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Even diluted soccer visits from afar build the game

August 04,2018 11:21

Marketing communications aside, no one is that delusional about what these summer exhibition games actually represent. It's a chance for fans to see a favorite team in person, and maybe see a few known commodities alongside a few future stars.


Tottenham Hotspur beat AC Milan 1-0 at U.S. Bank Stadium on Tuesday. Well, it wasn't really Tottenham, exactly; Spurs were missing most of their big-name players, thanks to post-World Cup vacations for their best and brightest. Milan had more of its first-team players in the lineup, but very few fans were at the game to see the sixth-best team in Italy.
This sort of meaninglessness raises the hackles of some soccer fans, who accuse the clubs and the promoters of shaking down local fans by promising European giants and delivering reserve-team quality. But ultimately, everyone gets exactly what they expect — and ultimately, these exhibitions end up benefiting American soccer.
Marketing communications aside, no one is that delusional about what these summer exhibition games actually represent. It's a chance for fans to see a favorite team in person, and maybe see a few known commodities alongside a few future stars. It's European soccer spring training. Complaining about the quality of a Liverpool-Manchester United exhibition game at Michigan Stadium would be like complaining that the Twins and the Red Sox didn't take a Fort Myers game seriously.
There have been occasional suggestions of moving meaningful European games to other countries, but most of them have been laughed off. The Premier League once floated the idea of adding an extra game to its schedule, with the matches to be played at neutral sites around the world. This proposal was a favorite of league executives and club chairmen but was hated by coaches, fans, players and really everyone else who didn't stand to line his pockets with a cut of the TV broadcasting revenue.
A 39th game wouldn't feel that meaningful anyway, just as it wouldn't feel like a border battle if a Vikings-Packers game was played in Berlin. Liverpool and Manchester United fans would love to see an actual non-exhibition game between the two, but I suspect they'd want it to take place at Anfield or Old Trafford, not at Michigan Stadium. The atmosphere is part of why American fans of European soccer fell in love with their favorite teams in the first place. It's impossible to replicate that same match elsewhere.
This is where the main benefit to American soccer comes into play, and why soccer fandom isn't a zero-sum game. So many soccer fans in the United States were fans of teams in other leagues first but can't afford to fly to London or Barcelona or Mexico City every other weekend — and so end up following their local team. For one Tuesday, U.S. Bank Stadium was a quieter outpost of Tottenham's White Hart Lane home, but local fans who want real meaning and importance in their soccer will turn to their local teams. Soccer's no different from any other sport — being a fan of the local team usually ends up being the best option of all.
Online: startribune.com/soccer

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