International Champions Cup Match is a Litmus Test for Soccer in Detroit

ANN ARBOR, MI - JULY 30: Michigan Stadium during the International Champions Cup match between Real Madrid and Chelsea on July 30, 2016 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***

Italian giants AS Roma will take on French champions Paris-Saint Germain in an International Champions Cup match at Comerica Park in downtown Detroit on July 19. It will be the first time the stadium is hosting a soccer game and the first top tier soccer event in the city since the USA took on Canada in the 2011 Gold Cup.

International Champions Cup Match is a Litmus Test for Soccer in Detroit

Detroit Tigers owner and President & CEO of Ilitch Holdings Chris Ilitch is excited to see Detroit host a global event in one of the busiest stadium developments in the United States.

“We are thrilled to bring the first ever global soccer match to The District Detroit and Comerica Park by hosting the kickoff match of the highly competitive International Champions Cup,” said Chris Ilitch, President & CEO of Ilitch Holdings, Inc., in a news release. “We are equally excited to showcase AS Roma and Paris Saint-Germain, two premier football clubs before a worldwide television audience. Having Paris and Roma in Detroit puts our community on a worldwide stage and provides just a taste of the incredible variety of world-class sports and entertainment in The District Detroit.”

The match is a nice grab for the city as a whole, but it could also mean a lot for the future of soccer in Detroit. A strong showing of passionate fans could bode well for the efforts of local billionaires Tom Gores and Dan Gilbert, who are hoping to attract an MLS franchise to the city.

Michigan Stadium in nearby Ann Arbor has hosted the ICC twice. The first was in the summer of 2014 and saw Real Madrid take on Manchester United in front of 109,000+ fans. Real Madrid returned two years later to face Chelsea and over 105,000 turned up to watch that friendly. Comerica Park has a capacity of just over 41,000, so don’t look for world record numbers like the game’s last two forays into the state of Michigan, but a sell out crowd is still expected even though this match won’t have two of the world’s most popular clubs and is taking place on a Wednesday night.

Those first two ICC matches were more than jsut exhibition soccer games to the people around here. They were events featuring world class players who, even if they didn’t play, were still there with their world class teams. Those world class teams are some of the best and most popular teams in the world and had 15 Champions League trophies between them. Non soccer fans were in Ann Arbor to witness something they hadn’t truly seen in decades, the best players of the world’s sport, regardless of the non-competitive nature of the game.

I like to talk about the non-soccer fan that MLS needs to court in order to penetrate the mainstream sports scene. Nowhere is that more true than in Detroit, where there is no major soccer presence. Detroit City FC does well for its level, but I would hardly consider it a mainstream attraction. Roma and PSG are large clubs that have a long history of domestic success, but have a total two defunct European trophies. Needless to say, they aren’t mainstream names like Manchester United and Real Madrid.

This makes me feel like this match will serve as a better barometer for where soccer sits in the collective consciousness of this city. A crowd of 41,000 pus fans coming out to a baseball stadium on a Wednesday night to see an exhibition game between two sides that aren’t world beating names would go a long way towards proving the appetite for soccer in Detroit. The success of Detroit City FC in the NPSL and the ability to draw over 105,000 to see the biggest names in the world is a great start. But when the city shows up for two lesser, but still large teams, it will have announced itself as a potentially great soccer city.

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