International friendlies fire up soccer fans International friendlies fire up soccer fans
In the American version of football, an exhibition game ticket is the sport fan’s version of Christmas fruitcake: Nobody can get rid of it... International friendlies fire up soccer fans

In the American version of football, an exhibition game ticket is the sport fan’s version of Christmas fruitcake: Nobody can get rid of it because nobody wants to spend regular season money to watch third-stringers and players bound for the waiver wire play a thoroughly meaningless game.

But the reaction to the North American-based exhibition games in the global version of football — i.e. soccer — is a far more enthusiastic one. A dozen or so of the more than 100 exhibitions — or, in soccer parlance, “friendlies” — taking place this year will be played in the United States at noted venues such as the Cotton Bowl, Soldier Field, RFK Stadium, Cowboys Stadium, and FedEx Field.

For American soccer fans — who make up for their relative lack of numbers with an unmistakable passion for the game — these friendlies are a chance to see some of the world’s best teams as they prepare for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. A crowd of 84,519 turned out Sunday, June 3 to watch Mexico beat Brazil, 2-0, in a friendly at Cowboys Stadium. A day earlier, 41,780 watched Honduras knock off El Salvador, 3-0, at RFK Stadium.

Perhaps the most notable friendly for those looking to scout the World Cup two years in advance is the game scheduled for Saturday, June 9 between Argentina and Brazil at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Brazil has won the World Cup a record five times, most recently in 2002, and has and reached the final seven times (tied for the most with Germany). Argentina has won the World Cup twice (most recently in 1986) and reached the final four times.

Argentina is the early favorite in the 2014 World Cup, especially after it routed Ecuador, 4-0, Saturday, June 2. Argentina scored three goals in the first 30 minutes of that game.

Demand appears high for the game with five days to go before kickoff. A search of StubHub.com this morning, June 4, revealed 3,035 tickets available for Argentina-Brazil, the cheapest of which is a $100 ticket in the upper end zone.

StubHub is even selling tickets to Argentina’s open practice Thursday, June 7 at Red Bull Arena, the Harrison, NJ home of Major League Soccer’s New York Red Bulls. As of this morning, the online ticket reseller had 251 tickets for the practice starting at $16.

The spate of friendlies on these shores is another sign soccer is gaining a toehold in America. Despite the lingering recession, Major League Soccer set an all-time average attendance high last year at 17,872, which was the first time since MLS’ inaugural year in 1996 that attendance was more than 17,000.

In addition, several “World Football Challenge” — games pitting European teams against one another — will be played in America in 2012, including the match between Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain that is scheduled to take place Sunday, July 22 at Yankee Stadium. It will be the first soccer game — international or otherwise — played at the new Yankee Stadium since it opened in 2009.