Two of the world's premier soccer teams will be coming to AT&T Park next week for the first round of a rebranded tournament taking place all over the country.
Juventus and Everton will face off July 31 in what will be the second game of the International Champions Cup, formerly known as the World Football Challenge. A total of eight teams will participate in games played in Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix and Indianapolis, with the finals to be played in Miami.
Charlie Stillitano, president and CEO of Relevent Sports, paired with Stephen Ross, who owns the NFL's Miami Dolphins, with the goal of creating a true international soccer tournament in the United States.
They learned a few lessons from the three installments of the World Football Challenge, played in 2009, 2011 and 2012. The main hiccup came when they began a partnership with Major League Soccer in 2010.
"There were a lot of great things to that partnership," Stillitano said. "Most specifically we shared sponsorship and we included the MLS teams, which was terrific. The negative part of it was that MLS, rightly so, wanted as many of their MLS teams as possible in this. So suddenly we went from a very concrete round robin in 2009, with four teams playing six games and declaring a winner, to a very much — for lack of a better word — a disjointed series of games again."
The 2011 edition included a total of 13 teams, including five from the MLS. This year, the only American team will be the Los Angeles Galaxy, and Stillitano said he believes they will represent themselves well in the tournament.
"You're not taking a team that's struggling," he said. "But you're taking a team that's filled with stars and has won the MLS cup. The other part is they've played Real Madrid several times before, so they know what to expect."
As for the match in San Francisco, Bay Area soccer fans will have a chance to watch a Juventus team that won the Italian Football Championship each of the past two seasons, and has actively been acquiring more talent on its roster. Everton comes to town featuring a new manager, Roberto Martinez, who Stillitano said is known for "attractive soccer."
Both clubs are expected to arrive in the Bay Area this weekend to begin practicing for next week's game.
After the July 31 game, both teams will head to Los Angeles for their second-round games on Aug. 3 before moving on to Miami. The championship game will be played Aug. 7.