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Central savours alternate Galaxy outing; fans flock to Champions League affair

Central FC enjoyed a post-World Cup 2006 record attendance for a Pro League club last night as the “Couva Sharks” completed their maiden CONCACAF Champions League adventure with a 1-1 draw against United States MLS team, LA Galaxy, at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain.

Photo: Central FC attacker Marcus Joseph (right) and LA Galaxy striker Allan Gordon chase the ball during CONCACAF Champions League action last night. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Central FC attacker Marcus Joseph (right) and LA Galaxy striker Allan Gordon chase the ball during CONCACAF Champions League action last night.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

There were easily over 4,000 people at the Hasely Crawford venue, which was almost certainly the biggest crowd at a local game featuring a Pro League outfit since the fall-out from the 2006 World Cup drained enthusiasm away from the game.

W Connection played before nearly 10,000 spectators in 2001 when the “Savonetta Boys” hosted another MLS team, Kansas City, and around 6,000 fans watched them challenge Mexican outfit, Chivas, in 2005.

In the past nine years, though, attendances have tended to peak around 2,500 while, for the last three Champions League matches over the past week, there were barely 600 people at the Hasely Crawford.

In that sense, yesterday seemed like a red letter day.

“Thanks for the support from Trinidad and Tobago,” said Central coach Ross Russell, in the post-game press conference. “We know LA Galaxy brought them but we are still glad they came.”

Photo: LA Galaxy star Steven Gerrard was a no-show yesterday. (Copyright ESPN)
Photo: LA Galaxy star Steven Gerrard was a no-show yesterday.
(Copyright ESPN)

And yet, it was hard to remember a team that tried to dampen an occasion as much as the Galaxy.

The Galaxy’s official website had a preview of its impending clash against the Sharks in Port of Spain. But the US-based club certainly did not try to ramp up interest with its headline:

“Watch CONCACAF’s hilariously over-the-top video preview…”

Galaxy coach Bruce Arena not only left all three of his marquee players—ex-Liverpool and England captain Steven Gerrard, Irish captain and former Tottenham standout Robbie Keane and Mexico star and ex-Barcelona attacker Giovani Dos Santos—back in Los Angeles. He omitted his entire first team too.

And he did not bother to flatter the capabilities of the squad that kicked off against Central last night.

“We kept our first 11 at home,” said Arena, who chose to focus on the club’s MLS responsibilities, “and these were the only players available to us.”

Photo: LA Galaxy coach and ex-US international coach Bruce Arena. (Copyright LA Soccer news)
Photo: LA Galaxy coach and ex-US international coach Bruce Arena.
(Copyright LA Soccer news)

Astonishingly, Arena did not even have a full complement of substitutes as Galaxy, who were virtually assured of qualification before kick off, travelled to Trinidad with just 16 players.

“You can only use three substitutes anyway,” said Arena, breezily, “we had things covered…”

And it was for this clash—one half-interested team against an already eliminated one—that Trinidad and Tobago fans came out in their thousands, with no noticeable rise in marketing or any of the other suave terminologies that are supposedly the bane of the Pro League.

Somewhere in yesterday’s bumper crowd lay a sobering reality about Trinidad and Tobago’s football fans, and an exit interview for spectators might have been priceless.

Russell said his Sharks did not feel slighted or motivated by Galaxy’s travelling party.

“Whatever team Bruce puts out,” said Russell, “that’s his first 11.”

But it was an unconvincing argument.

Central striker Willis Plaza offered a better response when he scored within 115 seconds of the kick off.

Photo: Central FC striker Willis Plaza (left) keeps his eye on the ball while LA Galaxy defender Tommy Meyer trails during CONCACAF Champions League action last night. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Central FC striker Willis Plaza (left) keeps his eye on the ball while LA Galaxy defender Tommy Meyer trails during CONCACAF Champions League action last night.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

Veteran playmaker Marvin Oliver, who was not granted a visa for Central’s crushing 5-1 loss in Los Angeles in the first leg, released Plaza with a lofted diagonal ball. And Plaza touched the ball just once.

Bang!

