- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 6, 2005

After watching Chelsea play a dull 1-1 tie with AC Milan at Giants Stadium on Sunday before just 34,444 spectators, it seems to me these preseason tours of America by Europe’s finest clubs are losing their appeal.

Asked to spend $35 to $60 to watch these traveling shows, fans are staying home. Even a hardcore New York soccer writer confessed he had difficulty getting excited about the games. But a few years ago, crowds of more than 70,000 were turning up at Giants Stadium to watch clubs like Manchester United and AS Roma.

From an attendance point of view, the World Series of Football was a dud. Just 26,208 saw Milan play Chelsea in Foxboro, Mass., and 21,954 watched the Chicago Fire take on Milan at Soldier Field. D.C. United played Chelsea before 31,473 at FedEx Field, a venue that holds more than 90,000.

The games involving Major League Soccer teams were clearly the best of the tour, with the Fire and United putting on excellent displays.

Fans want to see the big European clubs, but these tours have to mean something. There needs to be a tournament schedule where teams compete for a place in a final game with the aim of winning a trophy and prize money. The tournament should be an annual or biennial event that fans and teams can look forward to and where a tradition can be established.

With a small group of teams dominating European soccer, trophies are hard to come by. Clubs want to play for silverware, even if it is a preseason event.

The Peace Cup, in Korea, is a good model. It has a tournament schedule and, after two finals (2003 and 2005), has established a tradition. Dutch champion PSV Eindhoven came to defend its 2003 title and was clearly disappointed when it failed. The title game, won by Tottenham Hotspur over Lyon 3-1, was a real bruiser as the clubs battled for a $2 million prize and the cup. There are plans to expand the event to 16 teams in 2007.

America’s soccer bosses should set to work on creating an established summer tournament involving MLS clubs and overseas teams, concluding with a championship game. Give it meaning and the fans will come out.

United notes — Following its 3-1 win over the Richmond Kickers this week, D.C. United will play FC Dallas in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Germantown on Aug. 24 at 7:30 p.m. In MLS play, meanwhile, United (8-6-5, 29 points) visits the high-flying Chicago Fire (11-7-3, 36 points) tonight.

MLS news — FC Dallas will open $80 million and 21,193 capacity Pizza Hut Park Stadium in Frisco, Texas, today with a match against the MetroStars.

This is the third soccer-specific stadium in MLS, joining Columbus Crew Stadium and the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., which is shared by the Los Angeles Galaxy and Chivas USA. Soccer stadiums already are planned for D.C. United, the Fire, the Colorado Rapids and the MetroStars. The Frisco venue will be the site of the MLS Cup in November.

Chelsea so rich — The London Times posed an interesting question recently: Could Chelsea’s second team win the English Premiership?

Chelsea’s Russian owner, Roman Abramovich, has spent $273 million on the team’s starting lineup, and the total cost of the second unit adds up to a whopping $158.1 million. That’s a lot for a second string of players. Manchester United’s first team cost $214.4 million, Liverpool’s $179.2 million and Arsenal’s $131.8 million.

All Beckham — Was I mistaken or was that David Beckham on the cover of ESPN the Magazine? The Aug. 15 issue is full of the English soccer icon. There are tattoo-revealing photos and quotes like “[Beckham] has a Zenlike contentment, an ability to flow elegantly through any situation.”

Yeah, and all we’re concerned about is whether Becks can “flow elegantly” through the Argentine defense at the next World Cup.

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