Sports

Athletic Bilbao (Spain), Club Tijuana (Mexico) headed to Boise. What does that mean for you?

Two of the world’s top 100 professional soccer clubs are coming to Boise.

Organizers for the Basque Soccer Friendly announced the two teams that will face off July 29 at Boise’s Albertsons Stadium on Wednesday — Athletic Bilbao of Spain and Club Tijuana of Mexico.

Athletic Bilbao, which plays in Spain’s Basque region and is made up entirely of Basque players, was a top target for organizers of the event, which will takes place during Jaialdi International Festival, a celebration of Boise’s Basque heritage.

“Without them, there is no way we’d do it,” said John Bieter, a co-director of the event and a professor of history in Boise State’s Basque Studies department.

Bilbao is one of three teams in Spain’s top league, La Liga, to never be relegated. The others include international powers Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Bilbao played in the UEFA Champions League this season and is ranked as the No. 23 club in the world, according to the Football Club World Rankings.

Club Tijuana replaced the Basque Soccer Friendly’s previous plan to host a regional MLS team, either Seattle, Portland or Salt Lake City. But offseason labor strife and the scheduling of the MLS All-Star Game on July 29 convinced organizers to look elsewhere.

Tijuana currently sits atop the standings of Liga MX, Mexico’s top league, and is ranked as the No. 94 club in the world. The club fields seven Americans, including 24-year-old Joe Corona, who has scored two goals in 14 appearances with the U.S. national team.

“We think it’s one of the best decisions we made because it really raises the profile of the event,” said Argia Beristain, the sponsorship director for the Basque Soccer Friendly. “No offense to the MLS teams, but they’re ranked in the 300s whereas these teams are top 100. It’s very exciting for the overall quality of play.”

HOW DO I GET TICKETS? HOW MUCH ARE THEY?

Tickets go on sale to the general public April 27. Prices have not been set yet as the event is still negotiating fees with Boise State and Ticketmaster.

Fans of the game can join Kuadrilla, a club established by the event, now until April 22. Members of the club get first access to purchase as many as 10 tickets, a commemorative T-shirt and poster, as well as invites to monthly events leading up to the game.

Sign up for Kuadrilla at BasqueSoccerFriendly.com. Members will not be accepted after April 22.

IS THIS PART OF JAIALDI?

Not officially. But the game is on the Wednesday of Jaialdi, and placing it during the festival was key for organizers.

HOW BIG OF A DEAL IS THIS?

Pretty big. Athletic Bilbao has never played outside of Europe, opting to make this game their first foray into the American market.

Many of the top European clubs have played exhibitions in the U.S. in recent years, searching to expand their fan base. La Liga rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona have both made tours of the U.S.

Boise and its large Basque population provide a common-sense starting place for Athletic Bilbao.

“You would expect a very loud crowd, a lot of deep devotion with the Basque people here in Boise,” said Bill Taylor, president of the Idaho Youth Soccer Association and an organizer of the game. “And with Jaialdi being on, it’ll feel like a home game almost for Bilbao.”

I’M NOT A SOCCER FAN. WHY SHOULD I CARE?

Sports fans should consider the game for what it is — an opportunity to see two of the top teams in the world in your own backyard.

“I’m not a huge baseball fan, for example,” Taylor said. “But if the New York Yankees were to come to Boise, I’m going to buy a ticket to go see it because it’s an event that you’ve got to go see.”

HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?

John Bieter said the idea sparked from a luncheon in 2010 to honor Pete Cenarrusa, Idaho’s former secretary of state, at Leku Ona, a Basque restaurant in Downtown Boise.

“(There was) a nice meal, good company, wine was flowing and the idea came up about different kinds of things we might explore,” Bieter said. “The idea grew up into, ‘How about that? Wouldn’t that be great?’ And everybody lit up at the idea.”

The idea rolled around Bieter’s mind until 2013, when he decided to pursue the game, which originally called for the U.S. national team to play in Boise. Two years and countless meetings later, the dream became a reality with club teams.

“It’s one thing to go to a dinner and scheme and pull out the cocktail napkins,” said Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, who also attended that luncheon. “It’s another to actually make it happen.”

WHY CAN’T THEY PLAY ON THE BLUE TURF?

Boise State’s iconic blue turf does not meet the standards of FIFA, soccer’s international governing body. In order to attract top clubs, organizers will have to install real grass.

The ball rolls faster and bounces higher on artificial turf, and players often complain of the greater physical toll artificial turf extracts.

Boise’s Cloverdale Nursery is growing the sod, which will be laid about a week before the game, allowing it time to settle and grow together. Workers will cover the blue turf with plastic, then add plastic decking on top and another layer of plastic cover before installing the 60-foot-by-4-foot rolls of grass.

After the game, the grass will be donated and installed at Ann Morrison Park.

WHAT TIME IS THE GAME?

Beristain said organizers are aiming for a 7 p.m. kickoff. But that will ultimately depend on the national and international broadcasting rights, which she said should be finalized in the next couple weeks.

WHAT ARE THE EXPECTATIONS?

John Bieter admits he had his doubts at first. But after talking with members of the community and hearing nothing but positive feedback, he’s hoping for a sellout of Albertsons Stadium, which seats approximately 36,000.

He said the four populations the game will serve — the Basque community in Boise for Jaialdi, the Treasure Valley’s Mexican-American population, the state’s growing youth soccer ranks and fans curious about a one-time event — boosts his confidence.

“You just don’t have events like this in Boise very often,” he said. “We feel pretty confident we’ll be able to fill the stadium. That’s the goal.”

WILL WE SEE EACH OTHER’S TEAM STARTERS?

Yes. Beristain said the contract between the Basque Soccer Friendly and the clubs stipulates they bring their starting 11.

Both clubs will be wrapping up their preseason when they come to Boise, providing their players an opportunity to work out the kinks before their club seasons begin.

And with both clubs looking to expand their footprint in America, leaving their stars at home or on the bench and souring potential fans defeats the purpose of the trip.

WHO IS MAKING MONEY?

The event only has to pay for Athletic Bilbao’s and Club Tijuana’s travel expenses to get to Boise and their expenses while in town. They do not receive a fee for playing.

The majority of proceeds from the event will go to Boise State’s Basque Studies program, paying for scholarships, student and professor exchanges, as well as summer programs.

“We’ve got a list of projects a mile long,” John Bieter said. “There is such a rich exchange between these two regions. There hasn’t been a lot of academic exchange. This is the next iteration for these two areas to explore.”

The Idaho Youth Soccer Association will also receive some money for scholarships for youth players.

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