In the next couple of weeks, midseason friendly fever is (sort of) sweeping the United States and Canada. It seems more and more teams are coming from Europe to this side of the Atlantic to prepare for the upcoming club season and pick up fans while making some money. A partial list of European teams on a preseason tour this year include Manchester United, Everton, West Brom, Manchester City, Newcastle, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juventus and Sporting Lisbon. Add to this preseason teams from Mexico and South America including Chivas de Guadalajara, Club America, and Independiente, and 10 MLS clubs (New England Revolution, Los Angeles Galaxy, Vancouver Whitecaps, Seattle Sounders, Sporting Kansas City, Portland Timbers, Chicago Fire, DC United, Philadelphia Union and Columbus Crew) involved. It makes for a lot of soccer with matchups we don't normally see.
Given that more than half of MLS is playing friendlies this season (don't forget that the New York Red Bulls are going to England to play in the Emirates Cup at the end of the month) are Chivas USA missing out? I want to run through some of the pros and cons of midseason friendlies below for the Goats.Pro: It's fun to play foreign teams!
Chivas are not involved in the CONCACAF Champions League, so they have no chances of playing in a regional tournament for at least the next year. Getting to see matches that one could only find in the video game realm is cool, and it represents a way for fans of the visiting teams to check out Chivas and MLS play and possibly convert some fans.
Con: It's not fun to get your asses kicked by foreign teams!
Of course, upsets are always possible, as the Kansas City Wizards 2-1 defeat of Manchester United last year demonstrated. But the Revs lost badly last week to Manchester United, 4-1, and the Galaxy lost 4-1 to Real Madrid last Saturday. Now the Revolution and the Galaxy are on opposite ends of the quality spectrum this year in MLS play, so it probably causes some potential (Eurosnob) fans to continue to stay away from MLS, and it is at least a little embarrassing to have teams who are not even in form crushing midseason MLS teams.
Pro: It makes money for the teams
First, a disclaimer: I have no knowledge of the income streams for these friendly matches. But I would speculate that these games make a bunch of money for the teams involved. For starters, they cost a fortune. Tickets for competitive games for the LA Galaxy at the Home Depot Center start at around $25 (there are probably deals but let's use that as a baseline). For the Real Madrid match last Saturday at the LA Coliseum, tickets started at $50 while there was a limited deal for tickets from $40 around select LA-area stores. You could say that perhaps operating costs at the Coliseum accounts for some of the increase, but a 100% markup? That seems unlikely. I would speculate that Real Madrid probably got a larger cut from the game, but the Galaxy probably walked away with their pockets a little heavier as well.
Con: Who wants to spend that much money on a friendly?
These friendlies can count on a few groups to attend: diehard fans of the teams involved, particularly the one visiting from abroad, since seeing them in person is a rare if not unprecedented affair; people who get deals on tickets; and people for whom money is not a problem. Using again the Galaxy-Real Madrid game from last weekend, the stadium looked pretty empty, and a great deal of Galaxy fans stayed away from the game because it was not included in the season ticket package, unlike 2010 when it was. The organizers of the World Football Challenge probably believed they could entice more season ticket holders to buy tickets, but it looked like it didn't work very well. For tonight's game in San Diego between Real Madrid and Chivas de Guadalajara, it will be interesting to see how full Qualcomm Stadium is, as tickets started at $55. Obviously, there are fans of both teams and of soccer in the area, and San Diego may have some money to blow on soccer without an MLS team. But the prices seem really pretty steep for a preseason friendly.
Con: No friendlies = no TV exposure for the Goats
Along with bringing new fans to the game in person, one drawback to not having any friendlies is that Chivas are not getting any coverage on ESPN. If I remember correctly, they only have one nationally televised game in English this season, and that is against the Galaxy. Chivas USA have been getting games on Spanish-language channels, and I know many fans are fine with that, but for all the MLS watchers around the league who don't know Spanish or don't feel comfortable watching a Spanish-language telecast, they can continue to complain that Chivas is an anonymous team because they never actually get to see them. A friendly broadcast on ESPN would at least provide a way to get to know the Goats and who is on the team this year.
Con: "Trophies not friendlies," or, keeping your priorities in order
Despite all of the excitement over friendlies in some corners, large segments of loyal MLS fanbases believe friendlies during this time of year are unnecessary at best and can derail a season at worst. The flipside to trying to avoid getting their asses kicked is that MLS clubs will try to play hard enough to stay competitive, but any action on the field, no matter how strenuous or innocent, can cause injuries. On many teams, if an important player gets an injury and misses time in the MLS season, that can potentially derail a season. At the same time, teams who have fixture congestion can just lose focus, and end up dropping important points that could make a difference come playoff time. While Chivas don't have multiple competitions to worry about this season, if any starters picked up an injury it would be difficult, but if a key player got injured, it could be catastrophic. In that way, Chivas are thinking right and prioritizing what counts: MLS.
Verdict: It would be nice to see Chivas USA involved in a friendly, but given the potential drawbacks, they are doing the right thing by focusing on league play and helping Chivas' fans save money.
What do you think? Leave a comment and weigh in!