Soccer goes big in Indianapolis
Before professional soccer makes its debut in Indiana, Hoosiers were spoiled Thursday when European giants Chelsea F.C. and Inter Milan participated in the first round of the Guinness International Champions Cup.
The artificial turf of Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis was covered by Kentucky Bluegrass sod and the goal posts Adam Vinatieri kicks his version of pigskin football through were taken down. In place were goals intended for soccer ‘ futbol to the rest of the world ‘ so some of the game’s best players could strike for goals.
Popularity of soccer in the United States has seen a steady increase since the country hosted the World Cup in 1994. The establishment of Major League Soccer followed the World Cup excitement, thus the evolution of the sport’s exposure in the States has increased.
A big announcement came in January for Indiana when the North American Soccer League approved the Indy Eleven to join the professional league starting in 2014.
Youth soccer has risen since the success of the World Cup along with increased television exposure of the sport abroad. Locally, Corydon Central’s girls’ soccer program has won every Mid-Southern Conference title while, on the boys’ side, the Panthers have won four of six titles. North Harrison’s soccer programs are on the up with the development of a youth program to feed into the high school’s team.
Lanesville, meanwhile, introduced a co-ed soccer program last season and will hit the field again in 2013.
The Indy Eleven is slated to play home games at Michael Carroll Stadium on the campus of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis starting in 2014.
Season tickets are affordable, ranging from $135 to $390 for 15 home contests. Individual tickets will be as low as $10.
Part of the hype was teaming Indy Eleven with the International Champions Cup to bring two of the world’s top teams to Indianapolis last week. In 2011-12, Chelsea won the UEFA Champions League, a competition among Europe’s best club teams. It serves as the most prestigious competition in Europe.
Chelsea, representing the English Premier League, faced off against Inter Milan, the ninth-place finisher in the Italian Serie A last year.
When the teams came together at Lucas Oil Stadium, the crowd was announced at 41,983, slightly larger than the capacity of Chelsea’s home field of Stamford Bridge. Inter Milan’s home stadium of San Siro holds 80,000.
On the pitch, Chelsea scored a pair of goals in the first half to eventually win 2-0. In the 13th minute, midfielder Victor Moses ran through the middle of the field on a break then eventually passed to Oscar. From 18 yards out, Oscar buried a right-footed crack into the upper right corner, giving The Blues a 1-0 lead.
A bit of controversy loomed over Chelsea’s second goal when the head referee awarded the leading club a penalty kick when Moses was tackled by Inter Milan’s Alvaro Pereira. Inter Milan players pleaded with the referee to view the replay on Lucas Oil Stadium’s jumbotrons to prove the foul occurred outside of the penalty area.
The pleas went for naught, as Chelsea’s midfielder Eden Hazard kicked in the penalty in the 29th minute, giving his team a 2-0 lead.
Inter Milan had a few chances to score, including one negated by an offside call. The match was sealed early in the second half when Inter Milan defender Hugo Campanaro was sent off with a red card.
Plenty of stars played on the night where the stadium’s roof was opened, including Chelsea’s Petr Cech, Ashley Cole, David Luiz, Fernado Torres and Hazard. Veteran centerback John Terry, who has spent much of his career at Chelsea and on the England national team, helped Cech secure the shut-out against Inter Milan as the team’s captain.
Much of the buzz around the field was the return of Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho. He led the London team to EPL and international success in the mid-2000s. He also spent two years at Inter Milan, winning Serie A titles in both and the Champions League in 2009-10. After three years most recently at Real Madrid, Mourinho is back at Chelsea.
The thirst for soccer in Indiana was obvious with the large crowd at the exhibition-style International Champions Cup, an eight-team event held throughout the United States. Chelsea has advanced and will face Real Madrid tonight (Wednesday) at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, Fla., for the Cup.
Professional soccer hype has carried over to the Indy Eleven, which has sold more than 4,500 season tickets thus far.
Soccer’s time at the professional level has arrived for Indiana. There are long-term plans to build a stadium for the franchise. The slogan for the team is catchy as well: ‘The World’s Game, Indiana’s Team.’
For more information about Indy Eleven, visit www.indyeleven.com.