This year already is bracing to be one of the most exciting for the central San Joaquin Valley in terms of professional soccer.
The latest addition to the lineup features Mexican soccer clubs Atlas and León playing an exhibition March 24 at Chukchansi Park.
Tickets will go on sale at 10 a.m. Saturday in what is expected to be a sellout as Latin Entertainment brings its ninth Mexican league exhibition to Fresno in four years. Last summer, Atlas drew a stadium-record 16,821 fans for an exhibition against Chivas de Guadalajara.
The match is the fourth scheduled at the downtown Fresno stadium over the next two months.
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Tickets start at $25 and will go on sale at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Chukchansi Park Box Office, all Don Roberto Jewelers locations or www.ticketsvip.net.
The ball will get rolling Feb. 18 when the Fresno Fuego host popular Armenian club FC Ararat Yerevan. Less than a week later, Feb. 24, the Fuego will play the defending North American League Soccer champion New York Cosmos. On March 3, USL side Sacramento Republic FC comes to town for the second annual “Highway 99 Derby” against the Fuego.
The Mexican league exhibition will also feature the Fuego in a preliminary match at 5 p.m.
It’s a preseason that Fresno has never experienced, with multiple opportunities to watch pros up close.
On Wednesday morning, the Cosmos officially announced the signing of Venezuelan midfielder Juan Arango, one of the sport’s best takers of free kicks who spent 10 seasons in Europe at La Liga’s RCD Mallorca and the Bundesliga’s Borussia Mönchengladbach. He scored 23 goals for Venezuela to become the national team’s all-time leading scorer before he retired from international soccer in September.
The biggest star, however, will be four-time Mexico World Cup captain Rafa Márquez.
The last time a team featuring Márquez came to Fresno was 2013, though he wasn’t with his León team that day because he was playing with the Mexican national team in a FIFA World Cup qualifying match against Canada. (León beat Atlas 1-0 in that exhibition in front of nearly 10,000 fans at Chukchansi.)
That’s not the case this year. Mexico has a pair of CONCACAF qualifying matches March 25 and March 29, but Márquez isn’t (nor has he been) on the El Tri roster.
“It’s set in stone and in the contract that (Márquez) will be there,” event promoter Fred Godinez said. “We’re really ecstatic about the chance to put this on. We continue to draw big crowds, with fans from Bakersfield … to as far north as Stockton because they understand the games are exciting and draw big crowds and feel like a piece of Mexico for at least one night.”
Both clubs played exhibitions in Fresno last year – León losing 3-0 to Cruz Azul on March 26 in front of 15,057 fans, while Atlas and Chivas played to a scoreless draw July 10 and broke the previous attendance record of 16,125 from a 2012 friendly between Club América and Chiapas FC.
LIGA MX EXHIBITION
LEÓN vs. ATLAS
- March 24: 7 p.m. at Chukchansi Park
- Tickets: $25-75. On sale, starting 10 a.m. Saturday at the Chukchansi Park Box Office, all Don Roberto Jewelers locations or www.ticketsvip.net.