Fresno FC and downtown Fresno throw a season-opening experience well worth attending

The continuous sound of drums banging resonated throughout Chukchansi Park.

And that meant soccer was back at the downtown stadium.

But this wasn’t just any soccer game.

It was Fresno’s very own professional soccer franchise as Fresno FC made its debut Saturday night before an announced crowd of 7,750.

Though the Foxes lost 3-2 to the Las Vegas Lights to kick off Fresno FC’s inaugural season, Saturday’s biggest winners were those who got to experience Fresno’s first United Soccer League game, as well as partake in the vibrant party atmosphere prior to opening kickoff.

It was St. Patrick’s Day, after all, adding to the excitement and enthusiasm, and generating an inviting energy to downtown Fresno.

“It’s perfect timing,” said Fresno fan Erik Beltran, who was dressed in green for St. Patrick’s Day but also wore light blue face paint to show off his passion for the new soccer team. “It’s exciting. It’s already a lively environment. It just makes it more special.

“Everyone is excited. And it’s good for the community.”

Grass covered the entire playing area to give the Fresno FC a standard, full-size soccer field.

And though it wasn’t Chukchansi Park’s typical baseball diamond layout, the soccer field looked like it belonged at the downtown venue, too.

It wasn’t exactly the intense atmosphere sometimes displayed when professional Mexican soccer was held at The Chuk in past years, which included crowds standing the entire time and vuvuzelas blaring.

But Saturday’s atmosphere provided a strong start for Fresno to build upon.

Drums were even played over and over after the game even in defeat.

And the party extended beyond the stadium confines.

A couple of blocks away, Broadway Event Center opened its doors to the public for the first time and provided live music and plenty of space for people to dance and gather in groups. Food trucks were parked nearby, too.

Down the street at Tioga Sequoia Brewery, members of Fire Squad Fresno filled the venue as part of their tailgate before leading the drum march and cheers.

“This is a really good turnout,” said a Fire Squad Fresno member named “Stretch,” who wore a blue mask that covered his entire face while also sporting Fresno FC apparel. “I love that Fresno is getting something to do in town, like a soccer team.

“It builds more interest to go downtown. Makes it more fun. If we could have crowds like this every game, it’d be awesome.”

Though it took 72 minutes of game action for Fresno FC to finally score – on Jemal Johnson’s goal – the home crowd erupted in cheer while waving light blue flags.

Fire Squad Fresno even set off blue and pink smoke bombs the filled the air behind the visitor’s goal post.

“I think a lot of people were really excited to have something new and important here,” Fresno fan Katie Milam said. “It’s really good for downtown and bringing people together.

“That’s what this is all about. It’s neat.”

▪ The game broadcast on CW59 had technical difficulties and went off air at times. The game also was shown on YouTube.