In just over two months (July 24) Chelsea FC and AC Milan will play at M&T Bank Stadium in a world class event. Yes, it’s an exhibition match or friendly as they call it in soccer, but for Baltimore and the area it’s huge. These are two of the most storied club teams in the world with superstars dotting both rosters and big time owners.
Chelsea, owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, became the fifth English team to win back-to-back league championships since the World War II, in addition to winning an FA Cup 2007 and two league cups in 2005 and 2007. The Blues, as the West London team is known, has a payroll equal to the Yankees in baseball.
AC Milan has won 18 officially recognized international titles; the club has won what is today known as the UEFA Cup seven times. As far as Italian competitions are concerned, Milan is the second most successful club with 17 league titles. Their owner is Italian entrepreneur, media mogul and current Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Add two rosters filled with international superstars and what I hear is going to be a very large crowd, and it will be a special night in downtown Baltimore. What makes it even better is so many people will be coming from out of town and infusing downtown with badly needed tourist dollars. Plus, it will give casual fans a chance to experience the passion and pageantry of international soccer. The purple palace will be rocking with singing and chants.
For this area, it could be the start of something great. No, don’t get any illusions soccer fans; we are not getting an MLS team. DC United, although still searching for a new stadium, is not moving to Baltimore or Timonium. Nor will we be getting an expansion franchise. Philly, New York, and Baltimore mean no MLS for Baltimore. But what it does mean for the city is that we could get this type of event on a regular basis–two international sides in an annual late July game or the United playing a regular season or international exhibition in Baltimore every year.
Maybe next year it’s Manchester United vs. Real Madrid or The United versus an English Premier League team in an exhibition. This could become a yearly tradition that brings big time soccer into the area. In time, the city could set up a festival with kids’ soccer games and clinics.
But for this year, it will be a fun night with a chance to break out the tailgate equipment or have a few at the neighborhood pubs prior to the start of the Ravens season. Enjoy soccer fans, and even if you are not a fan of the beautiful game, come anyway; I guarantee you will have a good time.