If you are a US soccer fan who has never been to Wembley or the San Siro, you may want to pick up a ticket to the forthcoming World Soccer Challenge as some rather high profile teams from the Old Country come stateside to showcase their skills, drum up some merchandise sales, and reconnect with the emigrants.
Having borne witness to Chelsea-Club America two years ago at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, CA, I came away with 3 etched-in moments of observation:
1) Upon gazing upon the field, it is abundantly clear that European–English specifically–soccer players are decidedly “bigger” than their American counterparts — obvious as football is the sport of choice across Euroland. I had no idea that Frank Lampard could double as the 49er tight end.
2) In the early 2nd half, Chelsea forward Didier “I play when I feel like it” Drogba decided to dazzle the crowd with a strike from 25 yards out. No, the shot didn’t go in, but the sound of it hitting the crossbar is one that gave the crowd a moment of pause before applause and one that I will never forget.
3) Jose Mourinho is a coach like no other — clearly relishing the spotlight, preening for the cameras in either minted slacks and sport coat or tracksuit right out of the plastic–and making the game as much about him as his team.
In fact Mourinho, known as The Special One, is in for the return as his new team Inter Milan who kick off the tourney Saturday in Palo Alto about 1 hour before the U.S. takes the field in Philly.
With Club America in the house, you can surely expect some fireworks…in the stands that is. Two years ago saw the Club America superfan section lit up a blaze so bright that soccer moms nearly made for the exits.
Despite, the fireworks, the exhibition, which will see the European teams playing at about 85% effort level is a chance to see professionals manage a game who have arrived at the pinnacle of their sport with a completely different upbringing–one that favors the glory of the beautiful game and for the American youngsters out there the precision and expertise of the first touch.
If one takeaway should be made this time around, it’s watching the precision with which the Italians and the Spanish (who come in the form of Champions League hero FC Barcelona) manage the ball immediately upon reception and how that ability transcends to a different game.