers Simona de Silvestro, Graham Rahal and Josef Newgarden joined Indiana University’s Eriq Zavaleta to take on MLS draft hopefuls Carlos Alvarez, Kyle Bekker, and Andrew Farrell on a field set up on the main straightaway of the famed 2.5-mile oval.
“I’ve been here to see races, but never seen soccer here, so it was an honor to be part of it,” said Zavaleta, a native of Westfield, Ind., who helped lead his team to the NCAA men’s national championship in 2012. “The drivers were great. I didn’t know what to expect from them but they did great. They showed they had some skill.”
What was supposed to be a friendly game between the drivers and the draft prospects got serious once the drivers team took an early 1-0 lead on a goal by de Silvestro.
“It got super competitive,” Newgarden said. “We’re race car drivers and they’re soccer players. Soccer players are always competitive and with race car drivers whatever you’re doing ends up being competitive. If it’s board games, it gets competitive.
“There’s never a bad time to be at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We had fun. Everyone was going at it pretty hard.”
The prospects – all expected to be drafted in the first round of the MLS SuperDraft – scored the next three goals to take a 3-1 halftime lead, but in the second half Rahal led a comeback for the drivers.
Trailing 4-2, Rahal scored a pair of goals to tie the game – including an impressive shot from the right wing – and after the prospects again took the lead, Rahal then set up Zavaleta who scored the equalizer from midfield to send the game to penalty kicks.
“I’ve lost my (soccer) skills, but it was still fun to be out here today kicking around with these guys,” said Rahal, who said he last played soccer as a boy growing up in Ohio. “It’s a big week for (the prospects) here in Indy. It was exciting for us and exciting for them. More than anything it was a lot of fun. I scored a couple of goals, and it’s been a while since I did that.”
But in the end, soccer skills reigned supreme as the MLS Draft Prospects outlasted the drivers in a sudden death penalty shootout. Though they didn’t win the game, the drivers still came out proud of their performance as a group.
“I think it’s pretty exciting to be on the yard of bricks playing soccer,” de Silvestro said. “I never thought I would be able to do that. It’s a just great opportunity to play with the future MLS players, and I think we held our own as drivers. If they were in a race car, that would be a different story. It was great fun. I think we did pretty well, considering we’re not soccer players. The competitiveness was there and we finished 5-5 before we lost on penalties. I think we did all right.”
Added Bekker: “The drivers definitely showed well. They really gave us a run for our money.”
And it might lead to a new hobby for a few of the drivers next offseason.
“Simona and I were saying next year, we’ll have to get an indoor league going,” Rahal said.