published Saturday, July 7th, 2012

Mexican elite soccer teams face off at Finley Stadium

Nery Castillo signs autographs for fans after the Pachuca Soccer Club's practice at Finley  Stadium on Friday in Chattanooga. Pachuca Soccer Club will face off against Club America in Finley Stadium today at 8 p.m.
Nery Castillo signs autographs for fans after the Pachuca Soccer Club's practice at Finley Stadium on Friday in Chattanooga. Pachuca Soccer Club will face off against Club America in Finley Stadium today at 8 p.m.
Photo by Alyson Wright.

Elite exhibition

What's happening: Two of the best soccer teams in Mexico, Pachuca and Club America, will play a "friendly" tonight at Finley Stadium.

When: 8 p.m. (Gates open at 6.)

How much: Tickets are $35-45 and available at Ticketmaster locations or at the stadium.

Why go: This likely will be the best soccer ever played at Finley. Both teams have elite players who have national team or European League experience, and Pachuca is coached by Mexican soccer legend Hugo Sanchez.

As he watched Pachuca practice at Finley Stadium on Friday, between tending to a dozen or so last-minute details, Chattanooga Football Club board member Sheldon Grizzle admitted to being a little shocked at what he was seeing.

There was Pachuca, one of the best teams in Mexico's Primera Division, going through practice on the same field CFC uses, as it prepared to face Club America on that very field tonight.

"This blows my mind," said Grizzle, who helped promoter Soccer World market the game in and around Chattanooga. "There are, literally, some of the best players in the world on the field right now."

Messing around with the ball at his feet, just about where the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team stands during games, was U.S. national team member Jose Torres. Near him was Mexican national team player Nery Castillo, and off to the side was Pachuca's new coach, Hugo Sanchez, who's regarded as the most famous Mexican player ever.

The presence of Sanchez in Chattanooga is significant enough that before the game Mayor Ron Littlefield will present the 53-year-old former Real Madrid star with a key to the city.

"He's like our Babe Ruth," said Ivan Heredia, a former CFC player from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

Grizzle said more than 5,000 tickets have been sold for the game. He said he'd like to see at least another 5,000 sold before kickoff.

Finley Stadium executive director Merrill Eckstein said he's hoping for a big crowd and for some busy concession stands.

"The more the merrier," Eckstein said.

A week ago, Club America, which has been described more than once as the New York Yankees of Mexican soccer, was playing in San Diego at Qualcomm Stadium, one stop on its U.S. tour as it prepares for the start of the Primera Division season.

Qualcomm is the home of the Chargers and seats more than 70,000. Finley is the home of the Mocs and seats a little less than 21,000. The settings are quite different, but both had something in common -- the once-in-a-lifetime chance for fans in America to see the legendary club in person.

"Everybody knows [Club] America in Mexico," Heredia said. "You either love them or you hate them."

More than 19,000 people showed up for the game in San Diego. The largest crowd to see a soccer game at Finley was a turnout of 13,000-plus to see the U.S. women's national team play Sweden in 1997.

Perhaps nobody would enjoy tonight's exhibition more than Chattanooga FC's players and coaches. However, they won't be anywhere near the stadium. Instead, they will be in Florida playing Jacksonville United FC and trying to clinch the National Premier Soccer League Southeast Conference's Western Division title and earn a spot in next week's conference championship game against the Georgia Revolution.

Chattanooga FC enters the game with 18 league points, three more than the second-place Knoxville Force. All CFC needs from tonight's game is a point -- one for a draw, three for a win -- to win the West, or a Force loss or draw will seal the deal.

Club America was recently in San Diego and that's where CFC wants to go. To get there the club has to win the West and beat the Revolution to claim a spot in the NPSL Final Four, which will take place in San Diego later this summer.

about John Frierson...

John Frierson is in his seventh year at the Times Free Press and seventh year covering University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics. The bulk of his time is spent covering Mocs football, but he also writes about women’s basketball and the big-picture issues and news involving the athletic department. A native of Athens, Ga., John grew up a few hundred yards from the University of Georgia campus. Instead of becoming a Bulldog he attended Ole ...

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