South Africa, the scene of this summer’s World Cup, was a far-off land for American soccer fans to travel to for world-class competition.
While it was impossible for most to make the trip to see soccer’s biggest stage in person, Bay Area fans have a chance to see some of the world’s elite players tonight as Real Madrid takes on Club America in an exhibition game at Candlestick Park.
Real Madrid, the Spanish team considered by many to be the world’s No. 1 soccer club, has an astounding 12 players from this year’s World Cup on its roster. The team will have its entire roster at Candlestick, meaning fans have a good chance of seeing their favorite players, including Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal, Kaka of Brazil and Sergio Ramos of World Cup winner Spain.
More than 50,000 fans are expected at the game, a figure that owes a lot to the interest generated from the World Cup.
“The U.S. got to the round of 16, so that was something that was definitely positive and encouraging,” said Tim Luce, general manager of Marquez Brothers International, the group organizing and promoting the match.
Luce, who once worked as the general manager for the San Jose Galaxy, says the United States’ finish against Algeria to break into the top 16 of the World Cup might help bring mainstream sports fans over to soccer.
“A lot of people saw Landon Donovan’s game-winning goal in extra time and I think that increased a lot of the awareness and interest of fans who may be more baseball or football fans now to be open to soccer,” Luce said.
Marquez Brothers International, the promotion sector of the food distribution company El Mexicano, was presented with the opportunity for today’s game during the World Cup, meaning it had just over a month to make the game a reality.
While the company usually desires between two and three months to put an event like this together, it made the best of the situation because of the once-in-a-lifetime chance to host Real Madrid.
“The name is so iconic,” Luce says of the club that’s been stacking up Spanish Cup titles since the early 1900s. “It has such an impact with people that we could not turn down the opportunity. This is like the U2 or the Rolling Stones of soccer.”
Club America also draws attention because it’s one of the top two club teams in Mexico.
“They’ve played against a lot of big international teams before,” Luce said. “They’ve played against Inter Milan, they’ve played against Manchester United — so they’ve had a lot of testing.”
Luce says the large turnout expected at tonight’s game will be important in showing how far soccer has come in the Bay Area.
“I think it’ll say a lot. It’ll make a statement that San Francisco is a great soccer town,” he said. “And there has been a lot of great games before and we want to continue that process.”
Club America vs. Real Madrid
WHEN: Today, 8 p.m.
WHERE: Candlestick Park
STAR POWER: Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), Kaka (Brazil), Sergio Ramos (Spain) all set to compete for Real Madrid