By Howard Goldin
BRONX, NEW YORK, July 23- Soccer, the world’s most popular spectator sport, made its debut at the most iconic sports stadium in the United States, Yankee Stadium, on Sunday evening. The current Yankee Stadium will be hosting two of the matches being played as part of the Herbalife World Football Challenge.
The Bronx, the home to natives of many nations from all corners of the globe, will welcome football stars from four world renowned teams representing four countries, England, France, Italy, and Spain, this summer.
The international appeal of soccer is illustrated by the number of nations represented on the rosters of the two clubs that played on Sunday, 11 on the English side (Chelsea) and 8 on the club from Paris (PSG). The manager of each side is an Italian national, Roberto Di Matteo of Chelsea and Carlo Ancelotti of PSG.
Fans of Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain or world class soccer in general were welcomed to the neighborhood by several of the area’s eateries, Billy’s, Crown Diner, The Dugout, Stan’s and Yankee Tavern miniature soccer balls inscribed for the special occasion were distributed at each restaurant.
Dr. Cary Goodman, executive director of the 161st Street Business Improvement District (BID), who inspired the promotion, described its purpose, “We’re used to having sports fans from around the world visit our district in The Bronx. We want them to see and feel how happy we are to greet guests. The souvenirs are our way of saying, ‘Thanks for coming’.”
As Yankee Stadium’s infield and outfield were transformed into a 110’ by 70”soccer pitch, two first division clubs took the field for a friendly match. The English entry, Chelsea FC, is visiting the U.S. in the wake of a superlative season. It captured the FA title in England with a victory over Liverpool. On May 19, Chelsea had a penalty kick win over favored Bayren Munich in the latter’s home field.
On July 18, Chelsea was victorious over the Seattle Sounders of the MLS in its first of three contests in the United States this summer.
The match at Yankee Stadium was only the third between the two soccer powers. Both previous matches occurred during the 2004-5 UEFA Champions League competition. Chelsea was the winner of the first match in Paris, 3-0, on goals by veteran John Terry and Didier Drogba (2). The second contest ended in a scoreless tie, 0-0.
Shortly after 7 p.m., the match on Sunday began. The happy rooters of PSG erupted in cheers in the 30th minutes of the first half as Nené scored an unassisted goal. The Brazilian native, who celebrated his 31st birthday three days earlier, was PSG’s leading goal scorer during the league season. The fleet midfielder scored 21 of his team’s 75 goals.
PSG registered 7 of the 12 shots on goal during the first half, but none from either side was close to a score.
In the early minutes of the second half, both teams made many substitutions. As Di Matteo explained to reporters, “For us, it’s [each match in the U.S.] is preparation for our season.”
As the match neared its conclusion, in the 82nd minute, two Brazilians combined to tie the match. Ramires passed to Lucas Piazon who booted in Chelsea’s first goal. The match ended in a 1-1 tie.
Although neither side achieved a victory, the crowd of 38,202 knowledgeable and enthusiastic soccer fans demonstrated their enjoyment of the contest.
After the contest, Di Matteo stated, “It was a great atmosphere. I think the folks enjoyed themselves.” Of the overwhelming support from the fans for Chelsea, the manager commented, “I want to thank all the fans; it was like a home game.”
Di Matteo gave his opinion about the venue, Yankee Stadium, “It’s the first time I’ve been here. It’s very impressive. It’s a piece of art. The pitch was better than we expected.”
As soon as the match concluded, many soccer aficionados in the crowd were already preparing for their attendance at the next match in the Stadium on August 8 when AC Milan will face Real Madrid.