BC hosts a pro soccer game

Mohamed Bafakih, Online/Sports Editor

Winding down the 60-year celebration of Memorial Stadium, the venue has had its fair share of many different events.

Professional soccer, however, had been long overdue.

Fortunately for the field renovations and International Soccer Challenge organizing the matches, professional soccer made its return to Memorial Stadium after 10 years on Nov. 14.

In the press conference, held on Oct. 5 regarding the announcement, International Soccer Challenge president and organizer Ranbir Shergill simply specified that “It is going to be unbelievable”. Sure enough, his statement proved to be accurate.

The two-match grand spectacle featured United Soccer League’s Los Angeles Galaxy II and the USL’s 2014 champions Sacramento Republic FC as the preliminary match in which L.A. cruised to a 5-1 victory. Following it was the main event between Liga MX’s Toluca Diablos Rojos and Gallos Blancos of Queretaro.

Liga MX is the highest regarded soccer league in Mexico, and the atmosphere 2,000 miles away from their respective home grounds proved that both teams had a large fan base patiently awaiting their arrival.

Approximately 8,000 presale tickets were sold and another 4,000 made their way to the gates prior to kickoff, and whether it was fans from Hollister, Calif., or Los Angeles, the die-hards made their presence felt at Memorial Stadium.

There was a sea of red representing 10-time Liga MX champions Toluca – almost similar to what Memorial Stadium used to look like when football drew massive crowds – but Bakersfield being Queretaro’s sister city, they also had a decent showing.

Los Angeles native and current Queretaro midfielder Jonathan Bornstein found this as an unusual opportunity to return close to his hometown and play in a much different environment.

“It’s always a pleasure to play in front of new fans and people who don’t get to see us play in front of them live every day,” Bornstein said following the Nov. 13 team practice. “Especially for me personally to come to Bakersfield – not too far from Los Angeles where I was born – so all my family is coming up and I’m super excited to see them.”

Families commuted from many different cities throughout California to witness this match and although Toluca defeated Queretaro 3-1, which included a highlight bicycle kick by Toluca’s Omar Arellano, the experience for both teams’ fans will leave lasting memories.

The evening before the game, an autograph session with selected players from both teams was held at Xtreme Soccer sporting goods store giving fans a chance to interact with some of their favorite players who they may have never seen before, or quite possibly may never see again.

“The autograph session went really well,” Bornstein said. “We had a lot of fans show up so it was nice to see that.”

The game itself was highly competitive as the International Soccer Challenge trophy was at stake.

Toluca jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the sixth minute following a goal from Colombian Fernando Uribe.

Queretaro answered with a goal of its own at the 29-minute mark as Emanuel Villa’s penalty kick evened the game at 1 apiece.

Right before half time, Toluca’s Edy Brambila was handed a red card leaving Diablos Rojos with nine men for the remainder of the game.

Despite being one man short, it didn’t stop Toluca from finding the net as they added two more goals in the second half, igniting their fans throughout the stands.

The Diablos Rojos were crowned champions, and perhaps another champion will be crowned once again in Bakersfield as International Soccer Challenge’s indicates a possible return during summer of 2016.