Last night’s match between Chelsea and AC Milan was another exciting evening in the World Football Challenge tournament. Off the pitch, it was another sold-out crowd, 71,000. And on the pitch it was another extremely exciting night of football. This was nothing close to a friendly.
What has struck me so much about watching these games is the level of intensity that all of the teams have shown as well as the speed of the attacks, especially Chelsea, and the tenacity that teams have displayed to win the tournament. The quality of football on display has been extraordinary.
While I’ve been surprised at how competitive and entertaining the tournament has been, I’ve also been pleasantly surprised at the transformation that Chelsea has undergone. Many of the players seem reborn. Didier Drogba, especially, who has gained pace and seems more committed than ever to come charging out of the starting blocks when the new season kicks off. When Manchester United play Chelsea in the Community Shield in early August, Fergie’s boys better be ready for a new Chelsea who are playing attacking one-touch football which is attractive to watch.
In the meantime, from someone who was at the game in Baltimore last night, here’s a first-person account of his experience written by Vernon Balanza:
Chelsea’s stop at Baltimore was a continuation of their highly successful tour of the United States. This match was also a complete success for the city of Baltimore, who showed that they are more than worthy of hosting a World Cup or any high profile soccer match in the future.
Chelsea supporters came from all over the US for this match. I saw a few members of the New York Blues Chelsea supporters club arrive by Amtrak to Baltimore Penn Station. I also spoke to two Chelsea fans that drove from Indianapolis just for the match. Another woman drove up her family from Raleigh so her little boy could watch his heroes in blue in person. The light rail car I was on before the game was full of Blues supporters. Although I did see a smattering of people sporting AC Milan gear, Baltimore was truly bleeding blue.
There were also a decent number of people who supported other clubs who came out to the game. Many of these fans could not resist the chance to watch two top teams play each other right without having to break the bank and fly overseas. Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, West Ham, Aston Villa, AS Roma, Bayern Munich and Boca Juniors were some of the jerseys that could be seen at the game.
The atmosphere was electric at M&T Bank Stadium. The crowd exploded when Didier Drogba scored that beauty of a rocket in the seventh minute. They cheered on Seedorf’s goal thirty minutes later. This crowd shattered the stereotype that the typical American sports fan only cares about the goals. They cheered hard on every time Ronaldionho made a great move to escape a defender. Cech was applauded every time he made a great save. Not only was everyone in the stands was hungry for high quality soccer, but they were also hungry for the merchandise. The lines to buy merchandise at all four of the stores by the gates were very long.
The only drawback during the game was the PA announcer at M&T Bank Stadium. He fumbled the player introductions before the start of the game. He also kept doing announcements while the teams were playing. I understand that announcements need to be made, but it should have been done when the ball goes out of play. It was a small blemish to an otherwise great match.
It is worth mentioning that Baltimore did a fantastic job rolling out the red carpet for the all the visiting players. Every bar and restaurant in the Inner Harbor did their part to welcome all the visiting fans. There was a great buzz in the streets about this game. Even the Baltimore light rail got in on the act! The signs for the light rail read “Welcome Soccer fans” in both English and Spanish.
Even though Chelsea won the match 2-1, the game of football, the fans in attendance and the city of Baltimore were all the real winners yesterday.
Thanks to Kyle Gustafson for the above photograph from the Chelsea v AC Milan game. For more pictures, visit his blog.
Chelsea now face Club America in the final of the World Football Challenge on Sunday at 7pm ET in Arlington, Texas. Tickets are still available for the game. The game will also be televised on ESPN2.