Think back to a time when there were no preseason tournaments, no trophies to play for on baseball fields, and clubs simply resorted to friendlies against cupcake opponents as way to get ready for the season. How dull!
Thanks to the International Champions Cup (ICC), Los Angeles became the latest of US cities to host the newest — and really the most compelling — of preseason competitions. On Saturday night, it did not disappoint.
Four teams from four countries — Real Madrid, Juventus, Everton, and the hometown LA Galaxy — offered fans an entertaining night of soccer and, more importantly, the unique opportunity to see their favorite players in the flesh. While some preseason fixtures fall flat due to teams’ unwillingness to trot out their best sides, the International Champions Cup delivered.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Tim Howard, Andrea Pirlo and Landon Donovan all played at least one half to the clear approval of the fans. Every Ronaldo step-over was greeted with a rising ensemble of “ooh’s” and “aah’s.” USA chants rang out every time Howard touched the ball, and ladies in every section fainted at the sight of Pirlo’s herculean beard (okay, that last part was made up. Maybe. You really can’t be sure.)
The fans’ enthusiasm at Dodger Stadium was heard and felt throughout the night, and the players returned the favor with some fine showmanship. Ronaldo’s bravado was on full display, Howard made some truly outstanding saves, and the late consolation match between Juventus and LA was a high-energy affair thanks to LA taking the play to the Italian champions. In other words: the fans most definitely got their money’s worth.
The tournament also provided some unintentionally funny moments; Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez celebrating his goal against Gigi Buffon as if it was a World Cup final; the referee getting booed mercilessly for cutting a half 30 seconds short; Real Madrid’s Kaka — merely a rotation player now — receiving by far the loudest cheers of the night. It were those quirky moments within the competition that reminded us it’s still the preseason (well, except for LA). Yet, they also added to the charm of the International Champions Cup.
In the end, there will be one champion lifting up a trophy. But to the fans, the media, and maybe even some of the players, Saturday night could be summed up by one thought: is the preseason supposed to be this much fun?