“This is huge,” Mayor Christian Price said in announcing a major event.
“We are in the process of bringing an international soccer team to the city of Maricopa,” he said.
Deportivo Saprissa is a three-time winner of the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) Cup and the national championship team from Costa Rica. Saprissa was named CONCACAF’s Team of the 20th Century.
Price said its preseason appearance in Maricopa would draw national and international attention from businesses and fans.
At Tuesday’s meeting of the Maricopa City Council, Price introduced local businessman Peter Cockle, instrumental in bringing the team to town at the end of June.
Cockle said Sapressa will play two teams during their preseason training in Maricopa. One is a professional team from San Diego and the other a team comprised of players selected from Arizona. He said each game is expected to draw 6,000 fans.
When the Saprissa team leaves Maricopa, it will travel to Denver to play in front of 70,000.
“Where we think football is big in this country, soccer – professionally and internationally – dwarfs the NFL,” said Price, a lifelong soccer fan.
The mayor said he related the Saprissa visit to a business associate from Mexico. “He said, ‘That’s incredible. Coming to Maricopa?” His friend said he would expect his extended family and their entourage of 300 people from Texas to travel to Maricopa to watch El “S” play.
Juan Carlos Rojas, president of Deportivo Saprissa, appeared via video to introduce the club to Maricopa. He said the team’s stay in Maricopa would include coaching clinics, pro combines and summer camps.
“We are very glad to be visiting the Casa Grande and Maricopa communities for Saprissa’s preseason,” he said.
Cockle said the training camp is just the beginning of his plans. For one thing, it is not just a one-off event. “They’ve committed to three years. So they’ll be here next year; they want to play more games next year,” he said.
He said he is working to draw soccer fans from all over the state and build local support.
“If all goes well and the community buys into this, in January 2017 we will have our own professional soccer team here in Maricopa,” he said.
Cockle said pro teams that have trained at Grande Sports World in Casa Grande were unhappy with having to travel to Tucson for games. He suggested they come instead in Maricopa. He said they want to be involved with the Saprissa training next year.
“This is really going to put Maricopa on the map,” he said.
The plan is to have the training and games at Maricopa High School’s Rams Stadium. That deal includes a donation to the MHS soccer program. Cockle is partnering with Maricopa Unified School District, the city and businesses in Arizona and worldwide.
“This is what it takes. It takes creative thinking, outside the box, finding a vision and looking for a way to say ‘How do we make this happen?’” Price said.
Plans are still coming together, and the mayor said, “We have a long way to go.”
Cockle invites businesses interested in sponsorships or tickets to contact him at email@example.com.