Several top European football (soccer) clubs are playing exhibition games around the world to help prepare for the coming season, and to increase the popularity of the sport. Defending U.S. Major League Soccer champion DC United hosted English Premier League champion Chelsea in one of those games Thursday.
Chelsea has become the most expensive football team in the world, signing its players to huge contracts worth millions of dollars each. So it came as little surprise that the more than $200 million squad became the top English team last year. The scale is much smaller in U.S. Major League Soccer. DC United won its league title last year with a total payroll of just $2.2 million.
But the clash of the champions in an international friendly Thursday near Washington provided some lessons for the respective teams.
Earlier in the day, in Tokyo, the Japanese J-League leaders Kashima Antlers upset English Premier League football power Manchester United, 2-1. Spanish giant Real Madrid lost an exhibition game this week, while AC Milan of Italy had a much tougher time beating the MLS Chicago Fire than the 3-1 score would suggest.
Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho did not underestimate DC United's talents, and made certain his players did not either. "I was speaking with the players before the game. And I was asking them if they could answer the reasons why Manchester United lost in Japan, Real Madrid lost, the reason why AC Milan had it so difficult against Chicago, and they told me, because of motivation, because of attitude, because of no respect for the opponent."
Chelsea quickly found respect when DC United defender Bobby Boswell headed in the first goal of the game in the 31st minute. In the process, the tall Boswell learned something about Chelsea. "I was actually really surprised at how big they were. I did not think they were nearly as big as they were going to be," he said. "I am usually one of the bigger guys on the field. And I think, tonight, I was probably in the middle of the pack. So, I was really surprised."
Teenage phenom Freddy Adu also learned first hand about some of the great names he has followed.
"When you watch these guys on TV, they are made out to be invincible, so to speak. And when you are playing with them out there on the field, you play them just like anybody else. That is just the way you have to think about it," said Adu. "We were able to play and hang with them. We just got unlucky that they beat us, because we had some chances."
While DC United was unlucky in a 2-1 loss, the team and more than 31,400 fans were treated to some spectacular playmaking by Chelsea. Irish forward Damien Duff showed the touch of a world-class player, when he left-footed a waist high ball from the corner of the box. His curling shot across the goal ended just inside the right post. Hernan Crespo of Argentina made his empty net strike in the 56th minute look easy when DC United substitute goalkeeper Troy Perkins was drawn out of position.
U.S. soccer fans near New York will get another look at Chelsea and AC Milan when the two teams face each other Sunday in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Both squads will then return to Europe with undoubtedly a new perspective of soccer in the United States. Several of the MLS players for both Washington and Chicago are also part of the U.S. national men's team, which is enjoying its all-time highest world ranking at Number Six, and is wrapping up qualification for next year's World Cup in Germany.