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Soccer fans pack stadium for Canada-USA friendly

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Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press

Canadian Women's Soccer Team group photo before the start of their friendly against Team USA at Investors Group Field May 8, 2014.

Thousands of soccer fans walked, biked, bussed, drove and even rode scooters and skateboards to witness Canada's national women's soccer team take on the USA tonight at Investors Group Field.

Billed as a "friendly" — soccer-speak for an exhibition game — it had all the feel of an Olympic showdown between the two rival countries, before a crowd that was expected to swell to more than 25,000.

"If you aren't here, I don't know where else you'd be! This is fantastic for Manitoba Soccer and fantastic for our country also," said Hector Vergara, the Manitoba Soccer Association's executive director. He is formerly an international soccer official who has worked matches around the world.

Vergara was outside the stadium since 5:30 p.m. handing out Team Canada under-eye "Glare Strips."

"I think it's going to be aggressive and exciting," said Dara Nfon, 12, who attended the game with her sister Ashley and parents Charles and Vicky. Ashley plays soccer for Winnipeg South End United while Dara plays for Corydon Community Centre.

Kathy Nelson, a mom and soccer coach from Yorkton, Sask. brought her daughter Sarah, 11, and her Yorkton United teammates Hannah Adam, Madi Stevenson and Sara Becker.

"My husband stayed home to look after our other four children so we could do this," Kathy said. "Desiree Scott spoke at our soccer banquet last month and she was so inspiring. "

Scott, a Winnipeg native and former University of Manitoba striker, wa expected to start at midfield for Team Canada on Thursday night.

"I never thought I'd get to see Desiree Scott play on person. This is the best," Becker, 11, said.

Jayden, nine, and his sister Madison, 11, and their mom Irene were ready to see some great action.

"I think it's going to be a tough battle," he said.

Outside the field, it was a festival atmosphere as, despite high winds, kids could try testing their kick speed at the Winnipeg Youth Soccer Association net. At the radar fun station, young soccer fans picked up plastic Team Canada fan-shaped noisemakers and decorated them with markers, and entered several draws for Team Canada merchandise.

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

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