April 17, 2013
By Michael Lewis
Inter, Real Madrid, Juventus, Galaxy confirmed for Guinness International Champions Cup in July, August
MIAMI -- This summer, high profile international soccer returns to the U.S. with an interesting twist. Instead of playing stand-alone games that might not mean that much in the longer run, teams from Europe will have something to play for in the Guinness International Champions Cup.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s Real Madrid is one of the teams confirmed for the Guinness International Champions Cup.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Eight teams are slated to compete in the event, which will be held in seven venues and cities from July 27 to Aug. 7. The competition includes one game in Europe, which could be the tournament opener on July 27.
Traditional European powers Real Madrid, Inter Milan and Juventus already have committed to play, along with Major League Soccer side the Los Angeles Galaxy. Tournament officials hope to complete negotiations with four other clubs and announce them and further details of the tournament within two weeks.
Each team will be guaranteed a minimum of two games with the four semifinalist competing in three matches. Every team will play at Sun Life Stadium outside of Miami. The competition will begin with first-round matches in San Francisco and Phoenix out west and in Indianapolis and a European city in the eastern sector. New York and Los Angeles will host semifinal encounters on Aug. 3 and 4 with the the fifth- and seventh-place matches at Sun Life on Aug. 6 and the third-place game and final on Aug. 7. Fox will televise one semifinal and the final live, and will show other matches on a delayed basis.
No decision has been made about a semifinal stadium in the New York area, although Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. has to be considered a leading candidate, while Yankee Stadium is also in the mix, said Relevent Sports CEO Charlie Stillitano said.
Stillitano, a former New York/New Jersey general manager who has been promoting international soccer games in the summer for the past decade, said interest by European teams as participants has "been very good, too good, in fact."
So, tournament officials have set the proverbial bar high for teams interested in competing. Criteria includes having teams won their domestic cup or league title in the past year, having them won league title at least 20 times or having secured the UEFA Champions League crown at least three times.
"So, we're looking at teams that have this rich heritage and fundamentally we're trying to kept it at a very high standard," Stillitano said.
Added Matt Higgins, the CEO of RSE Ventures, the sports, entertainment and technology company founded by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross: "This tournament will set the gold standard for club soccer in the United States."
Ross has been the driving force behind the tournament.
For international exhibitions, specific teams might be better suited for particular cities. Not so in this tournament’s semifinals.
“It’s quite an expensive endeavor,” Stillitano said. “when you make it a tournament, you have to give all the teams a certain amount o games. You’re setting up match-ups that aren’t interested by interest in a particular city. You hope.”
For the European teams, it's a perfect opportunity to prepare for the season, which could include the domestic grind and perhaps playing in the Champions or Europa League.
This will be Real Madrid's 14th tour of the U.S. since 1927, although many of those appearances have been over the past two decades.
"When you play for Real Madrid, yo have to win every match," said Real general manager Emilio Butragueno, who was known as "The Vulture" during his playing days with the Madrid team. "Playing in a tournament is going to give something extra. As we like to win, we'll do our best."
Butragueno, admittedly "a great basketball fan," remembered when the Boston Celtics and Larry Bird played the Real Madrid in the eighties during the National Basketball Association team's pre-season and the excitement that legendary side caused in Spain's capital.
"It was something unbelievable for all of us," he said. "Everybody remembers that game in Spain. So having the chance to watch the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, [Iker] Casillas, I think that is amazing for soccer fans here in the United States."
Inter GM Marco Branca said the tournament will be part of his team’s pre-season preparation for Serie A, which is expected to kick off at the end of August.
Inter usually starts its pre-season some six-seven weeks prior to the first official match, at the beginning of July at a mountain retreat for 15 days. The players perform in two or three light matches before taking one a European opponent in a more competitive environment before journeying to the U.S.
"All of the three matches will be high-level matches," Branca said. "We when we are back in Europe, if we have to play preliminaries for the Europe League or Champions League, we are for sure, ready with the right matches."
(Juventus, which is considered the Yankees of Italian soccer, was not represented at a special press gathering here).
In contrast, the Galaxy will be in the middle of a busy season and should be in top form. That busy season includes the CONCACAF Champions League again.
Galaxy president Chris Klein admitted that the tournament was "an issue. It's something that we've recognized. I would in Bruce's [Arena, the coach] case, although he would say its not ideal -- he certainly understands. We do these every year, whether its one, two or three games. For us and what we're trying to do, it's something that's very that's very important."
The Galaxy will have an opportunity to show the world it can be competitive.
"We certainly as the Galaxy, take that very seriously as being the most successful team in our league," he said. "We have a responsibility to represent MLS ina positive way. . . . We take pride in our performance and how we do and the event we put on for our fans."
The Galaxy made sure the team had time off for international friendly as LA isn't scheduled to play any games from July 28 through Aug. 11.
"It's a double-edged sword," Stillitano said. "We want to specifically give this opportunity to MLS and the Los Angeles Galaxy. I think they will do quite well. Nut now its suddenly different. It's not , 'OK, we've played a friendly match.' Now its suddenly they’re going to be budged because people all over the world are going to say, 'I saw that match on TV and boy, the LA Galaxy played well or they didn't play well.' It's a great opportunity for them to be involved in this."
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As title sponsor of the Guinness International Champions Cup, the brand’s Guinness Black Lager will be the featured beer at all the tournament matches.
"Guinness & Co. is a well-known supporter and champion for sports around the world and we are very excited to be involved with such a groundbreaking international soccer event here in the United States," Guinness branf director Doug Campbell said. "To so many, soccer is more than a game and we have always celebrated Guinness beer as being more than a beer. We are excited to bring the brand's refreshing tasting Guinness Black Lager to thousands of passionate adult sports fans to enjoy, responsibly, this summer during the Guinness International Champions Cup."