Don’t get me wrong — I’m absolutely thrilled that Autzen Stadium will host a July 24 soccer match between two very high-level European clubs with some of the world’s most talented players at the 2016 International Champions Cup. I definitely will be going to the match.
I will not be going to the match, however, with the illusion of watching highly competitive professional soccer or the expectation of watching the best players on these teams. In other words, don’t expect to see the very best efforts or the best form of the best players, if they do play.
Despite being a match of relatively little importance, in which the star players will likely spend more time on the bench than on the pitch, the two clubs playing in Autzen Stadium — Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), a French team, and Internazionale Milano (Inter), an Italian team — are top-class organizations with abundant talent that will surely provide some impressive and entertaining soccer.
The International Champions Cup (ICC) is a grandiose name for an ad hoc organization of pre-season-friendly matches, when teams are often experimenting with new players and new tactics.
There are bound to be moments of fantastic soccer, and I hope to see some great players. I’m especially hopeful to see PSG’s Edinson Cavani, Ángel Di María, Blaise Matuidi, Javier Pastore, Lucas Moura and Thiago Silva, as well as Inter’s Ivan Perišić, Mauro Icardi, Stevan Jovetić, Gary Medel and João Miranda.
The ICC was first played in 2013 in the U.S., and the tournament was expanded to include a few matches in Australia and China (as well as in the U.S.) in 2015. This year, a couple matches will also be played in Europe.
There are no qualifying matches or other apparent competitive processes or criteria for determining what clubs get to participate in the ICC.
Many of the best European and Latin American players will be returning to their clubs after strenuous Euro Cup and Copa América tournaments (cups which are more intensely contested).
PSG dominated the 2015/16 top-division French league, finishing first (for the fourth year in a row) with 96 points, whereas the second-place team (Lyon) only earned 65 points. PSG also has advanced as far as the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League the past four years. Inter finished the 2015/16 top-division Italian league in fourth place, but in 2010 Inter became the first Italian club to win a treble — three major club trophies in the same year — and the club still has a very skilled squad and an experienced coach.
Thus, even if their star players don’t play, both PSG and Inter will be fielding players that any club in North America’s Major League Soccer (MLS) would be thrilled to have.
In fact, those new arrivals, youth prospects or second-string players who get to play likely will be trying to prove that they deserve more minutes on the pitch once their seasons begin and more is at stake. And, because this tournament’s matches don’t matter as much as most others, players may feel more at liberty to try creative moves and risky ideas.
If you don’t remember the outlandish volley from Philippe Mexès in last year’s ICC match between AC Milan and Inter, which got him nominated for the 2015 FIFA Puskás Award given for the most beautiful goal of the year, I highly recommend you check it out on YouTube.
You may as well just look up “International Champions Cup 2015 Top 10 Goals” because there were several other delightful goals worth watching again from last year’s ICC.
Regardless of who ultimately plays for PSG and Inter on July 24, local soccer fans can look forward to watching some spectacularly skillful soccer in Autzen Stadium.
The Internazionale Milano vs. Paris Saint-Germain game starts 2 pm Sunday, July 24, at Autzen Stadium. Tickets are available at internationalchampionscup.com and range in price from $30 to $115.