HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii soccer fans got a chance to watch international soccer stars under the bright lights of Aloha Stadium Thursday night.
The tournament debut marks the first time in six years Major League Soccer and the Japan Professional Football League competed in Hawaii.
About 4,000 soccer fans cheered on the Vancouver Whitecaps from Canada and the Iwaki Football Club from Japan for the inaugural Pacific Rim Cup. It was the first of four matches in the two-day tournament.
The Columbus Crew from the U.S. and Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo from Japan also played Thursday night. All four teams will play again on Saturday.
Up front and center Thursday night were a thousand Hawaii kids who got to watch the match for free.
"It's kind of amazing that we get to see the game so up close…it's exhilarating. Just seeing the ball. Sometimes the ball is coming right at you…the game just comes to life," said Kaiser High School senior Danielle Georgia.
Another 1,000 kids will also get to enjoy Saturday's matches for free, thanks to the investment company, Prospect.
"We thought about it we said, we don't do much business in Hawaii and the only way to make it worthwhile is to give the tickets to the kids and we did a deal where we got 2,000 kids to come for free…we have 1,000 coming today and 1,000 more on Saturday," said president for the company, Curtis Freeze.
Pacific Rim Cup officials say they sold 11,000 tickets so far which is more than they were expecting.
"It's awesome. It took me six years to plan and execute this. So when the players went out onto the field and they kicked off the first game, I couldn't really describe how happy I was," said tournament director Takehiko Nakamura.
Thursday's matches mark a comeback for Aloha Stadium after an embarrassing turf battle in 2015. Thousands of fans were disappointed when the U.S. Women's National Team canceled a game against Trinidad and Tobago because of the field's poor condition.
Stadium officials said it has since spent more than one million dollars to upgrade the turf.
The Whitecaps won the match with a dramatic penalty kick for the 1-nil victory. The U.S. team lost to Consadole Sapporo, 3-2.
Nakamura hopes the Pacific Rim Cup will become an annual event attracting even more countries.