When the CIS soccer schedule was released at the beginning of the season, Bisons coach Vanessa Martinez-Lagunas circled Oct. 9 on her calendar. On that Friday evening, Manitoba will host crosstown rivals the University of Winnipeg Wesmen at Investors Group Field.
The occasion not only marks a thrill for players and fans alike, but also features the first ever CIS match to be played at a former World Cup venue.
The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup featured seven matches at the stadium, blessing spectators with stars such as Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, Homare Sawa, and Asisat Oshoala.
The Bisons will be performing on the very same turf with their potential stars in the making such as Chloe Werle, Amanda Wong, and Bruna Mavignier.
Speaking ahead of the Bisons’ road trip to Regina and Saskatoon, Martinez-Lagunas was quick to comment on the motivation level of Manitoba and Winnipeg players alike in advance of the local derby.
“This is not only going to be special for us, but for their players because they are also going to get the chance to play in a World Cup stadium,” Martinez-Lagunas said.
“I’m pretty sure that’s going to increase our motivation level a lot and I wish we could get a lot of students supporting their respective teams in an amazing soccer environment like the World Cup.”
Martinez-Lagunas also commented on how the excitement of such an event can be an inspirational tool for young girls who grow up dreaming of playing professional soccer.
“Most of our young girls watched the World Cup games in that stadium. Now for them to see the university players playing on the same pitch that those top-level players played on, their dreams and aspirations become bigger,” Martinez-Lagunas said.
“They also want to become a player that plays a World Cup or professionally one day and I already have a few that want to be a professional in their minds.”
The prospect of facing a rival team also enhances the experience of playing in a distinguished venue.
For Martinez-Lagunas, having a rivalry doesn’t only mean fierce competition, but it also allows for both sides to establish a beneficial relationship in their respective developments.
“Both universities can do a lot to continue growing the game and to give more players the opportunity to play here at home at a higher level,” Martinez-Lagunas said.
“I’m really happy with the rivalry that both universities have. I think we need to help each other as much as we can to continue growing the sport and especially this event.”
A CIS match in an ex-World Cup stadium will also ideally attract hometown and foreign talent to consider pursuing soccer in Manitoba.
“It will help us keep many of our talents here in our province, because in previous years we have been losing our best talent to the U.S. Now we have a really strong program with great infrastructure and great potential,” Martinez-Lagunas said.
“Our top talents can now think of staying here to experience top-level soccer.”
The Manitoba Bisons host the University of Winnipeg Wesmen on Oct. 9 at 6 p.m. at Investors Group Field.