Several of the world’s top soccer clubs from across the Atlantic are on U.S. soil preparing for their upcoming seasons. England’s Chelsea and Liverpool soccer clubs, France’s Paris Saint Germain (PSG), Celtic from Scotland, Santos Laguna of Mexico, Real Madrid from Spain and Italy’s Roma and AC Milan are all part of the 2012 Herbalife World Football (Soccer) Challenge.
The invasion includes more than 10 games among the teams and versus MLS clubs and an MLS All-Star line-up, staged mostly in baseball stadiums across the country.
One of the games on the schedule pitted Chelsea – which won the prestigious 2012 European Champions League and English FA Cup trophies – versus PSG last Sunday night at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. A crowd of 38,202 soccer fans turned out for what was a very exciting 1-1 draw as Yankee Stadium’ surface was transformed from its usual baseball dimensions to those that featured the rectangular lines that inspire soccer enthusiasts.
PSG struck first in the game through Nene in the 30th minute with Chelsea answering in the 82nd through Lucas Piazon, a new signee from Brazil. The Chelsea goal came on a splendid combination play between Ramires and Piazon, who picked up the ball at midfield, found Ramires streaming down the right wing; Piazon continued his run and got Ramires’ return pass in the 18-yard box and side-footed the ball first-time into the net.
Piazon won the man-of-the-match award for creating the equalizer, which was a fitting end to the highly technical and well-played soccer game.
Chelsea, which was scheduled to play the MLS All-stars at PPL Park near Philadelphia last Wednesday night, was involved another very exciting match with its 4-2 win over the Seattle Sounders in a sell-out crowd of over 40,000 fans; Liverpool FC and Toronto FC also played to a sell-out crowd in Toronto last Saturday in an exciting 1-1 draw.
The idea of these world class clubs coming to the U. S. for pre-season training is recognition by the worldwide soccer establishment that the sport has arrived here; it’s recognition that American fans know and appreciate the game and the world’s best clubs; it is recognition of the first class facilities here and an acceptance of the U. S. as an emerging world soccer power and the potential of MLS (Major League Soccer) to be a top-class league in the very near future.
Yankee Sadium is no stranger to hosting international soccer matches. I frequented the old Yankee Stadium in the 1960s to watch the home team New York Generals play in the American Soccer League, a league that predated the now defunct NASL (North American Soccer League). In those days, the afternoon event would feature a doubleheader involving the ASL teams then a feature clash between foreign clubs.
One such classic event I witnessed in 1968 pitted Pele and Santos FC of Brazil against Portugal’s Benfica FC, featuring the dominant Eusebio; the first game of the doubleheader was the New York Generals versus the Washing Darts in an ASL matchup. In 1968, Pele and Eusebio were considered the two best players in the world – No. 1 and No 2 respectively – and the crowd came out. The old Yankee Stadium, a smaller version of its present namesake, the home of the New York Yankees of Major League Baseball, hosted regular sell-outs for soccer matches in the ‘60s.
Among other stadiums hosting World Challenge games in the next three weeks are Sun Life Stadium (Miami Florida), which will host Chelsea versus AC Milan on Saturday, July 28; Sam Boyd Stadium (Las Vegas, Nevada), which will entertain Real Madrid and Santo Laguna on Sunday, Aug. 5; and RFK Stadium (Washington, DC), where PSG will take on DC United on Saturday, July 28.