Big-time soccer made its way to Minnesota on Saturday in a match between international powerhouses Manchester City and Olympiakos, and the event could be described as a positive result all around.
Many stops on the Guinness International Champions Cup have drawn better crowds — a match at the Big House in Michigan sold out more than 100,000 tickets in a day — but the announced attendance at TCF Bank Stadium of 34,047 was hailed as a “great start with the relationships in the soccer community” by Lester Bagley, a Vikings vice president.
The Vikings, who helped promote the match, and another local group headed by Minnesota United FC owner Bill McGuire — his Loons, who play in the second-tier North American Soccer League, had a league match at the Bank as the second game of the doubleheader — are both vying for a potential Major League Soccer expansion franchise in Minnesota.
Though Saturday’s international match was ostensibly a friendly — a tuneup for both English Premier League club Manchester City and Olympiakos from Greece’s top pro league as they prepare for their seasons to begin shortly — the world-class nature of the players was evident.
Concerns about the natural grass surface — installed over the artificial surface normally used at the stadium by an outside firm, not the University of Minnesota — threatened the quality of play and the health of players but ultimately the event was a success.
After Olympiakos outlasted Manchester City on penalty kicks, Olympiakos midfielder Pajtim Kasami spoke about the match and the Guinness Cup with the Star Tribune’s Michael Rand and other reporters:
Q Are you looking forward to the new season?
A It’s been a very long trip in America. Everyone is very tired and everyone looks forward to going back to Europe and preparing for our first game.
Q Is it important to you guys to grow the game of soccer in the United States and places like Minnesota that don’t always get exposure to this level of soccer?
A I think we represented our club and Greece. I think it’s also great for America that soccer becomes, all the time, more important.
Q There was a lot of talk about the field condition. What specifically made it tough to play on?
A The pitch was not great. We were close to canceling the game. It wasn’t like a soccer pitch, and it’s too dangerous for injuries. But obviously everything [turned out] good.
Q Were the talks [about canceling the game] serious?
A Yes, they were very serious. Obviously the pitch wasn’t very great. It’s too great of a risk for injuries. The season starts in two or three weeks. You could see from the stands how the ball would land. The pitch was also very warm, but it’s important that we’re OK.
Q The pitch aside, how was the environment and atmosphere — how did it compare to the other two games you played in this tournament?
A It was very good. It was a great atmosphere and a great tournament. The fans were very nice, given that it was very warm for us players. We enjoyed it.