By Ridge Mahoney
MLS commissioner Don Garber stated a couple of years ago that the American market was “nearly insatiable” for international soccer, but in a recent interview he expressed concerns with how saturated the market will be this summer.
"Without doubt, this market, this soccer market is exploding and I'm curious to see how it all plays out this year because there's more content this summer than ever before,” said Garber in a recent interview with Soccer America editors in San Jose. “From an MLS perspective, we need to continue to focus on building a rabid fan following in our local markets for our clubs who now have a larger potential fan base to be able capture on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis, as opposed to these exhibitions which come and go.”
A crowded calendar next week in Southern California that includes the Gold Cup openers and club exhibitions as well as a USA friendly indicates just how varied and plentiful is the soccer on offer.
Galaxy home games against Columbus on the Fourth of July and FC Dallas three days later won’t be the only options for fans to be offered a menu as diverse as it is crowded. MLS games at the StubHub Center (formerly known as Home Depot Center) will be surrounded by competing events.
Argentine superstar Lionel Messi will front an international all-star match, “Battle of the Stars: Messi and 'Friends vs. The Rest of the World,” to be played at the Los Angeles Coliseum Wednesday. Fabio Capello and Zico will serve as honorary head coaches and the list of players includes Alex Song, Sergio Busquets, Javier Mascherano, Cesc Fabregas, Robert Lewandowski, Giovani Dos Santos and Robinho.
After the Galaxy’s Fourth of July game, San Diego takes center stage. In its final Gold Cup tune-up, the USA plays Guatemala in a friendly at Qualcomm Stadium Friday. The following day, Liga MX rivals Club Tijuana and Club America face off at Petco Park, the home of the San Diego Padres.
(A doubleheader involving four Mexican teams will be played in San Jose the same day that Xolos plays Club America. Cruz Azul plays Morelia and Guadalajara faces UNAM Pumas at the Quakes’ former home, Spartan Stadium. Elsewhere, Tigres and Puebla will face NASL clubs, meaning almost half the Liga MX will be in preseason action on the same day across the United States.)
The scene shifts back to the Los Angeles area on July 7, with the Galaxy-FC Dallas game (kickoff 7:30 p.m. local time) to be played right on the heels of the opening Gold Cup doubleheader at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Canada plays Martinique at 2:30 p.m., followed by Mexico-Panama at 5 p.m.
Garber and MLS are in a tricky position. The league’s marketing arm, Soccer United Marketing (SUM), is in the match promotion business and carefully avoids conflicts with its league matches. But it doesn’t control the market and any proposed match that is approved by U.S. Soccer is out of its purview.
At last count, 25 foreign clubs -- ranging from Chelsea and Real Madrid to Luis Angel Firpo of El Salvador and Xelaju of Guatemala -- are scheduled to play one or more exhibitions in the United States over the summer.
1 El Salvador
Nobody knows how much soccer is too much but the trend towards more and more is unmistakable.
“What the short-term impact of that is I don't know,” said Garber. “I think the market will determine that. I am not sure if the market is going to support everything that that is happening this summer. We have been at this a long time, and we'll be here when all the dust settles.”
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