Mexican league friendly in Fresno is cultural celebration

Soccer match is cultural celebration

Mexican top-division clubs Atlas and León play a friendly in front of 7,924 fans Thursday night, March 24, 2016 in downtown Fresno.
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Mexican top-division clubs Atlas and León play a friendly in front of 7,924 fans Thursday night, March 24, 2016 in downtown Fresno.

It was a soccer match and cultural celebration all in one night as 7,924 fans witnessed Mexico soccer clubs Atlas and León square off in an exhibition Thursday at Chukchansi Park.

Before the game, street vendors sold everything from noisemakers, jerseys and flags to tacos and bacon-wrapped hot dogs that doused downtown Fresno in a delicious fragrance.

On the field, Atlas rallied in the second half to beat León 2-1 in the Liga MX exhibition.

La Fiera (León) got on the board first, scoring just before halftime on a strike from Juan Cuevas. But Atlas scoring twice in a six-minute span in the second half and held on for the win. Los Zorros’ scored on headers from Gonzalo Bergessio in the 52nd minute and Franco Arizala in the 58th.

Despite the loss for León, defender Jonny Magallón was in high spirits, signing autographs and enjoying the raucous stadium environment with soccer fans on this side of the border.

“The truth is these stateside matches are beautiful events,” Magallón said. “It’s an experience that as professionals we really take to heart because we know there a lot of fans here (in the United States) that can’t go to Mexico and watch their favorite players and favorite teams.”

“We try to make it as enjoyable for the fans as possible, because it really is a very cool experience to receive this much support in a foreign city,” he added.

It’s a treat for the fans, especially the few who follow their favorite sides religiously, attending practices, autograph sessions and even welcoming them at airports.

One of those fanatics was Ruben Bonilla, of Selma. The 48-year-old produce worker originally from León, Guanajuato, proudly sported a green and black luchador mask as he cheered on his hometown team.

“I’m from León so I have to come support and be proud of where I come from,” he said. “I never pass up on these games. It’s a part of home.”

León next travels to Portland where it will play a Saturday exhibition against Chivas. Meanwhile, Atlas will return to Guadalajara to prepare for the rest of the Clausura season.

Fuego – The Fresno Fuego scorched Stanislaus United, 15-0, in a preseason friendly that preceded the main event. Gabriel Viana opened the scoring in the 10th minute and the rout was on, as the Fuego scored four more times in the next 12 minutes. Viana and Renato Bustamante each netted braces before halftime as Fresno took an 8-0 lead at the break. Gaston Cignetti highlighted the second half with a hat trick, scoring in the 47th, 72nd and 79th minutes.

The Fresno Fuego open the Premier Development League season at home May 6 against Burlingame Dragons.

Angel Moreno: 559-441-6401, @anhelllll