PATERSON, NJ- During their playing days Carlos Valderama and Julio Uribe led their teams to victory in some of the largest soccer stadiums across the globe. On Saturday, the men, known better as “El Pibe” and Uribe, brought their talents to Paterson’s Baurele Field.

The rain did nothing to dampen the spirits of the nearly 500 fans who turned out to watch these beloved players show off their skills, which, even with decades passed since they were at the pinnacle of their legendary careers, looked as sharp as ever.

While the match itself, pitting Colombia against Peru, was a celebration of past soccer glory, the Saturday exhibition was, for local leaders, much more about what many hope is the future of Paterson.

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Offering a reminder that while on the campaign trail he spoke often of monetizing sports as one form of economic development for Paterson, Mayor-Elect Andre Sayegh said that the ability to secure such a high profile match brings “legitimacy” to the city. Pointing out that construction of an indoor soccer arena and the rehabilitation of Hinchliffe Stadium are two items on his list of goals once in office, Sayegh offered confidently that residents can expect to see more of these types of events in the future.

Hosted jointly by the Colombian American Good Will Association, led by Alex Irizarry, and 5th Ward Councilman Luis Velez, the exhibition raised funds that will be used to help build a school in the poverty stricken La Guarjira department of Colombia, and was, according to Velez, “a total success.”

Asked why the players chose to come to Paterson Irizarry said that it was because they knew of the work being done to support families in Colombia, and that their visit would be well received in New Jersey’s third largest city, one that is recognized well beyond its borders for its diversity which leads to an appreciation of the sport that doesn’t exist in other part of the state, or the US.

“None of these players live in the US,” Irizarry said, yet all were willing to come be a part of “making this dream come true.”

For Velez, that dream started in February when he visited Colombia and began working to put the match together. He said that he was “proud” to bring the teams to the city’s 5th Ward, and that he hopes to bring more of these types of events to Paterson. “This is the start of something good,” Velez said. 

Offering thanks to Paterson Schools Superintendent Eileen Shafer, Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, and DPW Director Manuel Ojeda, Velez pointed out that the sporting event was only possible through the type of collaboration that will be key to continuing to “move Paterson forward.”

“This match sent a message,” Velez claimed after the final whistle blew. By showing what can be accomplished, Velez continued, “we are changing the perception of Paterson.” And that, he concluded, will help increase moral.

Even with the constant drizzle and 1-0 outcome in favor of Peru, TAPinto Paterson couldn’t find a disappointed fan in the crowd, many of whom stuck around well after the match ended gathering autographs and selfies with the players.

Admitting he was surprised to hear the teams would be visiting Paterson, 22-year old city resident Kevin Mota, cheering for Colombia, said that the match was “good fun” to watch. It was “nice,” he said for the players to come and to bring the community together.

Andrew Fernandez, 17, pacing the sidelines throughout the match at the ready to make sure play resumed quickly if any balls went out of bounds, said that it didn’t “feel real” to be watching players he called “legends” right in his hometown. The PCTI student who hopes to go to Montclair State University or Rutgers University, believes that his city “can be greater” and hopes that after his education in a sports related field is complete he can find a career in Paterson.

The match was also special for the players themselves according to Valderama who told TAPinto Paterson that he and his teammates “loved” coming to Paterson and playing for a vibrant Latin community. 

“It gave us satisfaction to come here,” he said through a translator as fans jostled to get closer to him. “We are happy to be able to give such hope and happiness.”