His right footed volley from 12 yards flew across the body of Galaxy goalkeeper Brian Rowe and into the far corner.

Plaza celebrated with the nonchalance of a man that probably scores a dozen screaming volleys before breakfast.

Galaxy, despite being a weakened bunch, still had a fully professional roster available and, thankfully, was not about to roll over.

The visitors might have equalised in spectacular style in the 26th minute but for a brilliant save from Central and Trinidad and Tobago international custodian, Jan-Michael Williams.

Photo: Central FC coach Ross Russell. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Central FC coach Ross Russell.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

Williams had to anticipate, sprint and extend his right arm to keep out a Mika Vayrynen free kick that curled and dipped into the far corner.

It is a trick the “Soca Warrior” repeated in the second half when substitute Jose Villarreal tried to outfox him by smashing his set piece effort towards the other corner.

Apart from the set pieces, Galaxy was as blunt as a butter knife.

Arena had brought his “Super Sub” and US international Alan Gordon, who is a fierce competitor in the air. But, although Central winger Marcus Joseph was happy to allow opposing full back Rafael Garcia time and space to pump balls into the opposing box, Gordon could not get on the end of anything.

Credit Central’s defensive pair of Jamal Jack and Marcelle Francois who refused to be bullied by Gordon. Oliver was not so lucky.

At one point, Gordon nearly gave the beanpole Rastafarian a make-over with an elbow to the head that went without a caution by Puerto Rico referee William Anderson.

Photo: LA Galaxy forward and stand-in captain Allan Gordon (right) catches Central FC veteran Marvin Oliver with an elbow during CONCACAF Champions League action last night. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: LA Galaxy forward and stand-in captain Allan Gordon (right) catches Central FC veteran Marvin Oliver with an elbow during CONCACAF Champions League action last night.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

Why did CONCACAF allow a Puerto Rican to officiate in a game involving a US club anyway? Was that not like a Tobagonian referee doing a Trinidad and Tobago international match?

It only added to the slapdash feel of last night’s event.

In truth, Central should have been comfortably ahead. The Sharks were faster and more inventive than their MLS opponent. And Plaza, with his clever off the ball movement, was as elusive to the Americans as controversial UNC financiers Ish Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson.

In the 45th minute, Plaza found ex-Naparima College star Nicholas Dillon with so much space in the opposing area that the teenaged attacker could afford to completely miskick, spin around and still get off his shot.

By then, of course, Galaxy’s defence recovered suitably to charge down Dillon’s effort.

It capped a woeful debut start for Dillon at Champions League level.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago national under-20 forward Nicholas Dillon goes for goal during the 2014 Under-20 Caribbean Cup. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago national under-20 forward Nicholas Dillon goes for goal during the 2014 Under-20 Caribbean Cup.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

“I thought (Dillon) was brilliant,” said Russell. “He did well for the team. He missed an easy chance but that comes with (youth) and he was anxious.

“I wouldn’t kill him for that.”

Dillon would certainly improve with time but Russell’s enthusiastic assessment of the youngster did not match the general consensus last night. There was sarcastic applause when the Central coach withdrew him in the 61st minute.

Plaza had a peek in the 70th minute but his stinging, angled left footer took out a camera behind the goal instead. And, later, he dragged a right footer wide from an identical position as his opening goal.

Every Plaza opening came with a half-step in one direction and a sprint in the next, as the bewildered Galaxy backline grabbed at thin air. Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team head coach Stephen Hart must have been smiling in the covered stands.

Photo: Central FC striker Willis Plaza (left) gives LA Galaxy defender David Romney the slip during CONCACAF Champions League action. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Central FC striker Willis Plaza (left) gives LA Galaxy defender David Romney the slip during CONCACAF Champions League action.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

There was less to appreciate last night from attacking midfielders Ataulla Guerra and Marcus Joseph.

Guerra, to his credit, was always involved. But most of his touches came in non-threatening areas of the field and were self-indulgent.

Joseph, who was the Pro League’s top scorer two years ago at Point Fortin Civic, barely extended himself off the ball and was absolutely predictable in his efforts to get off a left foot shot on nearly every possession.

