Soccer: Fans enjoy chance to see Real stars

2013-08-01T00:00:00Z Soccer: Fans enjoy chance to see Real starsOdeen Domingo The Arizona Republic Arizona Daily Star
August 01, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Noel Garza isn't a Real Madrid fan. And his 8-year-old son, Aran, is actually a fan of FC Barcelona, Real Madrid's fiercest rival.

But there was no way they were going to miss this.

Real Madrid, one of the higher profile teams in all of sports, is going to play in the same state the Garzas live in. So when they heard Real Madrid was coming to the Valley to play MLS club Los Angeles Galaxy at University of Phoenix Stadium, they bought tickets before they went on sale to the general public.

"Neither one of us thought this was going to happen," said Garza, 46, of Tempe. "This is a higher level of soccer, seeing the guys we only get to see on TV. It'll probably be the only chance to see them in person."

Arizona has held big soccer matches before, with a 2007 match between the U.S. men's national team and the Mexican national soccer team drawing the biggest crowd of them all (62,462 at University of Phoenix Stadium).

Real Madrid alone should attract an attendance tonight that will rival those numbers. The Spanish giants boast some of the top players in the world and no player more polarizing than Portuguese winger Cristiano Ronaldo, handsome, brash and ridiculously skilled with a soccer ball.

The opportunity to play a team like Real Madrid isn't lost on 10-year MLS veteran and Galaxy defender Todd Dunivant.

"The biggest thing with them is that they attract a huge crowd," said Dunivant, who has helped the Galaxy win the past two MLS Cup championships. "The games are always fun. It's always great to test yourself against the best in the world."

The Galaxy has played Real Madrid in friendlies two consecutive summers now. But this time, there is a trophy on the line.

The two clubs are playing each other tonight in the first round of the inaugural Guinness International Champions Cup. The tournament includes six other high-profile teams from England, Italy and Spain, will be played in seven different cities and culminate in a championship game in Miami on Wednesday.

The Real Madrid-Galaxy game is the only match of the tournament scheduled in Phoenix. Charlie Stillitano, CEO of Relevant Sports, said his company, which has been bringing some of the top European clubs to play friendlies in the U.S. since 2003, has been looking to bring a big match to Phoenix "for quite some time."

He said organizers love University of Phoenix Stadium.

"It's a great city," Stillitano said. "It's a great football city. There are so many fans. Obviously, there is a huge Hispanic base and there is also a huge youth soccer base. We always talked about when's the right time to bring a team there. This time, with the schedule (which includes semifinal matches held at Los Angeles) and Phoenix's location, we thought this would be a great opportunity certainly for the L.A. Galaxy to expand their brand and also to bring Real Madrid there. It made perfect sense."

Today

• What: Guinness International Champions Cup

• Who: Real Madrid vs. Los Angeles Galaxy

• Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale

• When: 7:30 p.m.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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