Finding meaning in the International Champions Cup


It is just a friendly. That is what I kept telling myself as I approached matchtime yesterday en route to FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. There wasn’t three points on the line in a league competition nor were these teams regional foes in the D.C. area (unless you count pubs in during Champions League match days). No Wednesday’s math between Manchester United and FC Barcelona was just a glorified training expedition filled with $85 dollar tickets, nameless players taking the pitch, and advertisements.

While all of this may be true and has certainly been spoken about ad nauseum there is something that is missed when one discusses these matches: they are actually kind of fun. Not fun from the standpoint of there is something on the line but fun in the same way one views a spring training match in baseball or an All Star Game in any sport. The stakes are relatively low (a chance to win the International Champions Cup and possibly raise one’s own Q score). But beyond that there really isn’t anything riding on this competition aside from a title and teams getting the chance to sell their product.

The great Tim Vickery once encouraged listeners on the World Football Phone In to take the subway to a match to see and feel the passion of the supporters, to get a sense of the culture. FedEx Field provided me with such an opportunity yesterday afternoon pushing the media parking lot to the Gray Lot, about two miles away from the stadium. Getting to walk past supporters is not something that I normally do during matches. The clubs that I cover regionally, D.C. United and the Washington Spirit, have media parking spots that are awaY from the supporters. Occasionally in United’s parking lot I will get the chance to hear one of the supporters groups with their drums post-match but normally I leave too late to be exposed to that.

Wednesday’s match was different though. As I walked to the stadium I got to see supporters of all ages and backgrounds tailgating, getting prepared for the match ahead. Music was playing, the grills were cooking, and kids were creating small five aside games to pass the time. There was a sense of community that one would not expect from a match featuring two teams from Europe. But that seems to be the part of the soccer culture here and it seems to be for the better. While many of our reporter brethren were huddled around Thomas Vermaelen to poll his thoughts on Neymar possibly leaving FC Barcelona my co-reporter Isadora and myself were marveling at the kids elated over having picked up signatures on their shirts from their favorite players.

What value does the International Champions Cup have? It is really yet to be determined. If the value is to create a tournament that matters then it will not suceed. But if organizers views success as being one that galvanizes more people to watch soccer in this country and to become interested in the product then it may find its niche. It wasn’t long ago that a quality soccer match in the summer was going to USAir Arena to watch the Washington Warthogs play an indoor match and hopefully score enough goals to win a free pizza. At times it feels as if we have become a bit jaded in how view these sort of matches. Perhaps it is the pomposity that the organizers use in describing this tournament. But it feels as if we sometimes miss the beautiful moments in the beautiful game just to make some political point. While there are certainly many reasons to be skeptical of tournaments like this and their value in the long-term there are still some benefits. And to think that anyone wouldn’t have wanted to see a match like this when they were children is kind of hard to believe.

If there is one thing that seemed a bit sad about this match was the lack of presence from the two local soccer teams: D.C. United and the Washington Spirit. Walking through the stadium parking lots one could see a steady stream of jerseys outside of the two participants. There were Chelsea jerseys, Club America jerseys, Real Madrid jerseys, U.S. Men’s National Team jerseys, even some Newcastle jerseys  (as a Magpies supporter I will have to say that one puzzled me as the team hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire over the last sixty years and those wearing the jerseys were all pre-teens). But not one D.C. United or Washington Spirit jersey. Oddly enough the only Major League Soccer jersey that I saw was that of a Seattle Sounders jersey. It is certainly possible that many of the Manchester United and FC Barcelona supporters are in fact United or Spirit supporters on any other day to not see one local soccer team represented among the 80,000 should certainly give their respective ownership groups a pause.

The larger impact of this particular match and this particular tournament is unclear. But if it further makes a dent into getting more fair-weather fans and in particular kids interested in the game then it certainly bears value. There’s nothing wrong with having a friendly exhibition whose sole intention is to get people interested in the game. The question is now how can it be tied to the local game so it is not just a July sideshow.






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