“Ataulla’s performance was much better,” said Russell. “He controlled the ball better and ran at players…

“Marcus is still getting his rhythm. He came from a team where he was the ‘go-to man’ to a team where there are about five ‘go-to men’…”

As the match entered the final 15 minutes, the contest was still alive.

Photo: Central FC playmaker Ataulla Guerra (left) toys with LA Galaxy player Kenney Walker during CONCACAF Champions League action. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Central FC playmaker Ataulla Guerra (left) toys with LA Galaxy player Kenney Walker during CONCACAF Champions League action.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

“It was an exciting game,” said Arena. “Central was dangerous on the break and I think they did a good job protecting the lead…

“But I could tell their players were getting fatigued.”

Williams had to sprint off his line in the 81st minute to beat Galaxy substitute Raul Mendiola to a probing pass. Ever the showman, the Warrior flopped on his back for a breather, as he clutched the ball to his midriff.

The fans, who, encouragingly, stayed for the entire contest, exhaled with him and  chuckled. But, a minute later, the smiles vanished.

Central substitute Jason Marcano was hustled off the ball and Galaxy countered effectively.

Midfielder Ignacio Maganto slipped a pass between Central left Kevin Villaroel and Francois to Mendiola who squared for an unmarked Gordon to hit home from 10 yards.

Photo: Central FC defender Marcelle Francois (second from left) muscles LA Galaxy midfielder Ignacio Magneto off the ball during CONCACAF Champions League last night. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Central FC defender Marcelle Francois (second from left) muscles LA Galaxy midfielder Ignacio Magneto off the ball during CONCACAF Champions League last night.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

“We anticipated a difficult game and we certainly got it,” said Arena. “I was proud of the way the boys fought back… I think the man of the match for both teams was Williams.”

Williams was disappointed not to preserve his clean sheet and hang on for the three points. But there was a sense of relief that their Champions League campaign ended with dignity, after they were hammered 5-1 by Galaxy in their opening game on 7 August 2015.

“Obviously I’m disappointed with the result (because) I think we could have held on for the win,” said Williams. “But this is our first time in the competition and we are still learning. I think we did well…

“We are unbeaten at home.”

Williams was pleasantly surprised by the crowd last night too. And he urged supporters to go out to games and put pressure on players to deliver the quality performances they would like to see.

Last night’s topsy turvy affair, he hoped, would be a watershed moment.

Photo: LA Galaxy coach Bruce Arena (centre) congratulates Central FC custodian Jan-Michael Williams, after their CONCACAF Champions League contest. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: LA Galaxy coach Bruce Arena (centre) congratulates Central FC custodian Jan-Michael Williams, after their CONCACAF Champions League contest.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

“I was quite happy and pleased with the turnout,” said the Central goalkeeper. “I knew we gave them a show because we played well.

“I think the fans going home would think Central is the team to support.”

It would make sense if 20 percent of last night’s audience, roughly 800 people, turn up for the Sharks’ next outing to see if the Pro League is anything near as exciting.

But then it is never easy to make sense of Trinidad and Tobago’s appreciation for local sport.

(Teams)

Central FC (4-2-4-1): 21.Jan-Michael Williams (GK); 15.Kaydion Gabriel, 12.Jamal Jack, 17.Marcelle Francois, 24.Kevon Villaroel; 2.Elton John, 10.Marvin Oliver; 99.Marcus Joseph (8.Sean De Silva 82), 45.Ataulla Guerra (26.Jem Gordon 87), 14.Nicholas Dillon (7.Jason Marcano 61); 33.Willis Plaza.

Unused substitutes: 30.Akel Clarke (GK), 5.Akeem Benjamin, 6.Kerry Baptiste, 25.Elijah Manners.

