Prepare yourself for an European soccer invasion this summer of epic proportions when some of the top teams in the world will descend on North America for lucrative preseason tours.
The mouthwatering list of teams scheduled to play matches in North America includes Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, AC Milan, Manchester City, Juventus, Valencia, Glasgow Celtic, Fiorentina, Benfica, Paris Saint-Germain, Glasgow Rangers, Sporting Lisbon, Bolton and other European teams. All of the Italian teams will play in late May and early June, while the other eight European teams will play in July.
The timing of the preseason tours after the World Cup ends is genius. The promoters will be hoping for a massive increase in interest of the sport thanks to the bounce it’ll receive after the World Cup ends. Plus it’ll be a perfect opportunity to expand the club’s coffers and popularity Stateside. And, at the same time, the proximity of North America to Europe is very convenient especially given the shortened window before the European seasons kick off again.
Some of the highlights of the preseason friendlies include Rangers against Celtic at Fenway Park, Manchester United against the MLS All-Star team (to be confirmed) and both Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur playing in the inaugural New York Football Challenge.
But the hoopla about the summer tours should be worrying for fans of Major League Soccer. After the World Cup ends and most American residents have been hopefully swept off their feet by ESPN’s coverage, the logical place for those fans to watch their soccer will be on ESPN for the 2010-11 seasons. And the league most likely to get the highest ratings boost is the Premier League especially when you consider that the league consists of some of the top players from around the world that sports fans will see throughout the World Cup tournament. Hopefully the US men’s national team will do well and advance through the tournament, which will be a big boost for MLS. However, if the US team stumbles and falls out of the tournament during an early stage, there is little for fans of MLS to pin their hopes on other than to watch top footballers who ply their trade in other leagues around the world.
At the same time, another worrying aspect for Major League Soccer is that very few people in the States are going to pay any attention to the league between June 25-July 11 when the World Cup is showing an average of 3 games per day on live television while Major League Soccer has 24 games scheduled during that timespan. Plus as we saw in the summer of 2010 when the World Football Challenge was the center of attention among the soccer community in the United States, very few people will be interested in the 21 MLS games playing between July 14-31 when the likes of Manchester United, Celtic, Spurs, Benfica, Valencia, Man City and other teams will be center stage (albeit with weaker teams than usual because players will be resting after the World Cup). Still, most of the games featuring those teams will sell out.
I would argue that the 45 MLS games between June 25 and July 31 will be a blur for the majority of soccer fans in the United States. In fact, for the majority of soccer fans in the United States, that five week spell of 45 games (representing 10% of the entire season) will be absolutely meaningless. But in fairness to Major League Soccer, what are they supposed to do? They have a business to run and they insist on playing a Spring to Autumn calendar. But seriously, it would be best for Major League Soccer to not play at all during the World Cup and, instead, work with soccer promoters to jump on the bandwagon and schedule double-headers of a MLS game followed by a friendly featuring international teams.
The last thing I’ll mention is that it’s very likely that a few more high profile European teams will announce more preseason tours this summer. It’s a healthy sign for soccer fans in the United States that the sport is finally taking off. For too many years, Asia has been the preferred destination for top European teams. But now, finally, North America will have its turn to bask in the sunshine.
Here’s the list of the 14 European teams playing in North America this summer including the games that have been announced thus far:
- Manchester City (v Portland Timbers, Merlo Field (University of Portland), Portland, Oregon, July 17 (season ticket holders only); v New York Red Bull and Sporting Lisbon, Red Bull Arena, Harrison NJ, July 22-25 (tickets); v Club America, Georgia Dome, Atlanta, July 28 (tickets); v Inter Milan, M&T Stadium, Baltimore, July 31 (tickets).
- Manchester United (v Celtic, BMO Field, Toronto, July 16 (tickets); v Philadelphia Union, Lincoln Financial Stadium, July 21 (tickets); v Kansas City Wizards, Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, MO, July 25 (tickets); v MLS All-Star team, Reliant Stadium, Houston, July 27 (tickets); v Chivas, Guadalajara, Mexico, July 30).
- Tottenham Hotspur (v San Jose Earthquakes, Buck Shaw Stadium, San Jose, July 18 (tickets); v New York Red Bull and Sporting Lisbon, Red Bull Arena, Harrison NJ, July 22-25 (tickets).
- Bolton Wanderers (v Charlotte Eagles, Restart Field, Charlotte, North Carolina July 14 (tickets); v Charleston Battery, Blackbaud Stadium, Daniel Island, South Carolina, July 17 (tickets); v Toronto FC, BMO Field, Toronto (tickets).
- Portsmouth (v Club America, San Diego, July 17; v Edmonton Select, Edmonton, July 21; D.C. United, Washington D.C., July 24).
- AC Milan (v DC United, RFK Stadium, Washington DC, May 26; v Chicago Fire, Toyota Park, Chicago, May 30; v Montreal Impact, Olympic Stadium, Montreal, June 2)
- Fiorentina (v Montreal Impact, Saputo Stadium, Montreal, May 23; v Juventus, Rogers Centre, Toronto, May 25); v AC Milan, Olympic Stadium, Montreal, June 2)
- Juventus (v Red Bull New York, Red Bull Arena, Harrison NJ, May 23; v Fiorentina, Rogers Centre, Toronto, May 25)
- Valencia ( v New England Revolution, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Aug. 3; v DC United, RFK Stadium, Aug. 7 or 8]
- Sporting Lisbon (v Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City, Red Bull Arena, Harrison NJ, July 22-25 (tickets; v Glasgow Celtic, July 21 Fenway Park, Boston)
- Glasgow Celtic (v Manchester United, July 16 or 17, BMO Field, Toronto (tickets); v Rangers, July 21, Fenway Park, Boston; v Toronto FC, BMO Field, Toronto; v Philadelphia Union, July 14, PPL Park, Philadelphia; v Sporting Lisbon, July 21 Fenway Park, Boston)
- Glasgow Rangers (v Celtic, July 21, Fenway Park, Boston; v DC United, RFK Stadium, Washington DC, July 24, v Club America, Dallas Cowboys Stadium, July; v team TBD, Miami, July; v team TBD, New York, July)
- Paris Saint-Germain (v Chicago Fire, Toyota Park, Chicago, May 19, v Legia Warsaw or Red Star Belgrade, May 22)
- Legia Warsaw (v Red Star Belgrade, Toyota Park, Chicago, May 19, v Chicago Fire or Paris Saint-Germain, May 22)
- Red Star Belgrade (v Legia Warsaw, Toyota Park, Chicago, May 19, v Chicago Fire or Paris Saint-Germain, May 22)
For the updated list of Premier League teams on preseason tours this summer, visit EPL Talk’s Preseason Friendlies page which will be updated all summer long courtesy of EPL Talk blogger John Boschini.