The 50-year-old concrete stadium in Mission Valley continues to evade a date with the wrecking ball, and promoters continue to fill it with a different kind of ball instead.
England’s Tottenham Hotspurs and Italy’s AS Roma will play at SDCCU Stadium on July 25 as part of soccer’s International Champions Cup, an 18-team event spread across six countries and three continents that features most of the planet’s top pro clubs.
The other participants this summer: AC Milan, Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Benfica, Borussia Dortmund, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid and Sevilla.
“It’s been a while since we’ve been to San Diego,” Charlie Stillitano, the executive chairman of Relevent Sports, the ICC’s promoter. “It’s a great multi-cultural market, not just Hispanic but for all soccer-loving fans. San Diego is a place that has a rich history in soccer and we thought it would be a really good venue.”
Tottenham is currently fourth in the Premier League, on track to quality for the UEFA Champions League next season, and could have four starters for England in the upcoming World Cup: forward Harry Kane, midfielders Dele Alli and Eric Dier, and defender Danny Rose.
Roma has been the surprise club in Europe this season, dramatically eliminating Barcelona from the UEFA Champions League last week with a 3-0 win in the second leg of the quarterfinals. Roma faces Liverpool in the semis.
They met in last year’s ICC on the same date at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. Roma led 2-0, watched Spurs equalize with goals in the 88th and 92nd minute, then won moments later on a strike by Marco Tumminello.
“They’re not traditional blockbuster teams like a Real Madrid or a Barcelona,” Stillitano said. “But people who know the game really know these are two of the best young teams in Europe.”
Stillitano said he expects Roma to base its July training camp in San Diego. Following the game against Spurs, it plays Barcelona on July 31 at AT&T Stadium outside Dallas and Real Madrid on August 7 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
The ICC grew out of the World Football Challenge, which replaced similar U.S. summer exhibition tours by European clubs. Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross created Relevent Sports with the idea of transforming scattered exhibition games into a meaningful preseason competition with a champion and trophy.
The first two ICCs, in 2013 and 2014, had eight teams. It has grown from there, to 15 then 17 and now 18 clubs in 20 venues in the United States, Europe and Singapore with shootouts and tiebreakers to determine an overall champion (most teams play three times).
“There used to be two myths,” Stillitano said. “One was that you couldn’t train properly in America because there weren’t good facilities. Then (former Manchester United coach) Sir Alex Ferguson started telling his colleagues and anyone who cared to listen that the facilities here in the United States are better than anywhere in the world.
“The other myth was that you can’t train in America and win anything significant.”
That changed, Stillitano surmises, in 2009 after a four-team World Football Challenge with Inter Milan, AC Milan, Chelsea and Mexico’s Club America. Inter Milan went on to win Serie A, the Italian Cup and the UEFA Champions League under Jose Mourinho, and Chelsea won the English double (Premier League and F.A. Cup).
“We used to have to buy TV time and beg teams to come, and managers would be like, ‘No, I’m not going to do it,’” Stillitano said. “Now we have at least a half-dozen teams we had to break the bad news to that we can’t include them. It’s become a prestigious tournament to be in. You have to give Mr. Ross credit. He saw that it could be that.”