FORT WAYNE -- Two years ago, Terry Stefankiewicz was chatting with former Indiana University soccer coach Jerry Yeagley, who said, "It's time to step it up. Everybody knows you have college and club and high school teams at the Soccer Festival, but you've never had a pro team. Go get 'em."
So Stefankiewicz set out to get a professional team and succeeded; the under-23 Chivas Guadalajara team will play two games this year at the Shindigz National Soccer Festival.
"I like the fact that it creates an international flavor," said Stefankiewicz, the festival's founder.
"We're drawing a different crowd. We've gotten contacted by Hispanic people from Indianapolis and all over. And the fact that it's nationally televised has given it an extra little zip.
Chivas will play Notre Dame at 7 p.m. Thursday at Hefner Field, and Saturday's 7 p.m. game between Chivas and Indiana will be on FOX Soccer Channel.
While the Chivas top-tier club would be like the New York Yankees of Mexican soccer, this is more like their AAA-level team.
"They are professionals and have been playing for a long time," said Miguel Navarro, who founded a local youth club, International FC, and liaised between Stefankiewicz and Chivas.
"These players are part of the club. The name has a lot to do with the excitement. But they have a long list of professionals. We want to see a good game with good players, pros, and that has never happened before in the Fort Wayne area."
No one is quite sure what kind of crowd to expect for the Chivas games, but 2,500 extra seats were brought in, for a seating capacity of about 4,700. There have been games at Hefner Field that Stefankiewicz believes had standing-room only crowds of 8,000.
"An event is always a risk for everyone, especially for the people who invest. I'm trusting myself that it will go fine. If it sells out – and I think it might – we'll have to do another event like it," said Navarro, who is already trying to get European pro teams for next year.
Stefankiewicz has a budget of $160,000, with $30,000 going to Chivas.
There will be a new, permanent three-story high scoreboard at Hefner Field, which will play host to games Thursday through Saturday. (On Sunday, there will be games at Trine University)
Security has also been heightened.
"We have created a 6-foot high fence around the perimeter of the field," Stefankiewicz said.
"We've hired additional policemen and squad cars, in anticipation of greater numbers. We don't think there will be any (safety) problems, but we want to make sure none occur."
Famed former Chivas player Chava Reyes, who played in three World Cups and scored 122 professional goals, will be signing autographs throughout the festival.
There is heightened excitement around the National Soccer Festival and the belief that this has been the next logical step in making this event one of the best in the world.
"What does having Chivas do for us? It punctuates all the hard work," Stefankiewicz said, after learning that the National Soccer Coaches Association of America's CEO, Joe Cummings, was flying in because he wanted to see the event and meet with the organizers.
"Fort Wayne has supported this thing for over a dozen years now and people know about us. It becomes easier and easier for us to draw teams into the city."