This is a great time of the year in the United States. The final four of Champions League soccer is being piped in during mid-afternoon across this huge country.
On Wednesday Americans got to see Messi break down Bayern Munich with two killer strikes, three minutes apart, as Barcelona won, 3-0, at home in the Pep Guardiola Bowl – his current team (Bayern) against his old team (Barça).
On Tuesday, Juventus held off Real Madrid, 2-1, at home, as described so well by Sam Borden in the Times. I enjoyed watching old hands like Buffon, Pirlo and Chiellini, who sported a bandage and a bloody jersey -- and Suarez was nowhere in sight.
(Euro calcio scribes dispatch with first names; everybody knows the players, or is supposed to. Fact is, American tifosi recognize the manic features of Buffon, who has been a staple of our lives for two decades. We know this stuff.)
Next week the teams play again and the final is June 6 in Berlin. Pubs and restaurants will be jumping in New York as fans celebrate the true rite of spring.
The big question is: how far can the growing sophistication and demand for soccer go in the New World? We do know that European clubs are thrilled to make money here. In July the master impresario Charlie Stillitano will import some of the best squads for the International Champions Cup -- what amounts to pre-season training. (That’s right; these blokes will be whacking away in two months.)
But how long will American fans, with their discretionary income, be willing to serve as out-of-town tryout audiences, like spring training baseball fans in Florida and Arizona, or theatre-goers watching plays before they reach Broadway?
Americans are getting the hang of world soccer. The New York Times dispatched Sam Borden to Europe to add to what Chris Clarey and Rob Hughes have been doing. Americans know all about master schnorrer Sepp Blatter of FIFA. (Check out Bloomberg’s big piece on Blatter.)
Every four years, American fans must settle for their plucky Last Picture Show national squad. Major League Soccer is growing its product correctly. I think the time zones over the Atlantic are a barrier to having a Boston team or a New York team playing in a top European league. But money can make anything happen, I suppose.
It’s been a huge transition in the past generation, just having the top clubs show up in our summer. In 2001, Bayern won the Champions League on a Wednesday night in Milan and flew home for a parade in Munich on Thursday and celebrated with no sleep until the flight to Newark on Friday for a Saturday night exhibition.
Bayern scraped together eight starters from the final but their legs and brains were shot by the time they wobbled onto the field in New Jersey. The hideous MetroStars won the exhibition, 2-0 – and over 30,000 fans showed just to watch the best players in the world, hung over. More recently, Bayern has opened a New York office. You think they’re not serious?
I knew the appetite for American money was growing when Sir Alex Ferguson deigned to lunch with American soccer writers before a rake-in-the-bucks swing in 2003. The extroverted Dutch striker Rood Van Nistelrooy told a charming story about getting into a coed pickup match in North Carolina the summer before and finally being recognized by a female opponent.
Footy in the Colonies! In 2011 I covered a Liverpool-AC Milan match in hallowed Fenway Park. And I used to watch Champions League matches in BXL, Foley’s, and the late, lamented L’Angolo in Greenwich Village.
We Americans have learned a bit in recent decades. But will we ever really be part of world football? Or will we remain well-heeled consumers rather than participants?
5/4/2015 05:11:38 am
So right, George. This is a magic time for fans of the Champions League. If you live in the USA you can see more soccer on television, from more countries, than if you lived anywhere else on the planet. We can see the top games every week, not only from the UEFA Champions League, but for the national leagues of Spain, England, Germany, France, Italy and many other countries. Unfortunately, that's not always a good thing for MLS. It forces a comparison where MLS does not usually come out looking to good. Slow and steady growth is probably a good business plan. But the product needs to keep improving. On the other hand, if the Italian league keeps declining as it has been of late maybe MLS will begin to look better in comparison.
5/4/2015 05:20:26 am
As for the summer cash raid tours to the USA by European teams, I continue to be amazed at the extent to which American fans will spend lots of money to watch what are, as you point out, the equivalent of spring training games. They are already hyping Barcelona vs. Manchester United in Santa Clara in July, conveniently forgetting to point out that Messi, Suarez and Neymar will very probably not even be with the team, let alone play, after having played for their countries a few weeks before in the Copa America in Chile. As American fans continue to become ever more sophisticated I think the popularity of these kinds of games ought to diminish.
5/4/2015 05:46:58 am
John, that is true. I did see Neymar v Messi in the Meadowlands 3-4 years ago, mid-summer, Brazilian fans singing in the parking lots, etc. But you never know who will play. There was an Argentina friendly in NJ recently and I heard about an Argentina-born man who went to see Messi, in vain. Stars get extra time to recuperate in July....so you may see a physio or a junior player filling a uniform. That's the thing about being a road-show stop.
5/6/2015 11:14:29 pm
In Israel, Messi’s theatrics were broadcast at close to 12AM. I was awoken by my 10 year old’s shrieks and saw them in a daze before crawling back to bed. I wonder...if Barcelona is soccer’s equivalent of the Yankees can I readily root for them still?
5/7/2015 12:44:36 am
Dear Mendel: Truly a Talmudic question. I would say, as a non-expert in La Liga, that Real has won 32 titles and Barca 22 -- and that Real represents the Castilian segment of "Spain" and Barca the Catalan portion of "Spain." Probably, Real is more the Yankees.
5/7/2015 09:38:26 am
George, truly a Talmudic answer. We will rely on your Solomonic analysis and root for Barca and the Mets. My sons will be most reassured.
5/7/2015 11:00:34 am
Mendel, nobody needs reassurance to root for the Mets.
Comments are closed.
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.