MLS exhibition fervor

MLS exhibition fervor

March 6th, 2011 by John Frierson in Sports

Staff photo by Jenna Walker/Chattanooga Times Free Press Jacob McConnell smiles after receiving his freshly autographed ball from Columbus Crew player, Santiago Prim during the Major League Soccer match at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga on Sunday.

Staff photo by Jenna Walker/Chattanooga Times Free Press Jacob...

Good crowd expected today at Finley Stadium

• What: Columbus Crew vs. New England Revolution

• When and Where: 4 p.m., Finley Stadium

• How much: Tickets are $15

• Why show up: This preseason exhibition is the first time a Major League Soccer team has played in Chattanooga since 1998, when the Crew visited. The quality of play in the MLS has risen dramatically since then, and world-class talent will be on the field.

With more than 2,500 advance tickets sold, a good crowd is expected today at Finley Stadium when a pair of Major League Soccer teams take the field for a preseason game.

The Columbus Crew and New England Revolution will play an exhibition before heading to Kennesaw State University for two games in the Atlanta MLS Challenge.

"I think it's important to take the MLS and introduce it to these new places and locations," said Revolution goalkeeper Matt Reis, a four-tims MLS All-Star. "I think it's big for the youth of those areas to be able to come out and see what professional soccer is all about and what it takes to be a professional player."

The game is being put on by Atlanta-based promoter Scott Spencer and the Chattanooga Football Club. Sean McDaniel, a CFC board member, said it's great for the third-year amateur club to be associated "at some level" with the MLS.

"We're sponsoring the event and I think from brand awareness it shows our fans, and even beyond, the significance of soccer in the Chattanooga community," McDaniel said. "The fact that we can bring MLS teams to our city, I think, is tremendous."

Columbus played in one of the two quarterfinal games at Finley during the 1998 U.S. Open Cup. A crowd of 3,757 showed up 13 years ago, when the MLS was in its infancy and soccer didn't have the support in Chattanooga that is does today.

Thousands have regularly attend Chattanooga FC's games in their first two seasons, including 6,317 last May when the club hosted a team from Mexico. Advance ticket sales for that game were around 650, so CFC officials are optimistic that at least 5,000 will show up today.

"We certainly hope that if the weather holds for us that we get a tremendous crowd," McDaniel said. "Our grass-roots soccer people, the folks that put the youth leagues together and at the [parks and recreation] level, have stepped up at every level, and I know they're all really excited about."