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Miller Park hosts Mexican soccer friendly

Liga MX clubs C.F. Pachuca and Club Leon play after ballpark transformed into soccer pitch
MLB.com

MILWAUKEE -- With the open roof of Miller Park visible in the distance, Oscar Munoz sat in the grass under a tree in a department store parking lot, tailgating with about 30 friends and family members two hours before lots opened at the baseball stadium. A 16-year-old Milwaukee native, Munoz has never been to Mexico, but his parents, natives of Leon, Mexico -- a city in the central state of Guanajuato -- have raised him as a fan of Club Leon, one of the two sides that played Wednesday night in the third-ever friendly soccer match at Miller Park.

"I come from a Hispanic family, and I have been growing up with [Club Leon]," Munoz said. "I was so excited that I was at school waiting for the countdown to buy the tickets. This is a nice touch of my home and connects me to my roots."

MILWAUKEE -- With the open roof of Miller Park visible in the distance, Oscar Munoz sat in the grass under a tree in a department store parking lot, tailgating with about 30 friends and family members two hours before lots opened at the baseball stadium. A 16-year-old Milwaukee native, Munoz has never been to Mexico, but his parents, natives of Leon, Mexico -- a city in the central state of Guanajuato -- have raised him as a fan of Club Leon, one of the two sides that played Wednesday night in the third-ever friendly soccer match at Miller Park.

"I come from a Hispanic family, and I have been growing up with [Club Leon]," Munoz said. "I was so excited that I was at school waiting for the countdown to buy the tickets. This is a nice touch of my home and connects me to my roots."

With the Brewers on an eight-game road trip going into the All-Star break, Miller Park was converted into a soccer pitch for Wednesday night's match between Liga MX clubs C.F. Pachuca and Club Leon. Munoz attended the first friendly at Miller Park, in 2014 (Chivas Guadalajara vs. Premier League club Swansea City), but not the 2015 edition (Atlas FC, of Liga MX, vs. Newcastle, from the Premier League). Wednesday's match was the first time that two sides from the same league met at the stadium.

"Apart from the first four or five European leagues -- and I have had the privilege of coaching in many leagues -- [Liga MX] probably is the next [best]," Pachuca manager Pako Ayestaran said. "I would put the Mexican league in the fifth or sixth position in the world."

The Brewers' grounds crew worked from the end of Sunday's series finale between the Brewers and Braves until Wednesday to prepare the field, which included leveling the mound, laying sod on the infield dirt, and painting lines.

"We've done it twice before, so that helps," Brewers chief operating officer Rick Schlesinger said. "We're not telling the [Brewers] pitchers, but we're leveling the mound. It will obviously be back. We've had great success transforming this great baseball park into a soccer venue."

The franchise's main goal with the event was to bring together a diverse fanbase and capitalize on World Cup fever. The Brewers also hosted Cerveceros Day and celebrated Latino culture last Saturday during their game against the Braves.

Video: The Milwaukee Brewers hosted Cerveceros Day

Before the match, Pachuca players stood on the top step of the visitors' dugout on the third-base side of the field, taking in the sights of a Major League ballpark. Filling the seats were 18,321 soccer fans, including a large contingent of Club Leon supporters who brought bass drums, vuvuzelas and trumpets, creating a cacophony of noises and a completely different atmosphere than the typical baseball game. Other pregame festivities included the national anthems of the United States and Mexico, performed by a local mariachi group.

Pachuca had several early chances in the first half, but broke the game's scoreless deadlock at the 53-minute mark when Erick Aguirre found the back of the net. Leon's Walter Gonzalez evened up the tally 12 minutes later, but Pachuca took the lead for good with a goal from Franco Jara in the 71st minute and padded it in the 90th minute to seal a 3-1 win.

On the atmosphere during the game, Ayestaran said: "It was better than we thought it would be. We think about the game, but we think about the crowd as well. We wanted to play a beautiful game, and we think we did that."

Ayestaran's only regret from his team's trip to Milwaukee was not getting to explore the community, especially Lake Michigan and the Milwaukee Art Museum. Both sides were busy during their visit, which included open practices at Marquette University's soccer field.

But as Leon manager Gustavo Diaz said, nothing could prepare his team to play on this kind of surface at Miller Park.

"It was a great environment and great conditions," Diaz said. "We know it's a baseball field, but we liked what we had."

Stephen Cohn is a reporter for MLB.com based in Milwaukee. Follow him on Twitter @Stephen__Cohn.

Milwaukee Brewers