published Friday, June 22nd, 2012

Excitement builds for Mexican match at Finley Stadium

C.F. Monterrey's Carlos Zavala, No. 43, runs the ball while CFC's Russell Courtney, No. 5, tails him during the Chattanooga Football Club vs. C.F. Monterrey game at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Staff File Photo
C.F. Monterrey's Carlos Zavala, No. 43, runs the ball while CFC's Russell Courtney, No. 5, tails him during the Chattanooga Football Club vs. C.F. Monterrey game at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga, Tenn. Staff File Photo

It remains to be seen if next month's international soccer exhibition can sell out Finley Stadium. That might be a tall order. But tickets are moving and the buyers aren't coming from just the Chattanooga area.

The July 7 friendly between Mexican Primera Division powers Club America and CF Pachuca -- two of the best teams in Mexico's top soccer league -- is expected to draw the biggest crowd ever to see a soccer game in Chattanooga. Several thousand tickets have been sold, Finley Stadium executive director Merrill Eckstein said, including most of the prime, $45 chair-back seats.

"I'm not that knowledgeable about international soccer, but what I've been told is that Club America is like the New York Yankees of Mexican soccer," Eckstein said.

"Do I personally think they'll fill the place? No. Do I personally think there will be 10,000-plus? Yes."

Ticket prices range from $30 for general admission to $45 for reserved seats in the midfield section. According to a release by Soccer World Sports Agency, the game's promoter, tickets have been sold in at least 13 states.

Chattanooga Football Club board member Sheldon Grizzle, who is helping Sports World promote the game, said the geographical distribution of sales covers a wide area. Tickets are available on Ticketmaster.com and at Ticketmaster locations.

"We're selling just as many in Nashville and Atlanta as we are in Chattanooga and Dalton," he said. "We've had purchases as far away as Mesa, Arizona; California; Ohio. People are literally flying here for the game.

"If this was happening in Atlanta, we'd have 60,000 here."

In an effort to attract fans in Atlanta, as well as in Nashville, Knoxville and Birmingham, the game is being advertised, or will be soon, on Spanish-language radio stations in those markets, Grizzle said.

Finley Stadium's official capacity is 20,668, but the largest crowd ever in the 15-year-old venue was 23,168 for the 2007 NCAA Division I Football Championship game. Many of those were Appalachian State fans who came to see the Mountaineers win a third straight national title.

The largest soccer crowd was more than 13,000, in 1997, for the U.S. women's national team's game against Sweden. Chattanooga FC drew more than 6,300 fans for its exhibition in 2010 against the under-23 squad from FC Atlas of Guadalajara, Mexico.

Major League Soccer legend Jaime Moreno, a Bolivian who played in the MLS for 15 seasons and coaches D.C. United's U-23 team, said last week that teams such as Club America normally don't come to venues with capacities no bigger than Finley Stadium's -- and with football lines on the turf.

Club America's stadium in Mexico City, Estadio Azteca, seats 115,000.

"It's very surprising and I hope they have a good crowd," Moreno said. "The big teams, they're usually kind of fussy about playing in places like this, but at the end of the day it's happening and people should take advantage of it."

Chattanooga FC's players won't be present because they will be playing their regular-season finale in Florida against Jacksonville United. CFC, which leads the National Premier Soccer League Southeast Conference's Western division, plays at

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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