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August 26, 2016

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‘Vibrant’ crowd at MLS exhibition renews hope of Las Vegas franchise expansion

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Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau

San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Anibal Godoy takes a photo with fans after their California Clasico game against the Los Angeles Galaxy Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016 at Cashman Field.

California Clasico at Cashman Field

Soccer fans take photos before the California Clasico game between the Los Angeles Galaxy and San Jose Earthquakes Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016 at Cashman Field. Launch slideshow »

MLS Exhibition Game: 2/13/16

Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Robbie Rogers attempts a throw-in during the 53rd minute of an MLS exhibition match Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, at Cashman Field. Launch slideshow »

Two of Major League Soccer's most storied franchises brought an age-old rivalry to Las Vegas on Saturday night, and Sin City's fans responded accordingly, in big numbers.

Under the bright lights of Cashman Field, a target venue for Las Vegas' dream of an MLS expansion team, Los Angeles Galaxy forward Gyasi Zardes scored on a header in the 27th minute to lead his team to a 1-0 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes.

The game, though nothing more than a glorified scrimmage, felt "almost comparable" to a regular season matchup, Zardes said, thanks to the involvement of an animated Las Vegas crowd of nearly 7,500.

"The crowd was phenomenal," Zardes said after the game. "Very vibrant."

The Galaxy striker, who debuted with the United States men's national team in 2015, wasn't the only one to praise the Cashman atmosphere Saturday night.

Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said he was "impressed" with Saturday's turnout, adding that he could see Cashman suitable for an MLS team if the venue expanded.

"They'd have to build a stadium," Arena said after the game.

Joel Cortez, 25, a Las Vegas native, attended Saturday's exhibition after also attending last year's exhibition match between the Earthquakes and the Colorado Rapids.

Cortez called Saturday's crowd "100 times better" than last year's, thanks in part to a renewed desire among local fans for an MLS franchise in Las Vegas.

"I think a lot of people were deflated last year when they made the announcement that MLS wasn't coming here," Cortez said. "But you can see the impact of the game on our community and how much people care about soccer."

Cortez said the matchup between two California teams also didn't hurt.

"Two big-name teams and both nearby, that's a good way to draw a big crowd," he said.

Yamisleidy Hernandez was one of hundreds of fans who drove from the Golden State for Saturday's game.

Waving a flag with the San Jose Ultras fan group, Hernandez said the venue presented a preseason atmosphere as good as any she's seen in three seasons traveling to cheer on the Earthquakes.

"This is definitely big for a preseason game," Hernandez said. "Not something you see everyday."

As popular players such as Robbie Keane, Stephen Gerrard and Chris Wondolowski stopped to sign autographs for screaming fans after Saturday's game, Polo Ascencio, the vice president of promoting company Champions Soccer, folded his arms and looked on with satisfaction.

"I'm extremely happy, and I hope this is just the start of something big with Vegas," Ascencio said. "It'd be nice to at least have these teams back next year."

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