This summer, a wealth of English Premier Clubs will visit the United States and stage friendlies against each other, as well as against selected Major League Soccer, Mexican, and South American clubs. These matches will be staged in cities across the United States and in front of big crowds.
It’s an attractive proposition. Most American sports fans know that the best players in the world play in countries outside of the United States. Clubs with famous names like Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea carry great weight in the soccer world and even extend to casual fans and some non-fans.
So are these exhibition matches worth your sporting dollar?
I don’t think so.
I’ll have an opportunity to see one of these matches this summer, as my travels will take me to the Pacific Northwest at the same time that Chelsea FC visits Seattle. While the Sounders will open up the upper deck of their stadium for the game, and sell many tickets, past history of these matches have shown that they feature less than great competition.
The Sounders hosted reigning Premier League champions Manchester United in July 2011 and was defeated in 7-0.
Barcelona’s substitutes in their highly anticipated Washington, DC match against Manchester United in 2011 included several members of their “B” team that plays in Spain’s Second Division.
Generally speaking, the games have shown a reduced pace that would be expected from athletes playing in a pre-season, exhibition match.
We’ll be spending our soccer-viewing money on better options in the Pacific Northwest with a visit instead to the Portland Timbers’ home grounds. We will also see our hometown Atlanta Silverbacks (North American Soccer League) play several times this spring and summer.
While the quality of play and quality of athlete in MLS and the NASL is certainly lower than what a European club can bring, the viewing experience in both of these instances promises to be far more intimate and will likely feature athletes playing at full speed – attempting to win matches, advance league position or advance their own careers.