It's shaping up to be quite a week in the history of the Philadelphia Union. Two years into their existence, the team already has played high-profile friendlies against Manchester United, Celtic and Chivas de Guadalara.
This July, the Union welcomes two more well-known soccer powers to the region. On July 20, Philadelphia hosts English Premier League side Everton, led by American goalkeeper Tim Howard, to PPL Park in Chester Pa. Then, on July 23, legendary Spanish team Real Madrid plays the Union at Lincoln Financial Field.
That's not a bad couple of days for local soccer fans. The stadium decisions ring just right, too. While Union officials probably could get 30,000 or so fans for the Everton match, holding it at PPL Park (capacity around 19,000) guarantees a sell-out and a great atmosphere. And the Linc is the only place to face off against Real Madrid.
Cristiano Ronaldo and manager Jose Mourinho (both from Portugal) lead the Spanish giants, although reports surfaced Friday that Ronaldo could be on his way out. The two strong-willed personalities have been known to clash on the training ground, but it's a good bet Ronaldo will still be with the team when they play the Union.
Manchester United have been in Philly three times, and they drew just 44,000 or so for the match against the Union. I'm predicting that Real Madrid draws about 60,000 to the Linc, if only because they haven't been around this way quite as often.
Some Union fans gripe a little bit about these friendlies disrupting the ebb and flow of the Major League Soccer season, but such thinking is definitely short-sighted. It's all about building the brand right now. While the team making a run at an MLS Cup sometime soon would be nice, it's more about the traditions that are established. When talking soccer in America, 20 years from now means a lot more than the present day.
Speaking of which, there's the small matter of the Union playing the Chicago Fire at PPL Park on Saturday night. Philly is coming off a 2-0 road loss to FC Dallas last weekend, and a lot of people are starting to push the panic button when it comes to the lack of offense.
I think that will sort itself out. Any side with Danny Mwanga, Sebastien Le Toux and Carlos Ruiz will start sticking the ball in the back of the net, especially if creative midfielder Roger Torres gets some more playing time from manager Peter Nowak.
At this point of the season, it's better to be solid defensively, which the Union are. Goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon is a significant upgrade, and central defender Danny Califf looks like a new player. At this point, it's wise to take this one match at a time.