When Liverpool and AS Roma meet at Fenway Park on July 25, it will continue an American tradition. For decades, soccer clubs from around the world have come to the United States and played exhibitions in front of fans in this country.
These games have only increased over the years. This summer will see legions of foreign soccer teams come to America for all or part of their preseason training. Not only do they come to use the first-class facilities around the country, but they also come to give fans a look at how the game is played at the highest level and win over thousands of new supporters.
"There are two issues," Kenny Dalglish told LiverpoolFC.tv. "There's the global branding and the development of that. We've been to the Far East, and the reception and welcome was unbelievable over there. The number of supporters Liverpool have over there is beyond comprehension.
"Now we're going to North America, which is very appropriate with the owners coming from Boston. We have a game in Toronto, then Boston, then Baltimore. It's important for us to go there and get to the people who can't get here.
"But it's also important to get fitness. We're going there reasonably early to get ourselves [acclimated] and get our training done. We'll play the games, come back and look forward to some preseason here."
With all due respect to Major League Soccer and its millions of fans, the American top-flight has yet to capture and hold the attention of the wider sporting public. There are any number of reasons for this, but chief among them is the fact that the best players in the world — those internationally recognized superstars — generally do not play in the North American first division.
Fans of other sports in this country are used to watching their games as played at the highest level. And they are used to paying the price — as charged at the highest level — to watch. When foreign teams hit these shores, both clubs and fans know what's being offered.
Whether teams like Liverpool FC play against overseas rivals (like AS Roma) or local clubs (Toronto FC), these games are always events. It's not unusual to see crowds ranging from 32,000 at places like Fenway Park all the way to the 80,000 that packed FedEX Field to see Manchester United play FC Barcelona last summer. People proudly wear their soccer jerseys in cities around the country, and game highlights appear on local and national sports shows.
But the sport has not captivated the U.S. public in the same way it has in the rest of the free world. It still has a long way to go before it becomes a "mainstream" spectator sport in America. Club and national teams play to large crowds and make a lot of money (as they are hot tickets around town). But what is the lasting impact?
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