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'World Football Challenge' joins crowded calendar
by Ridge Mahoney, March 25th, 2009 7AM

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During a conversation last week MLS commissioner Don Garber refuted a suggestion that the international calendar in 2009 was so crowded with World Cup qualifiers, Confederations Cup, and Gold Cup commitments there wouldn't be much room left for club matches. "Believe it or not, it seems the consumer has an insatiable appetite for international exhibition matches," said Garber. "There will be many, many played in the U.S. this summer, with [Guadalajara], Barcelona, Chelsea, [AC] Milan. It will be very busy."

Two of those teams, AC Milan and Chelsea, are part of a four-team, round-robin competition to be played in July that also includes Milan's archrival Inter, and Guadalajara's biggest foe, Club America. The schedule, released Tuesday, lists six stadiums, including the new home for the NFL Cowboys in Arlington, Texas, where Chelsea and Club America will play the final game July 26.

The "World Football Challenge" is not being promoted by SUM, the marketing arm of MLS, but rather CAA Sports, which is overseen by Creative Arts Agency. The CAA staff includes former MetroStars general manager Charlie Stillitano, who organized and ran the ChampionsWorld Series events in 2003 and 2004. In a teleconference call Tuesday, Garber said SUM and MLS were given a chance to work with CAA Sports on this year's event but declined.

"Considering this country's ever-growing enthusiasm for soccer, the World Football Challenge is an exciting way for us to introduce these world-class teams and their star players to a brand new fan base while giving existing American fans of international soccer a first-hand experience like no other," said Michael Levine, co-head of CAA Sports, in a press release announcing the games.

On hand in New York Tuesday for the official announcement were Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon, AC Milan organizing director Umberto Gandini, Club America president Michael Bauer, and Inter Milan technical director Marco Branca.

There is some overlap with events promoted by SUM, MLS and AEG: Milan kicks off its visit against the Galaxy July 19 and then plays three matches in five days against (in order) Club America, Chelsea and Inter Milan; Chelsea plays Seattle at Qwest Field July 18 prior to its three-game swing.

Some juggling of venues and dates were necessitated by the insistence that Milan play the Galaxy as a condition of David Beckham's extended loan and possible conflicts with the Concacaf Gold Cup, though Garber has denied Milan was ever considered as a possible opponent for the MLS All-Star Game July 29 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.

CAA will use M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore for its July 24 match (AC Milan-Chelsea) and will stage the AC Milan-Inter derby at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., July 26. Gillette is the only facility used by MLS that will host a World Football Challenge match.

The tournament begins July 19 at Stanford Stadium (Palo Alto, Calif.) with Club America playing Inter, which plays again two days later in the Rose Bowl (Pasadena, Calif.) against Chelsea. AC Milan faces Club America at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta July 22.

All six games will be televised on ESPN/ESPN2.

"The interest in soccer in the U.S. is higher than ever before and the proof is that these matches will be televised live on ESPN, the country's leading sports station," said Kenyon.

Tickets go on sale Monday.

WORLD FOOTBALL CHALLENGE MATCH SCHEDULE

Sunday, July 19
Club America vs. FC Internazionale Milano at Stanford Stadium (Palo Alto, Calif.)
7 p.m. EST on ESPN2

Tuesday, July 21

Chelsea FC vs. FC Internazionale Milano at the Rose Bowl (Pasadena, Calif.)
11 p.m. EST on ESPN2

Wednesday, July 22
AC Milan vs. Club America at the Georgia Dome (Atlanta, Ga.)
7 p.m. EST on ESPN2

Friday, July 24
AC Milan vs. Chelsea FC at M&T Bank Stadium (Baltimore, Md.)

8 p.m. EST on ESPN

Sunday, July 26
AC Milan vs. FC Internazionale Milano at Gillette Stadium (Foxborough, Mass.)
5 p.m. EST on ESPN2

Sunday, July 26
Chelsea FC vs. Club America at Cowboy Stadium (Arlington, Texas)
7 p.m. EST on ESPN2


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