Guinness comes to Heinz

Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers, will transform into a soccer pitch come July and the Guinness International Champions Cup. (credit: Courtesy of daveynin via Flickr) Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers, will transform into a soccer pitch come July and the Guinness International Champions Cup. (credit: Courtesy of daveynin via Flickr)

Pittsburgh is one of the few cities in the country that can boast a top-level team in three of the four major American professional leagues. The Steelers, Penguins, and Pirates are all well-known and highly-regarded teams in their own sport.

The one major sport not well known in this city is soccer. Major League Soccer (MLS) has yet to reach the heights in popularity that the other four sports enjoy, and it’s hard to see the sport having any major development in this city. However, all that may be about to change with the Guinness International Champions Cup starting at the end of July.

This cup began last year, when eight teams were split into groups of two and played out a round-robin format to determine two group winners. The group winners then contested in a final to determine the winner of the cup.

Returning from last year’s edition are defending champions Real Madrid from Spain, and Italian powerhouses A.C. Milan and Inter Milan.

The new teams to play in this year’s cup are current Premier League champions Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool from England, A.S. Roma, also from Italy, and Olympiacos from Greece. Unlike last year however, Pittsburgh is hosting a matchup between two of these European heavyweights; Manchester City and A.C. Milan are going head-to-head at Heinz Field on July 27.

This matchup provides the people of Pittsburgh with the opportunity to view some of Europe’s finest firsthand. Soccer has never received high levels of exposure in Pittsburgh, and a top-tier game taking place at one of the most well-known locations in the city may be just the publicity it requires.

The matchup itself promises to be an enticing one, as Manchester City is arguably the favorite for the title this season in the Premier League while Milan is currently enduring one of its worst seasons in recent history.

Manchester City has the star power, with household names such as striker Sergio Aguero, midfield David Silva, and midfielder Yaya Touré, among others. On the other hand, A.C. Milan can only boast striker Mario Balotelli and midfielder Kaká as players of world class caliber.

However, it’s a cup game in the preseason for both teams and, more likely than not, new additions to the team in the summer are going to be involved, and there is going to be a lot tactical tinkering from both coaches.

Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini is known for his penchant for all-out attacking soccer, but rookie manager Clarence Seedorf is slowly coming into his own for A.C. Milan and has set about salvaging something from their disastrous season.

What this match promises is some breathtaking soccer by both teams, since it is only a preseason game and doesn’t affect their season much.

As for the cup as a whole, Real Madrid seems set to defend their title. They still boast recently-crowned best player in the world forward Cristiano Ronaldo in their ranks and have a formidable running mate for him in his successor as the world’s most expensive winger, Gareth Bale.

Madrid has been on a tear recently, and it’s hard to envision a team stopping them. This cup might mean a lot more to Manchester United and A.C. Milan than others, as they are the most likely to conduct a squad overhaul in the summer transfer window, and this cup gives them the opportunity to try out formations and tactical plans.

The likes of Manchester City and Liverpool are looking to gain some additional exposure on the international stage and begin to reap in the money from lucrative sponsorship deals that come with being recognized at this level.

The likes of A.S. Roma, Inter Milan, and Olympiacos are all big clubs in their own right. A.S. Roma and Olympiacos are having stellar seasons too, but are simply using this competition as means to set up groundwork to exploit new markets abroad.

They are unlikely to ever be as well known as the others, but competitions like the Guinness International Champions Cup give them a chance to show international audiences that they can compete with the best for all top trophies.

The prospect of viewing such teams live should be an enticing one for Pittsburgh. The city prides itself on being a fervent supporter of each of the three teams it is home to, so there may be no possibility currently for major league soccer to make its way into the hearts of Pittsburghers.

But who knows? One day, Pittsburgh may just add an MLS team, with this cup at the heart of the beginning of soccer in this state and city.