Soccer fans flock to downtown for international friendly -

Soccer fans flock to downtown for international friendly

( Sports) -- The hottest ticket to get inside Busch Stadium usually comes in October to see postseason baseball, but it’s a madhouse when two of the elite soccer teams in the world take over ‘Baseball Heaven’ for a friendly match in May.

St. Louis isn’t playing host to only the Chelsea and Manchester City football clubs on Thursday. It’s also the host of soccer fans around the country, and for a family from Canada.

Shawna Nagler-Neufeld and her 10-year-old son Ethan made a 15-hour road trip from Winnipeg to see their favorite team, Manchester City, play in person.

“It’s beautiful here,” Nagler-Neufeld said. “We’re really enjoying it. It’s a beautiful, beautiful city and the people are so kind.”

Wanting to soak in as much as they could, Nagler-Neufeld, along with her husband, son and daughter, arrived to St. Louis at 7:10 p.m. on Wednesday -- just in time to make it to the Chelsea training session.

While dad and sister rested up at a hotel near the stadium, Ethan and his mom took in the pep rally being held at Kiener Plaza hours before Thursday’s match started.

When asked why she became a fan of Manchester City, Nagler-Neufeld responded, “I became a Man City fan through the eyes of my children as I saw how much enjoyment they got from watching their team play and win, and they’re kind of an underdog team. They taught my kids some really good lessons about sticking with it and loyalty, good role models on the team.”

One of those role models for her son Ethan is goalkeeper Joe Hart.

“When I was younger, I started watching Manchester City and he inspired me to be a goalie,” Ethan said.

His mom added that everything from Ethan’s screensaver to his school projects revolves around Hart, and for the first time he gets to see his idol play in person. The family hopes to make a trip to watch Manchester City play in Europe in 2015.

Chelsea fans Jeffrey Slatton and his daughter Maddie, 12, drove seven hours from Malvern, Arkansas, which sits just outside Hot Springs.

Slatton, who is originally from Florissant, didn’t want to miss a chance to see history made in his favorite baseball stadium.

“My favorite baseball team, and my favorite stadium and my favorite soccer team come to play here,” Slatton said. “It’s kind of like a dream when tickets went on sale, so we jumped on them.

“This is kind of a once in a lifetime deal, the chance to see Chelsea and hopefully first-line players instead of a summer team where you might see a bunch of guys that will never make the field. It’s a unique opportunity.”

Slatton paid $55 a piece for their tickets. He said it was money he probably would have spent on a trip to Busch Stadium to see the Cardinals at some point in the near future.

For Chelsea fans Devin and Dana Raney, it wasn’t as long of a trek from O’Fallon, Missouri to see their favorite team, but it was one they wouldn’t pass on.

When asked if he has traveled to Europe to see Chelsea play, Devin responded, “I was hoping to do it, but they came here so no need to travel. I would still like to do it.”

A fan for as long as he remembers, Devin converted Dana into a fan of his favorite club through the FIFA video game. The couple was lucky enough to receive their tickets for free, but admit they were willing to pay hundreds otherwise.

A recent wave of unseasonably warm temperatures in St. Louis moved out in time to mirror the conditions the two European clubs would have played in London, where the average high for the month is 65 degrees. It was 62 degrees and partly cloudy at kickoff inside Busch Stadium.

You could say that St. Louis was the perfect place to host international soccer.

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