By Manuel Veth –
Usually the 67,000 capacity CenturyLink Field is home to both the Major League Soccer (MLS) club Seattle Sounders, and the National Football League (NFL) franchise Seattle Seahawks. But on July 18 the CenturyLink was set as the stage for an International Champions Cup (ICC) match between the English club Manchester United, and the Mexican Club de Fútbol América.
Introducing the International Champions Cup
The inaugural International Champions Cup was played in 2013, and was concieved as a summer “Champions League” with major clubs such as Real Madrid, and Manchester United traveling to the United States to play pre-season friendlies in order to prepare themselves for their respective league campaigns.
The ICC is organized by RSE Ventures, which is owned by Miami Dolphins majority owner Stephen Ross, and its President and CEO is former New York Jets Executive Vice President Matt Higgins. Relevant Sports—the public relations arm of the company—is lead by experienced football businessman Charlie Stillitano who spoke to Reuters about the tournament in 2013: “We are trying to bring a bit of that Champions League magic to pre-season. We know it is not the Champions League but managers have told us they can’t go through pre-season playing games that mean nothing.”
In 2014 an ICC match in Michigan between Manchester United and Real Madrid drew 109,318 fans, which was the largest crowd ever to attend a stadium football game in the United States. The previous record attendance for a football match in America was 101,799 at the 1984 Olympic final, which France won 2-0 against Brazil.
This year’s addition has been massively expanded, and will see 15 teams participate around the world in 18 host cities based in Australia, China, Canada, England, Italy, Mexico, and the United States. The North American division includes teams from Europe as well as three clubs from MLS, and the above-mentioned Club América from Mexico.
Club América – The New York Yankees of Mexican Football
While Manchester United is well known around the world as the record champion of England and one of the most successful clubs in Europe, the current CONCACAF Champion Club América can be considered as one of the most storied clubs in Mexico. América has 98 years of history and has won 35 titles in domestic and international tournaments. The club’s genesis occurred when student groups from Colegio Mascarones and Colegio Marista de la Perpetua decided to merge their respective clubs, Récord and Colón, on Columbus Day October 2, 1916, and therefore decided to name the club América.
Today América is not only Mexico’s most successful club, but also its richest, and it is often compared by Mexican fans—mostly by those who support other Mexican clubs—as the equivalent of the New York Yankees. In other words, in Mexico you either hate or love América. In 1959, the club was purchased by Emilio Azcárraga Milmo, the owner of Televisa, whose words were eerily prophetic: “I do not know much about football, but I do know a lot about business, and this, gentlemen, will be a business.”
Today his son Emilio Fernando Azcárraga Jean (aka Emilio Azcarraga III), who according to Forbes is worth $3.2 billion, owns the club. The Grupo Televisa, which the family controls, is one of the world’s largest producers of Spanish language TV content, and Azcarraga III, became the CEO after the death of his father in 1997. With all this wealth it is no surprise that fans of other Mexican clubs could find América’s success unfair.
The majority of the 46,857 fans that came out to watch the Manchester United vs. Club América game on Friday night in Seattle wore the red colours of Manchester United. According to the Seattle Times 75% of the fans in the stadium supported United, and indeed United-themed flags representing United States based fan groups from Atlanta to Huntington Beach could be spotted throughout the stadium.
América vs. United – Mexico Wins The Fan Battle
It was the Mexican fans that dominated the game, however, with their colour yellow, and their impressive chanting and drumming. Club América fans unveiled a banner on the south stand that read “La Que Manda En 2 Paises”—“the Boss in 2 Countries” alluding to the fact that they have the largest fan base of all Mexican clubs both in Mexico, and the United States.
During half time a group of América fans taunted one Manchester United fan, who had made a derogatory statement about Mexicans. Rather than respond to his insult with aggression, the Mexican fans made him, and Manchester United, the object of songs, which praised both Club América, and also Chelsea, who had beaten United to win last year’s English Premier League.
Notwithstanding the fact that the game was part of an international tournament, the match itself had the feel of a typical pre-season friendly, with Manchester United coach Louis van Gaal resorting to the usual experiments that saw several young players from the academy feature the squad, and also included more than the usual three substitutions. United also used the friendly to introduce recently signed players such as the Frenchman Morgan Schneiderlin, the right-back Italian Matteo Darmian and 2014 World Cup winner Bastian Schweinsteiger to its American fans.
It was Schneiderlin who proved to be the man of the match, scoring after a wonderful header in the fifth minute. The game ended 1-0 for United, and will not go down as one of the most memorable games in recent history for either team.
As América’s coach Ignacio Ambríz stated after the match: “We’re very proud to play against a team like Manchester United, [especially] when typically, you only get to watch them on TV. … I asked the players to go have fun, to enjoy the game.” These words in many ways were echoed by the Club América fans, who came out to see their team play at the CenturyLink Field in Seattle, and although they lost the match on the pitch, and were outnumbered by United fans, América fans clearly won the battle over which of the two clubs has has the more colourful, creative, and enthusiastic support of their fans.
Manuel Veth is a PhD candidate at the University of London King’s College, London. Originally from Munich, his thesis is entitled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”. Follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus.