Los Angeles Times

Sellout friendlies show L.A. is a soccer market

Leagues Cup featuring Galaxy and LAFC display a growing interest in the sport.

- By Kevin Baxter

As constructi­on workers were putting the finishing touches on SoFi Stadium 2½ years ago, promoters were nearing an agreement to make a Barcelona-Real Madrid game one of the first sporting events to be held at the venue.

The Mexican national team asked to play there next.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, wiping out live crowds at sports and entertainm­ent events for more than a year. SoFi has played host to two NFL regular seasons, a Super Bowl and concerts by the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney and Los Bukis since then.

But it wasn’t until Wednesday that soccer finally got in the door of the $5.5-billion stadium, with the Galaxy beating Chivas of Guadalajar­a 2-0 in the first game of the Leagues Cup Showcase on goals from Dejan Joveljic and teenager Jonathan Pérez. Mexico City’s Club América beat LAFC on penalty kicks in the second game after the teams played 90 minutes to a scoreless draw.

Three more similar showcases will be played next month in Nashville, Salt Lake City and Cincinnati, leading to next summer’s League Cup, a monthlong tournament featuring all 47 Liga MX and MLS teams.

Organizers said attendance for the exhibition doublehead­er was 71,189, a sellout. Last weekend LAFC, Angel City of the NWSL and the second-division Orange County Soccer Club all played before sold-out stadiums while an internatio­nal friendly between Juventus and Real Madrid filled the Rose Bowl. Add those totals to Wednesday’s crowd and club soccer has drawn more than 212,000 fans to four Southern California venues in the last six days.

“It shows what Los Angeles is as a soccer market,” Galaxy President Chris Klein said. “As a Major League Soccer market, as an NWSL market, as a market for the Women’s World Cup, as a market for a men’s World Cup.”

Speaking of the World Cup, Klein is also co-chair for the local organizing committee for the 2026 tournament, which convinced FIFA to select SoFi as one of 16 venues for that competitio­n. But Wednesday’s friendlies, he said, were not a trial run for the World Cup.

“This is an event that’s taking place in their building,” he said. “It shows you what soccer can look like in SoFi. It’s soccer in the venue.”

A World Cup in the venue will require a few alteration­s.

FIFA requires World Cup games be played on a natural surface, for example, so a grass carpet was laid over SoFi’s artificial field Wednesday. But the width of the field, at 68¾ yards, according to organizers, was a bit narrow for a World Cup game. That can be remedied by removing demountabl­e field-level seats in the four corners of the pitch.

“There’s still some work that needs to be done,” Klein said. “The system is in there for them to be able to do that. But it is very different hosting what we host[ed] and hosting a World Cup.”

If the Leagues Cup Showcase wasn’t intended to be a World Cup dress rehearsal, it was meant to highlight the growing partnershi­p between MLS and the Liga MX, whose players will also square off for a second straight summer in an all-star game next week in Minneapoli­s.

“We thought that it was a good idea to generate these showcases in order to send the message to the fans, and obviously to the market, that we’re very strong together,” Liga MX President Mikel Arriola said Wednesday. “Today is very important to underline that statement because we’re playing for the first time soccer in SoFi Stadium, right? The most valuable sports property in the world.

“MLS and Liga MX jointly have the power to play in full stadiums of the NFL. That’s a great example.”

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