It’s game day here in Guayaquil with NYCFC all set to face C.S Emelec at Estadio George Capwell.
Warmest of Welcomes
If we were in any doubts as to the excitement generated by our visit here, they were swiftly diminished when we touched down at the airport on Monday where vast numbers of the soccer-loving public had come out to catch a glimpse of the squad at arrivals.
This really set the tone for what we’ve experienced since, especially at the soccer clinic on our first morning in Ecuador, when Andrea Pirlo, Ugo Okoli and Andre Rawls paid a visit to Torremar school to play some ball with the students.
Former Emelec goalkeeper named Carlos Moran gave the media team a ride to the school and gave a fascinating preview into the night’s Copa Libertadores qualifier between El Nacional and Atletico Tucuman which was taking place in Quito, 167 miles away.
The Argentine team, Tucuman, taking part in the game were staying in the same hotel as us, but why so far away?
According to Carlos, there are two theories when it comes to playing in high altitude stadiums, such as El Nacional’s in Quito – you either arrive early to acclimatize or you arrive at the last possible moment to negate the effects.
Tucuman opted for the latter, staying in Guayaquil and flying in at the last possible moment but that approach almost backfired on this occasion as a hiccup with the paperwork delayed them setting off, meaning the game kicked off an hour and a half late.
Not only that, their kit had not arrived so they were forced to play in the shirts of Argentina’s U20 side but still, they managed to conquer adversity and win 1-0 to advance to the continent’s premier club competition for the first time in their 115-year history.
Much to the delight of these fans in our hotel bar…
Ugo, Ugo, Ugo!
Back to NYCFC matters and the soccer clinic, the players took part in a variety of drills with the school children and, it has to be said, Ugo Okoli looked to be in his element, with his beaming smile and laughter throughout saying everything about his enthusiasm for this event.
His approach certainly earned him some new fans as when he stepped up to take a penalty against one of the organizers, the kids were chanting his name!
Both Okoli and Rawls were mobbed for pictures and autographs in the changes between the drills throughout but Pirlo was unquestionably the biggest draw, with shouts from the sidelines of “PIRLO, PIRLO” soundtracking the morning.
When the event was over and Andrea was being shepherded back to the minibus, he even peeled away to the fans behind the barricades to take more selfies with fans which just showed what a class act he is, never wanting to disappoint those who’ve turned out to see him.
At the same time as this event, Shannon Gomez and Ronald Matarrita were at another community event – more on that on the site in the coming days…
The Home of Emelec
Onto the afternoon and the players got their first glimpse of the newly redeveloped Estadio George Capwell as they trained under the lights.
Before all that, Patrick Vieira and David Villa faced the media and Patrick was hugely impressed with the stadium, comparing it to the Premier League stadiums he’d played in for Arsenal and Manchester City in his playing days due to the fans’ close proximity to the field.
Aesthetically, it bears a resemblance to Boca Juniors’ La Bombonera with its sharp vertical inclines, standing bleachers and boxes of seats.
A number of supporters from the morning events were present for the session and got another opportunity to get pictures and autographs from the players after training and once again, Andrea showed just how much he cares about his fans as you’ll see in the clip below.
After, the players were all given traditional Ecuadorian Panama hats with the two teams’ crests on – a lovely touch ahead of what should be an incredible game on Wednesday night.
This will be the final journal entry for this leg of preseason but we’ll return with more from Tucson next week!
Look out for the live stream of tonight’s game, as well as highlights and reaction here on NYCFC.com shortly after full-time.