RALEIGH — Thursday nights professional soccer game was a homecoming for Wilmington couple Raffaelle Fabiano and Maria Mossman Fabiano.
I found out two days ago I didnt even know they were coming, Raffaelle Fabiano, born in Rome, Italy, said while waving a large Italian flag through the parking lot. Hopefully this will boost the sport (locally).
Vuvuzela-blaring fans filled N.C. States Carter-Finley Stadium for an exhibition match broadcast on ESPN2 between the Italian club Juventus and the Mexican club Chivas, as part of the World Football Challenge, a preseason tournament played in cities across North America with both European and North American clubs vying for the title.
The Fabianos and their three children were with their friend, Cosimo Maturano, originally from southern Italy, and his two children. It was the first time the family saw Juventus play.
I have the chills, Maturano said.
Newlyweds Patrick and Kathryn Pedicelli drove 10 hours from Orlando, Fla., to watch their favorite player, Alessandro Del Piero of Juventus, play.
Soccer is our life, Kathryn said.
Patrick Pedicellis Italian heritage made him a fan from childhood, and the couple met playing soccer in college 10 years ago. This is the second time they have seen Juventus play, though they said their trip to Raleigh beat their trip to New Jersey last summer. The Pedicellis wearing matching Del Piero jerseys on Thursday were able to watch Juventus practice Wednesday night.
This is great for soccer, that theyre bringing in these big teams, Patrick Pedicelli said.
Even though they were excited to see some good soccer in Raleigh, friends Tim Arehart, 19, Cody Bender, 19, and TJ Morrison, 19, all from Kernersville, came clad in the jerseys of their favorite teams: Chelsea and Manchester United of the English Premier League.
Im kind of a new fan, Morrison admitted. He began following the game after watching the U.S. mens run in the 2010 World Cup.
Pepe Pacheco, his sister, son and two friends drove from Virginia to watch Chivas play.
Im very excited Im here! Pacheco said.
When Jamal Saoufi, 31, of Raleigh, discovered his favorite team was coming to the Triangle, he said his first thought was: I will kill myself if I dont get a ticket. Saoufi is originally from Morocco.
A good crowd and a good game will hopefully allow this to happen again, Charlie Slagle, the CEO of the Capital Area Soccer League. There is a demand, and there are people who watch a lot of international soccer.
He said he expected walk-up ticket sales to exceed 10,000.
This is our first soccer match, and its a great opportunity for us to showcase N.C. State and bring a high-profile soccer match to a community that really embraces soccer, said Chris Kingston, NCSUs senior associate athletic director.
The WFC has held matches in cities such as Los Angeles, Boston and New York.
Raleigh was selected as a host city because it is an area of growing interest for soccer fans and players, said Charlie Stilitano, a senior executive at Creative Artists Agency, the agency organizing the tournament for Major League Soccer. It is also a city where the MLS could have a future, given the turnout at the exhibition game, he said.
We like to explore different cities, which we feel have the right demographic makeup, Stilitano said. Weve worked for years with Charlie Slagle, and we found that its a real hotbed for youth soccer ... a great soccer market.
He added that the competitive collegiate soccer scene and the growing Mexican immigrant population were two other factors that made Raleigh a great choice.
Were looking at using the Raleigh area as a training center or base, Stilitano said. The players think its beautiful. ... I think they probably just wish they had more time to go golfing.
Scheduling issues delayed the contract for the game, so promoters had only had three weeks to advertise. Even so, Stilitano said he and his team were determined to bring the game to Raleigh.
It was always going to be Raleigh. If we didnt do it now, we probably would have tried something next year, he said. Without question, well be back, its just a matter of how soon and what games.
Slagle always had faith in the local soccer fan and player base.
We and some others have been pushing for something like to this happen for some years, he said.
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