A letter from America

Soccer being promoted in downtown DC.
Soccer being promoted in downtown DC. / R. Palmer
  • opinion

  • Attendances at the Real and Barça games Stateside this summer haven't flattered; that's because our American neighbours are much more knowledgeable than we give them credit for

It was an American voice that could sell the latest keep-fit equipment or Hollywood blockbuster.

"THE greatest soccer tournament this summer," he belted out from my taxi driver's radio before lowering his voice an octave "... on American soil."

Even I was tempted, a man who overdoses on football. Like most of the major European clubs, I'd escaped to the USA to prepare for the new season. Unlike them, I was here to learn rather than earn.

It really has been the thing to do in summer 2018. Everyone who is anyone has headed Stateside to educate the soccer fans over here. The problem is that there is now a whole generation that actually understands the game as well as any European.

I did think about treating the family to Real Madrid's high-profile International Champions Cup fixture at the wonderfully-named Hard Rock Stadium in Miami against Manchester United. That was until I checked out the prices. The cheapest ticket came to $78 with taxes and then parking was $40. Even a country that once imported London Bridge thinking it was Tower Bridge wasn't going to be taken in.

The only way it would have been useful would be to learn the identities of Real's more obscure squad players and some who will soon end up elsewhere. Only Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema stand any chance of making the opening day of the season and those who will actually get a squad number won't be seen until the early rounds of the Copa del Rey.

Barcelona, not to be outdone in the global beauty parade, also headed across the Atlantic. They courted controversy by taking the women's team too but sending them in economy. Those in the expensive seats needed a name check and not only by the cabin crew; Thirteen players from the B team padded out the travelling party.

At least the runout against Tottenham, themselves minus nine World Cup players, gave the new signings Malcolm, Arthur and Clément Lenglet a chance to get to know each other; even if they won't see much of the other team mates once they get back to Catalonia. The names of Munir, Jasper Cillessen and Sergi Samper are unlikely to appear in a Barcelona match day programme this season.

José Mourinho was blasted for claiming that he only had thirty per cent of his squad available but he was speaking the honest truth.

The guy on the radio commercial promised "megastar glamour and debutant mystery" when really it should have been "kids for a quid".

My beef isn't with the Americans, it is with the promoters who don't realise that the millennial generation has grown with the game and they watch our superstars over weekend brunch.

I can report that the game is thriving. The MLS All-Star game sold out the Mercedes Benz Stadium in Georgia. It's more difficult to get a ticket to see the local club Atlanta United than Real or Barcelona at home as they are selling close to 72,000 every match this summer.

I spent a week behind-the-scenes of Minnesota United, a humble club building their own "soccer-specific" stadium which will open in spring 2018. The fans have bought into the game and they will sell every available season ticket in the 23,000 Allianz Field which is a scaled-down version of Bayern Munich's Allianz Arena.

You see the Americans are learning and adapting the game. Big screens, hotdogs, pretzels and thankfully no cheerleaders.

My favourite discovery in Minnesota is that the new stadium will have a 'Brew Hall'. Nope, I'd never heard of one either? It's promised 93 different varieties of beer will be available every game. Now that doesn't need some voice-over guy to persuade me to buy a ticket!