In the past couple of years the US has made a concerted effort to bring over the biggest clubs from Europe for pre-season games. The last few years they had the Herbalife World Football Challenge which consisted of several friendly matches and this ultimately turned into the Inaugural International Champions Cup this year. The ICC was regarded as “No Friendlies. Just Football” which showed the fact that unlike past years, this year the teams would be competing in an actual tournament. The hope behind this was to ignite the competitive nature in these players and allow the level of competition to be as high as it would be for a regular season game. Most coaches view these kinds of pre-season tournaments as more of a chance to see who will fit best into their team for the upcoming season and how to best play their team and not necessarily with the idea of winning a trophy. Of course winning a trophy is always nice, but the most important thing for these coaches is being able to get their teams fit and through the pre-season without any major injuries.
Every game in the ICC was played in the US except for the opening game between Valencia and Milan which was played in Spain. Overall, I think the level of play in this tournament was quite high given the fact that many of these teams are still weeks away from the start of their season and not necessarily in top form or fitness. The opening day of the competition included matches at AT&T Park in San Francisco where Juventus faced off against Everton and Real Madrid faced off against the LA Galaxy. In a somewhat surprising result, Everton was able to knock off Juventus on penalty kicks and as expected, Real Madrid easily dispatched the LA Galaxy 3-1. The second day included the Inter-Chelsea match in Indianapolis where Chelsea defeated Inter 2-0. The next round took place at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles and MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. In LA, Real Madrid defeated Everton 2-1 while, in the shock of the tournament, the LA Galaxy defeated Juventus 3-1. At Metlife Stadium, Valenica easily dispatched Inter 4-0 and Chelsea defeated Milan 2-0 to set-up a final between Chelsea and Real Madrid. The final round of games took place at SunLife Stadium in Miami where Inter defeated Juventus in the 7th place game, Valencia beat Everton for 5th place and Milan defeated the LA Galaxy 2-0 for 3rd place. The final match between Real Madrid and Chelsea also took place in Miami where Real Madrid defeated Chelsea 3-1 to take the Inaugural International Champions Cup title.
When the tournament was first announced I was concerned that, with the Confederations Cup being this year, that a lot of the real stars of these teams would not be involved and we would ultimately be disappointed with the product on the field. But I was very pleasantly surprised to see that all the stars played in almost every game and the quality of play was fairly high across the entire competition.
BIGGEST SURPRISE OF THE TOURNAMENT
I think the surprise of the tournament is clear, the LA Galaxy. Coming into this tournament everyone knew the Galaxy were probably the weakest team and not expected to do much especially with Robbie Keane slowed by an injury and Landon Donovan just coming back from the Gold Cup. The Galaxy battled world power Real Madrid for the whole game even though they ended up losing 3-1. The highlight of the tournament had to be the Galaxy’s 3-1 defeat of two-time defending Serie A champions Juventus. The Galaxy thoroughly out-classed Juventus in all assets of the game in route to an easy 3-1 victory. Although the Galaxy would end up losing to Milan in the 3rd place game, in the end the Galaxy had a great tournament and proved MLS teams are capable of competing with the best teams in the world.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE TOURNAMENT
As a die-hard lifelong Inter fan I have a very biased opinion on this portion of this post. Coming into the tournament, Inter seemed to have been playing fairly well in their early pre-season games. Although the games were against much lesser opponents, it was still a promising sight for Inter fans. Inter played Chelsea in their first game and, although they did not play awful, they were outdone by 2 defensive errors and ended up losing 2-0. The low-point of the tournament for any team had to be when Inter played Valencia at MetLife Stadium. I was lucky enough to be in attendance and it was a truly embarrassing performance by Inter. They were lackluster from the start and lacked anything close to an attacking mentality. I do not get to see Inter live very often so I was extremely disappointed that they did not provide a better spectacle. Inter did manage to salvage at least something from the tournament as they beat arch rival Juventus on penalties to gain 7th place in what was the definition of a consolation game. Hopefully the old saying of “it’s only a pre-season tournament” is true with Inter, because if they play like they did in this tournament once the games start meaning something that Inter fans will be in for another very long season.
My tournament MVP is quite obvious. Cristiano Ronaldo. He dazzled fans in each game Real Madrid played and ended the tournament scoring a trademark free kick goal alongside a beautiful header in the final against Chelsea. After scoring each goal in the final Ronaldo clearly showed some kind of reaction towards his old boss Mourinho. I have been a supporter of Cristiano Ronaldo since his days with Manchester United and he always seems to find a new way to beat his opponents which is why I think he’s in for another monster season whether he’s at Real Madrid or makes a shock return to Manchester United.