The reason why European clubs come to the U.S. in summer is as obvious as it is audacious -- they will take home a fat check after sending teams often missing their biggest names, especially after a World Cup or a European Championship. Forget all that flam about wanting to play for their loyal North American fan base. Like the promoters, they're here to grab your cash and then take the next air-conditioned first-class seat out of town.
The players who actually do come are still in a summer vacation mood, and in the process of regaining fitness in time for a season still several weeks away. Perhaps on the way home they drop a note to their agents with a list of cities where they'd most like to spend the last two or three years of their career. "Hey, Chicago could be warm enough in March by 2028."
Yet it seems that many fans no longer want to play the role of cash-dispensing rube, and ICC's policy of saturating the market with a mediocre product is reaping the crowds that it deserves. The accepted truth of European soccer's superiority is being steadily undermined by the spectacle of teams who can barely be bothered, especially when compared with Major League Soccer on a dollars-per-thrill basis.
Remind me again why I'm here? Oh yes, to mug for a selfie wearing my Barca shirt in a mega-stadium. Except that these days the stands in the background are half-empty or papered over with an ad. And even after the penalty shootout, we're left feeling strangely empty inside. Same goes for our wallets.
This leaves the rush for the American market in a precarious position. It can only be a matter of time before clubs start questioning the costs of running that New York office that seemed such a good idea 10 years ago. The coach is moaning yet again about his players being stuck on a plane for so many hours with no obvious benefit. Meanwhile, for thousands of fans the novelty's clearing wearing off, as it turns out -- guess what -- to be much cheaper, more comfortable and much more gratifying to watch your favorite Premier League team over breakfast at the weekend.
No doubt there were, and maybe still are, self-proclaimed visionaries who thought that a jet-propelled, global super league represented a glamorous future of games so HUGE they'd bust sport's always surging hype-o-meter, creating a handful of branded players bigger and hotter than the sun that shines out of their backends. Ultimately, however, there is still one thing that's more important to fans than Glory on High. It's the game itself.
Beneath the sheen of multi-colored merch, grandiose anthems, muscular posturing and asinine publicity 'narratives,' there still has to be a recognizable contest. You can no more claim the ICC as a meaningful competition than you can put something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue on a wild hog and then march it to the altar (at least, not in most states). It's an insult to every fan's intelligence to pretend otherwise.
Soccer isn't free, but friendly games should be. If clubs really wanted to grow the game in the U.S., and not just the brand, then they would play here for nothing. Now that your dollar's wising up, they're tending more toward the new money in Singapore and China. Dear U.S. fan, Juventus and Manchester City don't love you after all. The fabled Eurosnobs may finally feel that it's time to acknowledge a thriving and increasingly stable 24-team professional league in their own backyard.
(Ian Plenderleith is a European-based soccer writer. His latest book, "The Quiet Fan," is available here. His previous book, "Rock n Roll Soccer: The Short Life and Fast Times of the North American Soccer League," is available here.)