Coach: Ross Russell

 

LA Galaxy (4-4-1-1): 12.Brian Rowe (GK); 33.Dan Gargan, 21.Tommy Meyer, 27.David Romney, 25.Rafael Garcia; 15.Ignacio Maganto, 3.Mika Vayrynen (40.Raul Mendiola 68), 34.Kenney Walker, 6.Baggio Husidic (36.Oscar Sorto 14); 16.Edson Buddle (5.Jose Villarreal 57); 9.Alan Gordon (captain),

Unused substitutes: 31.Andrew Wolverton (GK), 2.Todd Dunivant,

Coach: Bruce Arena

 

Referee: William Anderson (Puerto Rico)

Man of the Match: Jan-Michael Williams (Central FC)

Photo: Central FC captain Jan-Michael Williams enjoys a light moment during a 2014/15 Pro League outing against North East Stars. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Central FC captain Jan-Michael Williams enjoys a light moment during a 2014/15 Pro League outing against North East Stars.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

CONCACAF Champions League result

(Wednesday September 23)

Central FC 1 (Willis Plaza 2), LA Galaxy 1 (Alan Gordon 85) at Hasely Crawford Stadium.

About Lasana Liburd

Lasana Liburd
Lasana Liburd is the CEO and Editor at Wired868.com and a journalist with over 20 years experience at several Trinidad and Tobago and international publications including Play the Game, World Soccer, UK Guardian and the Trinidad Express.

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72 comments

  1. It’s hard to compete because of finances simply put. As soon as a player demonstrates the skills the technicality the fitness to be able to compete he is offered a contract to anywhere in the world. The wages offered is far superior so off he goes thereby reducing the talent of his team and the overall league. And since we only bring back a limited no of foreign base players it also adversely affects the national team too.

  2. James Saunders no disrespect to your hard work but LA Galaxy team of Steven Gerard former team of David Beckham trini there lets do not kid our selves!! It is what it is!!

  3. I was personally part of the marketing drive and how it was marketed was strategic I expected the turnout and had the big names been there it would have been bigger, to answer your question Yes and No this game was an easy sell with the big names associated with LA, every game and team has its own marketting dynamics so comunicaciones would not draw a similar attendance but there would have been a larger audience to watch the game

    • Take your budget and get even 2,000 people to go out and see Central v Police FC. That would be the test of it.
      I will personally help you raise the money for it. So let me know.
      What was the budget?

  4. Hey…there are pro league games where teams dont have a full bench…

    • That is not the norm, never by choice and not any of the big teams. That would be comparing LA Galaxy to St Ann’s Rangers or Point Fortin Civic, which are teams with an overall budget of about $12,000 US per month.

    • But it happens. Arena is well within his rights to do as he pleases. Was nothing more than a good training game anyway

    • He isn’t in his rights simply because you said so. What about if Central travelled to LA with 12 players. Would that be respectful for the game and the competition?
      What about if they decided they didn’t need the coach on match day and he stayed in the hotel along with the rest of the technical staff?

  5. This bs about 2nd string team. They are professionals. Who goes on the pitch to lose? Players got an oppurtunity to play and show for Arena and staff.

  6. Views doesn’t mean marketing more necessarily. It means it was shared more. But okay James Saunders. I really don’t know for sure. I took the word of several football people on the marketing bit.
    Do you think similar marketing would have brought the same ground to see them play Comunicaciones though?
    It was probably a combination of things but I still doubt marketing was the main reason for that crowd.

  7. I disagree Lasana that game was marketed a bit more than usual the commercial I did had over 1000 views on fb and was shown on tv6, wi Sports and win tv as well as radio

  8. Even Concacaf cannot accept this if the sport in the Caribbean is to grow and become something what all those youths like my son who wanted to attend the game to see Gerrard….the headline players are the key marketing aspect of the game generally if the future is to be secured……I hope that CFU intervene and get Concacaf to stop treating the Caribbean as Third World…..and not have sports follow in the footsteps of Politics…..

  9. arena did not bring the top squad because I am sure he assessed our teams quality and knew that he could be comfortable with those that came.

