Soccer

The Beautiful Game

Soccer, Football, Futbol? No matter what you call it, it really is a beautiful game. I’ve come to appreciate it more in recent years.  You can complain that there’s not enough scoring and not enough action. But you can also call out quite a few negatives of our beloved American games.  Baseball? Too slow. Too long. Too many controversial balls and strikes. Football? Too many commercials. Too many penalties. Too many primadonnas. You get the idea.

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If you focus on the positives of soccer, the international sport should be just as popular in the US as our American-born sports.  Personally, I’d say there’s non-stop action and their athletes are just as talented as any other sport on the planet.  These athletes run non-stop and have feet as dexterous as our hands.

I’m still amazed that the US didn’t field a competitive team this year and therefore didn’t qualify for the World Cup. Maybe that’s why many loyal Americans dismiss the game. Our non-competitiveness on the global stage, combined with our “we’re better than you” attitude must mean that the game is not relevant, right?

Relevant.

That’s what soccer is fighting for in the United States. Relevancy. This global game dominates the sports scene outside of the US but struggles to find an audience in the lucrative US market. Maybe that’s why a European organization that touts the sport is called Relevent. And maybe that’s why this organization recently acquired BRC Group, the leading marketer and producer of Hispanic soccer in the United States.   And just maybe that’s why Relevent is producing the International Champions Cup throughout the world, with many matches here in the States this summer.

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Thankfully, this acquisition also resulted in an international friendly to be played here in Arizona. Enter Manchester United vs Club America, played at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale. One of the first events played since the recent merger of Relevent and BRC.

A last-minute decision had me and my wingman, Marshall, heading out to catch the international friendly. While ticket prices seemed high for this event, we knew they’d be easily acquired at the venue – but we didn’t realize just how easy.

After parking for free at Westgate, we made the quick walk to the stadium and were approached by a couple of scalpers.  Their offer? Lower levels for $60 each.  Not bad considering face value was about $90 including fees.  Still not what we wanted to pay.

Just outside the gates, a group of young fans, all sporting Club America jerseys covered in autographs, heard our call for tickets.  Their offer? Two lower bowl corner seats for $15 each. It wasn’t even worth a counter-offer. Sold!  Turns out, this group visited the Club America team hotel at the Camby to get their autographs and were generously comp’d tickets to the match.  Since they already had better seats, they decided to just dump these and we were the fortunate benefactors.

We entered just in time to see the teams take the field and the playing of our National Anthem.  Strange I thought, but I’ll leave that alone. Clearly, these matches aren’t in much demand. The 63,000 seat stadium was sparsely attended. The lower bowl had huge gaps in sections and they didn’t even attempt to sell the upper deck, except the lowest Ring of Honor section. With an announced attendance of 37,500, I think they are being generous. Considering Man U’s average attendance is over 75,000 people, I’d say this is a disappointment for them.

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Manchester United is arguably the most well-known and decorated soccer club in the world – with a rabid fan base that includes over 73M Facebook followers.  For comparison, the NFL’s Facebook leader is the Dallas Cowboys with 8.6M. Even Club America, which plays in the Mexican league has over 10M followers.

All things considered, the crowd seemed to be equal, but Club America clearly was louder.  Their cheering section behind the goal chanted and cheered while, literally and figuratively, beating the drum non-stop from start to finish.

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Early on, Man U dominated.  It looked like it would be a route with control and shots on goals heavily in the Red Devils’ favor, but they couldn’t capitalize. Club America, based in Mexico City, held on to keep the score tied at zero at the half.

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At the 60′ mark, a nifty header put America up 1-0 and the crowd went crazy. I even saw a beer flying through the air.  Thankfully, we weren’t near it. But what would you expect when your team, in yellow jerseys, are sponsored by Corona.  It was hard not to envision eleven beer bottles running around on the pitch.

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Before long, Manchester tied it up with their own nifty goal.  A header bounced off the post and back into play only to be slammed past the goalie at the 78′ mark.

One thing I really don’t like about the sport is that ties are allowed.  Why play the game if there doesn’t need to be a winner? At least in World Cup, they play overtime and go to penalty kicks if needed to determine the winner.

Sure, with ties we could all just stay home. But then again, what fun would that be?  The good news? After a 7:00pm start, we were surprisingly out of the stadium by 9:00pm! The time definitely goes by fast when the clock never stops.

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Do yourself a favor. Check out the schedule for the summer matches and make an effort to attend it. It’s a sport that deserves some attention.  Heck, even ADOT got into the spirit with their overhead signs touting “Defensive Driving is the GOOOOOOOOAL!”.

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Photo Courtesy: Arizona Department of Transportation

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