Thursday, July 31, 2014

Liverpool 2 (3) vs Manchester City 2 (1) (Champions Cup) - July 30, 2014

In the six weeks or so between the end of the World Cup and the start of another long soccer season in Europe, you would think players might be given some time off. Nope, not when there is money to be made. All but one Premier League team is somewhere in the world playing a series of friendlies; Tottenham Hotspur played Toronto FC just last week and that game, nor any friendly for that matter, did not win the affection of the Globe and Mail.

With MLS desperate to make further inroads into the American sports market and European sides hoping to increase merchandise sales, these affairs will continue regardless of media disdain. One of the more marketable events is the Champions Cup, a collection of eight top European clubs playing in two groups of four across the USA. Three teams from England (Manchester United, Manchester City, and Liverpool), three from Italy (Inter, AC Milan, and AS Roma) along with Real Madrid and Olympiakos make this a very intriguing tournament. The first game was played at BMO Field where Olympiakos shut out AC Milan 3-0, with 11 of the other 12 matches scheduled for large football stadiums in major metropolitan areas stateside. New York was the odd man out in that regard, with the match here held at Yankee Stadium. It was one of the better matchups though, featuring the EPL's top two clubs from last season in champions Manchester City and runners-up Liverpool. A friend of mine is a Liverpool supporter and he was quite excited to join me for the match. He had bought seats just behind one of the goals, and unfortunately for him, it was in the Man City cheering section (below).

From here it was difficult to get full shot of the pitch, so I used the stadium's express elevators to go to the 400 level to take the picture below. The infield dirt was partially covered by temporary grass that looked like it could prove problematic for the players.

In the end, there were no injuries as neither team played particularly aggressively, hoping to avoid any serious knocks just a couple of weeks before the EPL season gets underway. Several members of England's winless world cup squad were on hand, including Man City keeper Joe Hart, who played the second half.

Friendlies are always a bit less intense than a real match, but both teams played with some energy early on, with City dominating for the most part. Midway through, they put the ball in the net but it was correctly ruled offside, leading some of the idiot pretenders in front of me to threaten the "ref" who made the call, including one saying he would need to be escorted out of the stadium. Really? It's a meaningless friendly, and it is the linesman who makes the call, not the referee.

Anyway, the second half began with Liverpool pressuring Hart and the City defense in a vain attempt to break the scoreless game. In the 53rd minute, Man City's Jesus Navas took the ball down the right flank, sending it into the box where it embarrassingly snuck through Steven Gerrard's legs, falling to Steven Jovetic (#35 above) who easily tapped home to open the scoring. Six minutes later, Liverpool responded with a three-way passing play capped by Jordan Henderson beating Hart to tie the game. Jovetic added his second just 8 minutes after that, taking a pass from Nigerian youngster Kelechi Iheanacho and somehow finding the corner of the goal despite whiffing on the kick.

City looked set to take the match, but a late goal from Raheem Sterling, who received a one-touch volley from Lucas and broke into the box, sending the ball past a helpless Hart. Just before the final whistle, Sterling scored another beauty, but it was incorrectly ruled offside, sending the match to penalties.

The net at which the kicks were being taken was at the far end of the stadium, so pictures were tough to get. Simon Mignolet took over for Liverpool and saved both YaYa Toure and Navas (below) after Aleksandar Kolarov missed high to start the proceedings. Sturridge also missed the opener for the Reds, but Emre Can, Henderson, and Lucas all scored to give Liverpool the extra point in the standings (in the Champions Cup, winners in regulation receive 3 points as usual, while those in penalties take 2 while the loser gets 1).

This was a pretty entertaining evening for the nearly 50,000 fans in attendance, and certainly a lot more fun than any of the Yankee games I've seen this season.  Next year, NYCFC, a new MLS club, will start playing at Yankee Stadium regularly and it will be interesting to see if they can draw a similar crowd in the early going.


The Champions Cup concluded with the championship match at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, where Manchester United beat Liverpool 3-1.



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