  10. watched the two games…santos and galaxy…and the difference in the levels was glaring…
    composure on the ball has to be drastically improved…players have to stick to the game plan if there is one…technically we are not there yet either…and last but not least the level of players fitness has to be worked on to;;

  11. Celebrity footballers. Santos is a better team to see by far but the game hardly drew fans. And it was cheaper too.

  12. Yes, but our players need to bring their A game too! You can blame administration etc to a point…at the end of the day, the team has to show their worth…that’s something that can’t be coached, the drive to perform, the drive to achieve greatness

  13. I didn’t hear them. People said the advertising was not really different to previous games. So it is hard to say whether the marketing made any real difference.
    I’m certain if Central had approached National Security Ministry for help, Oliver would have been able to secure a visa.
    But, conveniently, the Sport Minister probably didn’t want a “conflict of interest” at that point. It was no problem when they wanted a bank accounrt to park CONCACAF money though. Steups.

  14. I don’t think the game was marketed much at all. No different to any of the other games. So then is the problem marketing? Or is it that local football fans are only interested in what they consider to be celebrity footballers?

  15. Hes a very good passer of the ball. I wish he was 26

  16. They did not even bring a full bench. We/Trinidad needs to give a better account on the field, and I am not solely blaming players, coaches and administration have a BIG part to play

  17. Why is Marvin Oliver still being denied a VISA to sweat?!!… Jeeez… I mean… Ths guy has a not so clean sheet but come on… He nearing forty and still being considered as an undesirable? Also I don’t know how long the ads were being run but during the news last night there was a fair amt of them… I guess that may have helped with the attendance…

  18. Its a wake up call to the fraternity how the rest of the world sees us & need to raise our game to match international standards. If they want to send their weak team we should have pounded them 3 0 or 4 0 so they won’t make that mistake. Respect has to be earned. Credit to Central FC squad but if our first team.squad can only draw…Bruce is right.

  19. Sheldon , let your team know that they are playing for more than a trophy or mere title . They are playing for RESPECT. You’re a tremendous motivator , get into their minds .

  20. Ppl I know didn’t bother to attend when they were told that Galaxy superstars weren’t going to be there. Sad but true………..

  21. I think the fact that Galaxy’s top three players weren’t coming wasn’t marketed and that probably helped! Maybe because it was the night before a holiday too? Saw a lot of kids there. So Idk. For me personally, it was just a schedule thing. I would’ve loved to have made all the matches.

  22. Yes. I think a team should be fined for traveling short at this level.
    In European Champions League, Arena would have faced a probe for doing that. But then we didn’t beat Galaxy. So he would feel justified.

  23. Would have loved to fears fans explain why they came. Everyone talks about marketing but that game wasn’t marketed any more than usual.

  24. Personally I thought Connection produced a much better team performance in terms of cohesion and shape.
    But central has better individuals.
    Willis, Jan and Oliver were tops. But I expected a lot more from Ataulla especially. I think Kaydion’s level has dipped in recent months.

  25. Gross disrespect in sport is poor sportsmanship. Not saying they had to bring their three top players, but one to sweat for 15 mins is a problem? And you can’t bring any of your starting 11? And you walk with only 16 players and say well you can only make three subs anyway? That is disrespect and in poor taste. This is the highest level club tournament in our region.

    • No disrespect, just smart man management. Why make Keane or Gerrard, two “old” men by sporting standards, deal with the hassle of flying when they could stay home and rest up for the next match (that actually counts for something)? Dos Santos may not be old, but the same reasoning holds. Remember, this isn’t a friendly or a goodwill game where LA owes anything to the Trini public. Besides, as a practical matter, the “B” team players have to play a game as well… what better opportunity?

  26. I. Swear trinis does make a big deal about a game that meant nothing to la galaxy la had nothing to play for so the effort and line up was reflective of that fact

    • I think this is a fair point here guys – this game was almost like Barcelona or playing their final Champs league away to a debutant team from Russia after already qualifying for next round (similar long travel) or sum & they decided to rest Messi/Neymar/Suarez – as LA left home Gerrard/Keane/Dos Santos and basically their entire regular MLS first XI.

      Thus playing the game like if they didn’t want to be there. So from that point of view its really hard to judge how good a performance it was for central – compared to lets say Connection win vs Saprissa who brought their best team and looked ready to play.

