The Wide World of Sports
France defeated Croatia 4-2 as hundreds of festive fans filled most of the field at the soccer stadium. The Orange County Soccer Club, the professional team that plays its home matches at the stadium, hosted the morning event. There were lines for food trucks, face painting and free soccer balls, and many attendees dressed in the colors of their favorite teams. Those in the red, white and blue of France enjoyed the experience the most, but the event was a huge success. Given the excellent attendance, next time a higher definition and larger screen would be welcome for the crowds further from the scoreboard screen.
On the same weekend as the World Cup, the best softball players in the world were in Irvine competing at the inaugural USA Softball International Cup. Held at the Bill Barber Memorial Park ball fields, the USA Red team won the tournament with a 10-5 win over Japan on the final Sunday, finishing the event undefeated. The USA Blue team took bronze, defeating the team from China. Many Southern California women competed in the tournament, including on international teams. Irvine’s own softball superstar and two-time Olympian Natasha Watley was one of the coaches.
The U.S. National Softball Team next heads to the WBSC Women’s Softball World Championship in Chiba, Japan, the winner of which will qualify for the Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020.
Irvine is also the center of the U.S. Swimming scene the last weekend in July, when emerging swimming superstar Caeleb Dressel is expected to show off his speed (and his Speedos—he recently signed a deal with the swimwear company) at the Phillips 66 U.S. National Championships. The meet takes place July 25-29 at the William Woollett Jr. Aquatics Center, where a 3,000-seat grandstand has been constructed for the Irvine swim meet.
The aquatics center has hosted multiple U.S. National and Junior National Championship events, including the 2010 Pan Pac Championships. Insiders and swim fans won’t be surprised to see records fall at the event (the meet occurs after this edition of Irvine City News goes to press), both U.S. and possibly world records, too.
Dressel, who is called the fastest swimmer on the planet, won seven gold medals at the 2017 World Championships, has two Olympic gold medals, and was the first swimmer to break the 40-second mark in the 100-yard freestyle and the first to go less than 18 seconds in the 50-yard freestyle. He also holds seven American long and short-course records. His deal with Speedo reportedly includes financial incentives for record-breaking, so expect big things from the 21-year-old phenom—in Irvine, as well as at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
Katie Ledecky is also expected to excel in Irvine. The five-time Olympic champion smashed her 1500m freestyle world record by five seconds at a meet in May where she also swam the second-fastest 400m freestyle ever, after her own world record in Rio.
Other world-class and world-champion athletes expected at the meet include Missy Franklin, Lilly King, Simone Manuel, Chase Kalisz and Ryan Murphy.
Irvine’s prominence as a sports destination is certain to accelerate as more fields and venues debut at the Orange County Great Park Sports Park. The 2018 and 2019 NAIA Men’s Soccer National Championships will be held at the Orange County Great Park Soccer Stadium, with the college championship tournament running Nov. 26-Dec. 1.
The softball and baseball fields and stadiums are debuting soon at the Sports Park, with five fields dedicated to softball, including a championship softball venue with seating for 500 spectators. The baseball complex will include seven fields, including a championship stadium with seating for more than 1,000 spectators.
No doubt these fields of dreams will be the venues of choice for championships in the future.
And toward the end of 2018 or early 2019 the incredible new Great Park Ice and Sports Complex will debut, Irvine’s new $100 million frozen ice facility. Great Park Ice will include four ice rinks—three National Hockey League-sized ones and one that’s designed to Olympic dimensions, and will include the FivePoint Arena with seating for 2,500 spectators.
The 280,000 square-foot community ice and sports facility will no doubt be a destination for national and international competitions, as well as recreational skating, hockey, curling, broomball and other “cool” sports.