Guinness International Champions Cup: Soccer Alive in America
By Tom Blanton
Last year, the United States welcomed European giants Real Madrid, Chelsea, AC Milan, Everton, Juventus, Inter Milan, and Valencia to its shores for the inaugural Guinness International Champions Cup (GICC). The Los Angeles Galaxy was the one American team involved, raising the number of participating clubs to an even eight. Accordingly, given the big names, the tournament drew a sizable amount of media attention, not to mention an average attendance of over 41,000 per match. Each club played only three opponents, with Los Blancos winning the tournament. The Blues came in second, and the Rossoneri third.
It was quite a spectacle for U.S. fans, which had become somewhat exhausted with the international friendlies commonplace during the American summer. Clubs never play as aggressively when nothing is at stake. During last year’s maiden tournament, Madrid received $1 million for finishing on top. The prize money gave the clubs something to fight for, and it showed in the matches’ starters. Likewise, the participants were prestigious clubs with long legacies, which forced each to utilize the elite of their squads. It all made for a good show in a country that boasts soccer as its fifth most popular sport (as opposed to being the most popular in a majority of the world’s countries.)
This summer will see the second edition of the tournament, which boasts clubs of even higher-caliber than last year’s. Real Madrid and Inter Milan return, accompanied by Manchester United and Roma in Group A. Olympiacos, Manchester City, Liverpool and AC Milan will face each other in Group B. Despite lacking an MLS team this summer, the lineup – which was announced in early February – is hair-raising for American fans, and includes four of the top-ten richest football clubs of 2013.
The tournament will allow Yanks the opportunity to see Wayne Rooney take on former teammate Cristiano Ronaldo, and Mario Balotelli battle Luis Suarez. Not to mention all the other renowned goal-scorers each club boasts – Daniel Sturridge, Gareth Bale, Stephan El Shaarawy, Robin van Persie, Sergio Agüero, etc.
Madrid, Milan, Olympiacos and both Manchester teams will be competing in the second leg of this year’s UEFA Champions League’s “Round of 16” this month. Should one of these teams make it to the final, and come out victorious, U.S. enthusiasts will have the opportunity to see this season’s elite European team.
Over 492,000 fans attended last summer’s ten-day tournament throughout the seven participating venues, a number that proves the potential and fan-base is present in America. With the more illustrious names involved in this year’s tournament, the draw should be even more remarkable. The U.S. soccer market is ever expanding. Those behind the birth of the GICC seem to know exactly what they’re doing, and if they continue to present such high end clubs each year while simultaneously expanding the tournament, it could turn into a sought after pre-season competition.
This year’s tournament kicks off on July 26 with Roma against United in Denver, and Madrid sparring Inter in Phoenix. Other matches will take place in Philadelphia, Chicago, Charlotte, Washington D.C., Pittsburgh, Dallas, Minneapolis, and New York City. It will culminate on August 4 in Miami, with the winner of each group fighting for the cash prize.