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Baltimore City

‘A worldwide event happening in Baltimore’: Soccer fans celebrate arrival of Arsenal, Everton for Saturday’s match

Five days into her life, one of the newest residents of Carroll County found herself wearing an Everton onesie.

Carsyn Rosenthal was born July 6, and within days, her parents, AJ and Dallas — Maryland natives and Everton fans — arranged for a picture to be taken of their now-four-person family, including 2 1/2-year-old son Cooper, all in Everton attire.

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The English Premier League team will play league foe Arsenal in an exhibition match at 7 p.m. Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium, and for the Rosenthals, that will cap a surreal week. AJ is the president of the Baltimore Toffees, the local Everton supporters’ group, and he’s helped organize a few events that will take place around the first international match in Baltimore since 2015 — only 10 days after his daughter’s birth.

The Everton and Arsenal teams arrived in the U.S. on Monday and Wednesday, respectively, with Everton staying and training in the Washington area, while Arsenal is spending its time in the Baltimore area. Their match and its fanfare, including a block party and a march to the stadium Saturday, has created a fun-filled week for the region’s soccer fans, particularly for locals loyal to either side.

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“It has been insanely busy here for me the last two weeks, but honestly, I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” AJ said of the week that his daughter arrived and Everton came to town.

AJ, a longtime Everton fan, and Dallas traveled in 2018 to Liverpool, England, to watch an Everton rivalry game. Nowadays, early on Saturdays, Cooper and AJ, and sometimes Dallas, watch their favorite club. This week, Dallas used a cutting machine to help craft a homemade onesie for Carsyn, christening her as an Everton fan.

“[Cooper] likes to get all of his gear on to go play soccer with his little soccer goal with AJ while they watch the matches,” Dallas said, “so just kind of getting Carsyn her own little uniform to start out so she can start being part of those traditions and routines with the family is good.”

In Baltimore, the Premier League teams’ visit is especially welcomed following last month’s news that the city was passed over as a host site for the 2026 men’s World Cup by FIFA, the governing body of international soccer.

“The city kind of took a hit and a black eye by not getting the World Cup,” said Simon Torres, the co-leader of Baltimore’s Arsenal supporters’ group.

After Baltimore lost out to other North American cities, Terry Hasseltine, the executive director of the Maryland Sports Commission that oversaw Baltimore’s bid, challenged fans to pack M&T Bank Stadium and sell out the Everton vs. Arsenal match to show FIFA “they made the wrong decision.”

The game will not be a 70,000-seat sellout at the home of the Ravens — the upper end zone sections will be closed — but it will attract thousands of soccer lovers to downtown. Leaders of local fan groups said people are coming in from several states, including Alabama, California, Georgia, Illinois and Texas, as well as from countries such as England and Australia.

“It really, truly will be a worldwide event happening in Baltimore,” Rosenthal said.

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Mike Kavanagh, co-leader of Baltimore’s Arsenal supporter group, hopes to retire to England in a couple of decades and placed himself on the Arsenal season ticket list 20 years ago. He was recently awarded season tickets, and since he still lives in Wyman Park and not London, he sells them to other fans for now.

Of course, it’s convenient when his favorite team comes to him, rather than the other way around.

“It’s such a badge of honor to be hosting this in our town and getting to show off the city,” he said.

Soccer matches at M&T Bank Stadium have had varied attendance over the years. The 2009 Chelsea v. A.C. Milan match drew a sellout of 71,203, while 42,723 came out for a friendly between Tottenham and Liverpool in 2012.

More than 70,540 watched the U.S. men’s team in the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football Gold Cup quarterfinals in 2013, and then 37,994 attended the same event on a 91-degree day in 2015.

Everton manager Frank Lampard was a vice captain for Chelsea when the club played 13 years ago at M&T, which he called a “fantastic stadium.”

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“I just remember how we got very welcomed,” he said Thursday.

Everton hasn’t had a chance to explore the region, Lampard said, and its activities this week have primarily consisted of training and a few players getting “soaked” by Tuesday’s thunderstorms.

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Center back Michael Keane said he tries to get to know the U.S. a bit when he’s stateside. In 2019, while vacationing in California, he received an Instagram message and an invitation to meet from a nearby Everton fan. They went to a bar, and Keane later got his hair cut by the fan, a barber, and played soccer with the fan’s 6-year-old son.

Everton players might have an opportunity to meet some fans and will likely see some sights in Washington after the match, but Keane admitted he doesn’t know much about Charm City.

“The Baltimore Ravens rings a bell in the head,” he said.

Last year, Arsenal placed fifth in the 20-team Premier League, while Everton finished 16th, dodging relegation to a lower division. Saturday’s exhibition is each side’s first of the 2022-23 campaign and it won’t count toward any standings. If the match is tied after 90 minutes, it will end in a draw.

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“I’m not sure anybody will be flying in for the tackles too hard with it being our first game,” Keane said, “but it’ll definitely be competitive.”

Former Team USA goalkeeper Tim Howard, an Everton ambassador, is among those in the area for the match. He was scheduled to spend time with youth soccer campers Friday afternoon and then with fans at a bar Friday evening. He said he’s also looking forward to seeing “some sights by the water,” eating some crab cakes and visiting with friends in Baltimore.

“Yes, it’s about the 90 minutes,” Howard said of the match, “but it’s also about the culture of the city of the people who travel in and get to experience what Baltimore is.”


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