[MY VIEW] Listening all last weekend on the Red Sox telecasts to the promos of Wednesday's friendly between Celtic and Sporting Lisbon at Boston's famed Fenway
Park hit home just how mainstream soccer has become.
It was one thing to see the "Football at Fenway" ads on NESN. It was an entirely another thing to hear about the soccer event from Red Sox announcers Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy between conversations bemoaning what was wrong with the ailing Sox (11 players on the DL!).
A crowd of 32,162 almost filled Fenway to watch the preseason friendly that was won by Celtic in a shootout after their game ended 1-1. Pretty good for a game that was, as Remy kept reminding us, also televised live regionally on NESN. (Yes, they sang "Sweet Caroline" at halftime [VIDEO] and belted "Dirty Water," emblematic of a Sox win after the game.)
With the Sox on the West Coast, sod was placed over the infield dirt and where the pitcher's mound is located and the field ran from the third-base line to the right-field bullpens with the midfield circle in shallow center field where Jacoby Ellsbury would be patrolling if he were healthy ...
The idea of playing soccer at Fenway didn't sit well with everyone in Red Sox Nation. According to the blog Fenway Pastoral, Fenway is a "sacred asset" not to be rented to anyone, and its "excessive whoring out" has gotten out of hand with soccer in the summer, hockey in the winter and concerts of all sorts.
The reality: Sox owners could have abandoned intimate Fenway with its 37,000-seat capacity and built a bigger stadium elsewhere, so if Sox fans want to keep their charmed Fenway, they must put up with the occasional event when the Sox are out of town.
The Celtic-Sporting wasn't the first time anyone played soccer at Fenway. It was the home to the NASL Boston Beacons in 1968. Celtic played at Fenway as far back in 1931, losing, 4-3, to the shortlived New York Yankees -- the soccer Yankees, as opposed to the baseball Yankees or football Yankees of their day -- on a hat trick by the great Billy Gonsalves.
Fenway Pastoral likened "this particular pairing of two minor league soccer clubs [to] the Portland Sea Dogs taking batting practice in Wembley Stadium. It is an insult to fan intelligence disguised as something other than a recycled idea."
Recycled idea? Perhaps. But while no one in London would know the Portland Sea Dogs, Celtic and Sporting still have significant followings in Boston.
We usually think of the big NFL stadiums -- all modeled or remodeled with soccer's wider dimensions in mind -- when we think of venues for international soccer matches. Like Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field, site of Wednesday's game between the Union and Manchester United. Or Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City and Reliant Stadium in Houston, site of Man. United's next two games.
Baseball parks aren't configured for soccer, but that isn't stopping baseball folks from looking to attract soccer events.
On Tuesday, it was announced that Regions Park -- the home of Michael Jordan in his short minor league career with the Birmingham Barons of the Southern League -- would be the site of the 2011 Men's College Cup.
Like "Football at Fenway" in the summer at Fenway, soccer in the late fall in football-mad (the real football) Alabama is another sign that soccer has gone mainstream.