Since Chesterfield acquired River City Sportsplex in 2016, the 105-acre athletic facility has hosted thousands of athletes, coaches and families for a variety of sports tournaments.
It has never come close, however, to the atmosphere that existed there Wednesday night.
With thousands of fans singing, blowing horns, pounding drums and waving flags from start to finish, two Central American soccer clubs competed in the first FIFA-sanctioned international friendly ever held in Chesterfield.
After surrendering a goal 15 minutes into the match, CD Olimpia from Honduras rallied to beat CD Aguila from El Salvador 3-1 in the first leg of the 2023 El Clasico Centroamericano.
Following the final whistle, as players from both teams exchanged handshakes and hugs, fireworks briefly lit up the night sky along Genito Road.
“This was a blast,” said Jimmy Murillo, the event’s organizer and promoter. “We couldn’t have asked for more.”
The clubs will play again Friday in Virginia Beach and Sunday in Manassas.
For Chesterfield, Wednesday’s event was a unique opportunity to both bring international soccer to the Richmond region – home to a rapidly growing Latino population – and continue to showcase River City Sportsplex as a high-quality event venue.
“River City is the hub for soccer in the region, and to have our residents and visitors experience the highest level of soccer right here in Chesterfield shows the power of sports tourism,” said J.C. Poma, the county’s director of sports, visitation and entertainment.
Sports tourism remains a major driver of commercial activity in Chesterfield – particularly at River City Sportsplex, which has generated $276.5 million in economic impact for the Richmond region since 2018 and made the county one of the most sought-after destinations on the east coast for sports-related events.
During fiscal year 2022, Chesterfield hosted 63 such events that included 253,000 attendees, generating $34.4 million in direct economic impact and $1.3 million in local tax revenue through an ongoing partnership with Richmond Region Tourism.
Chesterfield already has booked 83 sports events for fiscal year 2024, which began July 1.
“Sports tourism is a multibillion-dollar industry in the U.S., and an important part of our ongoing work to diversify Chesterfield’s tax base,” said Clover Hill District Supervisor Chris Winslow, an avid soccer fan who traveled to Charlotte, N.C., earlier this month to watch two group stage matches in the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
One featured Honduras’ national team, which beat Haiti 2-1 with a roster that included 10 players from CD Olimpia.
Winslow came to Wednesday’s friendly – a soccer term for an arranged exhibition match – straight from the Board of Supervisors’ monthly business meeting, accompanied by Dr. Joe Casey, county administrator. Both were impressed by the players’ skill and speed, as well as the ceaseless enthusiasm of the fans, many of whom were clad in either the orange and black colors of CD Aguila or CD Olimpia’s red, white and blue.
“The atmosphere was electric,” Winslow added. “As we invest in enhancements to this facility, I look forward to Chesterfield hosting more events like this in the future.”
The $540 million bond referendum package that was approved last November includes funding for construction of four more fields (for a total of 16) at River City Sportsplex and other upgrades to the visitor experience, such as the creation of terraced seating on the large hill that overlooks Field 9.
“With the unprecedented improvements planned, I am confident our residents will see a national spotlight shine on River City Sportsplex and our continued commitment to making Chesterfield a great place to live, work, play and stay,” said Poma.
Asked why he chose Chesterfield to host central Virginia’s leg of El Clasico Centroamericano, Murillo noted the “beautiful” facility, but also the hospitality and cooperation he received from county staff when he first inquired about booking River City Sportsplex for the event.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time and the way the county treated me, they’re No. 1,” he said. “It’s amazing. I feel like I’m home.”