Breaking Down Chelsea's Preseason U.S. Tour and Friendlies Schedule
I love July. Not because of the excruciating heat that has plagued New York City where I live. Not because of the days you spend in the office peering out the window wishing you were at the beach. And certainly not because of all the ridiculous speculation surrounding overpriced player transfers.
I love July because football is back!
That’s right the 2012-13 European season is just over a month away, and it is time for the players to get back on the field. The players of Chelsea FC, new and old, have already returned to Cobham as they get ready to depart for their US Preseason tour later this month.
Here is a complete guide for everything Americans need to know to see their favorite boys in blue this summer.
Chelsea vs. Seattle Sounders
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When: July 18, 2012 at 6:30 p.m. PST
Where: CenturyLink Field; Seattle, Washington
The biggest risk with any preseason game is injuries. You always worry about a star, or any player for that matter, picking up a knock that could keep them on the sideline for when the real games start. One way to help ensure that doesn’t happen is keep the conditions the players are used to playing in as consistent as possible.
Seattle is cool, wet and dreary. Sounds like London, no?
But when it comes to the game itself, this should be quite the spectacle. The Sounders are a formidable side, currently in third place in the Western conference of the MLS. They also boast the third best defense in the league, averaging only a single goal against per game. Though you could attribute some of that to the most raucous crowd in the league.
The Sounders have led the league in attendance since they joined three seasons ago, regularly drawing 38,000 fans. Odds are that crowd will be at least that large as the football fanatics of the Pacific Northwest flock to the city to get a glimpse of the European champions.
Those fans will also get their first glimpse of this “new” Chelsea side. Rarely does a team that wins the Champions League see the players who led them to that title leave and are able to say they stand a better chance of winning the next season.
But the acquisition of Belgian star Eden Hazard, resurgence of Fernando Torres at the Euros, the potential signing of Brazilian youngster Oscar and most importantly a steady clubhouse, Chelsea getting off to a hot start could make them favorites. That start happens in Seattle where fans around the world will see these new Blues players for the first time.
Not that it really means anything to the team. There will be plenty of rust and testing of tactics in this matchup. There will also be some interesting lineups as the players who participated in Euros will get limited playing time at best.
Chelsea vs. PSG
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When: July 22, 2012 at 7 p.m. EDT
Where: Yankee Stadium; New York, New York
The matchup I am looking forward to more than any for the purely selfish reason that I will be in attendance. But there are plenty of reasons for you to tune in as well if you live outside of the tri-state area.
First off, it will be the most talented team the Blues face in July. Under their new Qatari ownership, the French team is looking to mimic the “buy a title” trend Chelsea modernized a decade ago. The club spent €108 million last summer bringing in the likes of Javier Pastore and Thiago Motta. This summer they have already bought Napoli’s Ezequiel Lavezzi for €26 million and are in pursuit of Zlatan Ibrahimovic for a staggering £51 million deal.
It also marks the return of former Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti. The Italian man who led the Blues in the 2009-10 season to the club's first ever domestic double, winning both the Premier League and FA Cup, did it in dominating fashion in what he called “Playstation football.”
However, he was sacked following the 2010-11 season after failing to win any silverware, much to the dismay of fans and players. It was made all the more to be the wrong decision with the hindsight of the Andre Villas-Boas managerial experiment.
But for Chelsea fans, nothing may be more spectacular than the potential that a return to New York City means in terms of club history.
Chelsea last played in the Big Apple in the summer of 1954 following an eighth place finish in the previous season. Prepping in New York seemed to serve the Blues right as they would win their first English title in the 1954-55 season.
Chelsea fans will hope history repeats itself.
Chelsea vs. MLS All-Stars
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When: July 25, 2012 at 8:55 p.m. EDT
Where: PPL Park; Philadelphia, PA
In 2003, the MLS All-Star game abandoned the traditional format that many American sports leagues follow of pitting the very best players from each conference against one another in a meaningless friendly spectacle. That year, the MLS decided a better competition (aka branding of the game) could be had by having the MLS All-Stars face clubs from other leagues. This year Chelsea has the honor for the second time.
There is a mix of players the Chelsea men will be familiar with as David Beckham, Thierry Henry and Landon Donovan were all in the Premier League not too long ago. There are also plenty of other faces that could shock the English side, such as Dwayne De Rosario and Chris Wondolowski.
At the start of this format, the MLS played with a chip on their shoulder, winning the first four matches against European competition. However, back to back 5-2 defeats to Manchester United have kind of put a damper on their pride.
Neither side is playing with any real intention, as the only thing worse than a Chelsea player getting hurt before the season begins is an MLS star getting injured in the middle of the season. With the playoffs only a few months away, any major injuries to the best players in the league could really damage a team’s title hopes.
Though it will be televised on ESPN2 and has been hyped quite a bit, I would not expect an exciting affair. If it becomes an open and free flowing game, then there is a chance that it will live up to the hype. But if it remains close and contentious, as many Chelsea matches do, well then we may get a dud.
Chelsea vs. AC Milan
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When: July 28, 2012 at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Sun Life Stadium; Miami, Florida
What better way to wrap up a trip to the US than a stop in sunny Miami? Before the Blues return to the dismal abyss that resides off the Thames, they can soak in a few rays on the beautiful women-filled shores of South Beach.
But they will have to leave their cabanas for a few hours on the 25th to take on Italian giants AC Milan. Odds are Milan will be feeling the same complacency that seems to infect the people of Florida as the idea of finishing up the tour in Miami is more a mini break before the incredibly tough European schedule.
Roberto Di Matteo would like to have things set and ready to go for when the team kicks off their Premier League season a few weeks later, but I think even he will acknowledge the fact that this stop is more for morale than anything.