By Jose M. Romero /@RomeroJoseM
For Fox Deportes
To those who for some reason still don’t think soccer can make it in the United States, go on down to Yankee Stadium on Aug. 8.
You won’t see the New York Yankees. And if you buy a ticket, bear witness to a soccer field marked off on the grass of the ballpark. Then watch two of the soccer club giants of the world face each other, Real Madrid of Spain vs. AC Milan of Italy.
World-class soccer in the U.S. has been played every summer since 2009 (except for 2010 due to the World Cup), or maybe you were just too busy to notice. That’s OK. The World Football Challenge brings some of Europe and Latin America’s best teams to the U.S. and Canada for friendlies against each other or Major League Soccer clubs.
The foreign teams typically use these matches to tune up for their own regular seasons, while expanding their fan base in North America. The domestic clubs get to play the world’s best in front of huge crowds, a treat for many players who have dreamed of such an opportunity.
Plus the MLS clubs and venues get to generate revenue from ticket sales from thousands of fans who will pay to see their favorite players and teams. Everybody involved, even the average fan, wins.
Sure, there is baseball, and this year, maybe the Olympics will keep you at home. But let’s say you can’t make it to Italy, England, Spain or France – or even Torreon, Mexico – to see Chelsea, Liverpool, Real Madrid, Paris-Saint Germain or Santos Laguna. Chances are, you don’t have too far to go to see those teams in person. And you definitely don’t have to go abroad.
The 2012 WFC started on July 18 when UEFA Champions League winner Chelsea played the Seattle Sounders of MLS in Seattle. The big-money foreign clubs tend to dominate these matches against largely inferior talent, as was the case that night in Chelsea’s 4-2 win. But the teams are aware that the fans pay to see the stars, so fans in Seattle got a look at the future and present of the English Premier League club while also watching longtime stars like Frank Lampard, Michael Essien and Petr Cech play.
Chelsea will also take part in the MLS All-Star Game (not a part of the WFC) when it faces the MLS All-Stars Wednesday at PPL Park in Chester, Pa. The riverside stadium is the home of the Philadelphia Union.
Paris-Saint Germain is part of the WFC for the first time. After a draw at Yankee Stadium against Chelsea on July 22, PSG is in Washington D.C. on July 28 to play DC United of MLS. PSG is one of the most interesting teams to watch, as fans in the nation’s capital can expect newly-acquired mega-stars Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva to take the pitch for the big-spending French side.
In Las Vegas on Aug. 5, Santos Laguna, the most recent Mexican Primera Division champion, faces Real Madrid, the Spanish champ this past season. It was a treat to see Cristiano Ronaldo play in Philadelphia as part of the WFC last July, and Real Madrid is full of stars.
The last match of the WFC is on Aug. 11, Real Madrid vs. Celtic of Scotland at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
But well-known international clubs aren’t limited to competition in the World Football Challenge. AS Roma of Italy faced Poland’s Zaglebie Lubin on the hallowed ground of Wrigley Field in Chicago on July 22. Aston Villa of the EPL played the Chicago Fire Saturday and plays at Portland, Ore., Tuesday night.
Roma and Liverpool play Wednesday at Boston’s Fenway Park, and EPL sides Swansea, Tottenham Hotspur and Stoke City are also touring North America this summer.