Leagues Cup friendlies showing L.A. is a soccer market

When construction workers put the finishing touches on SoFi Stadium two and a half years ago, the organizers were close to an agreement to make a match between Barcelona and Real Madrid one of the first sporting events to be held at the site.

The Mexico national team asked if they could play there next.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck, wiping out live people at sporting and entertainment events for more than a year. SoFi has since hosted two NFL regular seasons, a Super Bowl, and concerts by the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, and Los Bukis.

But it wasn’t until Wednesday that football finally reached the door of the $5.5 billion stadium when the Galaxy beat Guadalajara’s Chivas 2-0 in the first game of the Leagues Cup Showcase with goals from Dejan Joveljic and teenager Jonathan Pérez. LAFC played Mexico City’s Club América in the second game.

Three more similar showcases will be held in Nashville, Salt Lake City and Cincinnati next month, leading up to next summer’s League Cup, a month-long tournament featuring all 47 Liga MX and MLS teams.

Organizers said participation in the Doubleheader exhibition was sold out with more than 70,000 tickets distributed. Last weekend, LAFC, NWSL’s Angel City and second division side Orange County Soccer Club played to packed stadiums as an international friendly between Juventus and Real Madrid packed the Rose Bowl. Add those totals to Wednesday’s attendance, and association football has drawn more than 212,000 fans to four Southern California host cities over the past six days.

“It shows what Los Angeles is as a football market,” said Galaxy President Chris Klein. “As a Major League Soccer market, as a NWSL market, as a Women’s World Cup market, as a Men’s World Cup market.”

Speaking of the World Cup, Klein is also co-chair of the local organizing committee for the 2026 tournament, which convinced FIFA to select SoFi as one of 16 venues for this competition. But the test matches on Wednesday are not a test run for the World Cup.

“This is an event that takes place in their building,” he said. “It shows you what soccer can look like in SoFi. It’s football indoors.”

A world championship in the venue requires some changes.

FIFA, for example, requires World Cup matches to be played on a natural surface, so a grass carpet was laid over SoFi’s artificial field on Wednesday. But the width of the field, at 68¾ yards, was a bit narrow for a World Cup game, according to organizers. This can be remedied by removing removable field-level seats in the four corners of the field, which didn’t happen on Wednesday.

“There’s still a lot to do,” Klein said. “The system is there so they can do that. But what we host is a completely different type of hosting[ed] and host a World Cup.”

While not intended as a World Cup dress rehearsal, the Leagues Cup Showcase was designed to highlight the growing partnership between MLS and Liga MX, whose players will also face off in an All-Star game next summer in a row this week in Minneapolis.

“We thought it would be a good idea to create these showcases to send the message to the fans and of course the market that together we are very strong,” said Liga MX President Mikel Arriola on Wednesday. “Today it’s very important to underline that statement because it’s the first time we’re going to play football at SoFi Stadium, right? The most valuable sports property in the world.

“MLS and Liga MX together have the power to play packed stadiums in the NFL. This is a great example.”

https://www.latimes.com/sports/soccer/story/2022-08-03/galaxy-chivas-de-guadalajara-lafc-club-america-recap-leagues-cup Leagues Cup friendlies showing L.A. is a soccer market

Emma Bowman

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