International Champions Cup

Starting on July 27, eight of the world’s most storied and victorious soccer clubs will battle it out in a single-elimination tournament held mostly throughout different American venues, culminating in the championship match on Wednesday, August 7 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens. Some of the big name ball clubs at the tourney are Real Madrid (which boasts the world’s second highest of ALL sport teams and is arguably the world’s most recognizable sports club); Juventus (Italy’s oldest and most successful club with 31 Serie A championships); Chelsea (current Europa League champion and has the world’s fourth highest payroll of ALL sports clubs) and the L.A. Galaxy (defending back-to-back MLS champions). The other four clubs are Everton F.C. (who has spent its 111 years in the top division of the Premier League, which is longer than all other Premier League clubs); Valencia (six-time La Liga champion); A.C. Milan (18-time Serie A champions); and FC Internazionale (has always played in the Italian league’s top tier, Serie A, since its inception in 1908 and has 18 Serie A titles).

The seventh-place, fifth-place, third-place and championship match will be played at Sun Life Stadium on August 6-7 in a rare opportunity to witness high-caliber sports franchises from Europe and America. They will face-off in a must-see for all South Florida soccer fans and sports junkies.

While it is not breaking news to anyone that soccer is not an overwhelmingly popular sport in the United States, soccer’s American fanbase and viewership is growing rather quickly. U.S. viewership of the World Cup Final has gone from 11.1 million in 2002 to 17.0 million in 2006 to a whopping 24.3 million in 2010, and the average attendance for a Major League Soccer (MLS) game in 2012 was higher that of the NHL and NBA. Considering how much soccer’s popularity in the United States had grown, soccer’s governing bodies decided it would be best to facilitate this growth and thus started the World Football Challenge, predecessor to the International Champions Cup.

The first World Football Challenge was a four-team tourney in 2009, featuring eventual-champion Chelsea from England’s Premier League, Internazionale and AC Milan from Italy’s Seria A, and América from Mexico’s Primera División. The second World Football Challenge in 2011 was substantially different and featured many more teams from America, Mexico, Canada, Italy, England, Spain and even Portugal. With 13 teams to deal with in total, as opposed to four in the last tournament, it was strange that each non-MLS team only played three games instead of vying for the much more exciting single-elimination tournament. Teams received three points if they won the match in regulation, two if they won in a penalty shootout, one if they lost in a penalty shootout, none for losing in regulation and one point for each goal scored (with a three point maximum from goals in each match). In the end, Real Madrid tied Manchester United with 17 points, but Real Madrid was awarded the title since they had a higher goal differential (goals scored minus goals allowed throughout the tournament) than Manchester United by one.
The 2011 World Football Challenge did not follow any real balanced format to decide who would win the 11-team tournament. Real Madrid was given the honor as champions again since they were the only team to win all four of their matchups in regulation, but they were also the only team to play four games at all. In fact, 7 of the 11 clubs only played one game! This tournament was obviously not taken very seriously, considering the relatively tension-killing three match, points-style tournament in the first two iterations and the lack of any format in the last iteration. Thankfully, the World Football Challenge was mercifully killed in August 2012 so it could be replaced with something more balanced and exciting.

This is where the 2013 International Champions Cup comes in and spices things up. The three-game, points tournament is still here, but there is now a bracket to place more of an emphasis on wins. All tied matches at the end of regulation will be decided by penalty kicks. Two points would be awarded for a win, and one would be awarded for losing by penalty kicks. Losing in regulation nets a team nothing. In any case, this new format will help to build tension with every round and top it off with a championship match, unlike the World Football Challenge.

The International Champions Cup figures to improve soccer’s popularity and perception in the United States. Spectacular World Cup coverage has helped to increase soccer’s popularity immensely despite the U.S. team consistently disappointing the fans. Major League Soccer (MLS) has also done a great job improving their talent base and trying to replicate the feel of European League soccer by allowing ties at the end of games, using upward counting clocks that do not stop even when play on the field has stopped and accepting advertisements to be placed on the front of players’ jerseys. In a sense, the International Champions Cup is an elaborate tool to further expose the United States to soccer and help further what the MLS and World Cup have done to help American soccer, by showing Americans some of the best clubs the sport has to offer in person. It is a bold move, but it is also a wise one.

Email Jonathan at ebankj9770@gmail.com. 

Jonathan Ebanks :