      LA coach Bruce Arena gave off that impression too at post match presser when James Saunders was questioning him. Having said that, Central still are the team to beat in TT & CFU

    • Yeah. Point taken Colin. But the general Trini public doesn’t follow football as intensely as many would assume. There are the ones who regardless of will find themselves in the stadium to watch local teams and Concacaf Champs. League games. Then others only opportunist. Yesterday 2 of my neighbors was asking why don’t they put Gerrard on in the 60-something minute. I’m sure most people there didn’t know those players weren’t coming. Just wagonist and exaggerated Trini human behaviour.

  27. I was under the impression nobody went to these matches so I was surprised to be in traffic and that I had trouble finding a parking spot!
    I think like W Connection, Central showed signs of finishing problems. But Plaza’s goal was sweet.
    I was hoping we would’ve held on for the win especially since I think Galaxy was so disrespectful to bring the team they did.

  28. Watch the game on TV from the US and for wht I saw they (Central) tried to play football…..Marvin Oliver was class his experience can help alot this could off bin diff if he could of travel with the team for tht first game my on negative from the game was at times the right back tried to make the difficult pass when the simple and safe was on but job well done by the team tho good showing…

  29. Positives:
    Marvin Oliver, Marvin Oliver, Marvin Oliver – Did I say Marvin Oliver? LOL. Marvin put in an excellent shift last night, and the rest of Central FC should take example from him. While he was cool and calm on the ball, he also pelt some hard jam when necessary. He wasn’t afraid to mix it up. His passing and vision was also on point.

    Jan-Michael – was solid between the sticks and came up with some stellar saves to preserve Central’s lead.

    Willis Plaza – Constantly worried the Galaxy’s defence with his tireless running and his direct play. Well taken first goal, but guilty of wasting some other chances.

    Overall Central’s defence was doing a good job keeping Galaxy’s attackers at bay, but sometimes this good play was undone by many reckless challenges that resulted in needless free-kicks at the edge of the 18-yard box. In general, when you keep giving away those free-kicks, one is bound to go in.

    Negatives:
    Poor passing. holding on to the ball too long, not keeping it simple, not letting the ball do the work, ball watching. Taking needless long range shots when better options were available. Plaza was not well supported up front. Fitness was a problem coming down to the end, but this was understandable given the fact that they are still in pre-season.

  30. I was surprised by the size of the crowd. Considering the night before probably did not have 1000 people to look at (in my opinion) a better team i.e. Santos.

  31. What did you all think of the actual match? And crowd?

  32. It is…but, admittedly, only of recent we were reminded of the existence of our football. Yet still, it will impact on the psyche of our players…they should demand a formal apology.

  33. There are many venues around which can be used for concerts. This destruction of the pitch due to concerts being held at the HNS has been going on for a number of years. I remember going to one where it was like a mud wrestling ring ppl sliding having a time smh

  34. yes…i agree…BUT…Reality and T.

  35. Gary, from a business standpoint I don’t mind them using the facility to host other types of events. After all it’s a common practice worldwide. However, it should NOT result in considerable damage to the football pitch. The management need to follow whatever are considered to be the best practices for such a venue.

  36. and two big concerts to be held on it soon before our Nov WCQ..Nigel Myers

  37. On another note, what is going on with the field at the Hasely Crawford Stadium? It look so bumpy.

  38. Not a bad effort for a debutant, but this was a missed opportunity because a win was definitely on the cards.

  39. Sad to say but Oliver at 40 years old look best player on Central, saw game live up here

  40. “Why did CONCACAF allow a Puerto Rican to officiate in a game involving a US club anyway? Was that not like a Tobagonian referee doing a Trinidad and Tobago international match?”

    Silly question… the two don’t even compare. PR competes independently at every level, in practically every sport. If the suggestion is on of bias because PR is a US “overseas territory” then that reveals an ignorance of the simmering antipathy many Puerto Ricans on the island feel towards the US. On another note, the game looked poorly attended on TV, but kudos to all if they did in fact draw 4,000. You are correct in saying it says a lot about the local fan base that they would turn out to see a foreign team that has already qualified (and likely to rest its stars) and an already eliminated team… than turn out to see the same local team in Pro League action.