Barcelona, Man U plan Bay Area holiday

For the first time ever, the  San Jose Earthquakes will face English giants Manchester United and reigning Liga MX champions Club America during this summer’s International Champions Cup (ICC), the club announced Tuesday.

Add to that a July 25 clash between Manchester United and Barcelona at Levi’s Stadium, and the Bay Area looks slated to host at least three matches featuring some of the best clubs in the world.

Looks is the key word, as the July 21 match between the Quakes and Red Devils remains the only tournament fixture (of 17 in total) still awaiting a venue.

The decision on where to play the match will likely be based on how quickly tickets sell out for the Barcelona match on July 25, and whether tournament organizers believe enough interest exists in the Bay Area to fill a large stadium on a Tuesday night. Tickets go on presale Monday starting at $65.

The match against Club America will take place at Avaya Stadium on July 14, but with a maximum capacity of only 18,000, the Quakes new state-of-the art facility does not appear to be an option for the clash with United.

Charlie Stillitano, chairman of Relevent Sports, the group in charge of organizing the International Champions Cup (ICC), detailed the selection process at a press conference Wednesday morning, saying they would prefer to hold the game in the Bay Area:

“We’ll see how quickly (Manchester United v. Barcelona) sells out. We all anticipate this will be one of the quickest sell-outs of the ICC. You want to play in a venue, that will also have an opportunity for San Jose Earthquakes fans to come to the game … We probably want to keep it in an area where the San Jose fans can get to, but you also have to keep in mind that we want to make sure that it’s big enough to support the game.”

This will be the Earthquakes’ first appearance in what is the third installment of the ICC, a glorified exhibition tournament that takes place over two continents, used primarily as a pre-season tune up for large European clubs.

This summer’s version of the tournament features five teams that participated in 2014-2015 Champions League: Manchester United and Chelsea of the English Premier League, Barcelona of Spain’s La Liga, Paris Saint-Germain of France’s Ligue 1 and FC Porto of Portugal’s Primeira Liga.

Rounding out the tournament are the aforementioned 12-time Liga MX title winning Club America, top French club Fiorentina, and MLS representatives Earthquakes, LA Galaxy and New York Red Bulls. Stillitano believes the quality of the clubs involved will attract fans despite the “exhibition” tag:

“These match-ups speak to the immense success and quality of the International Champions Cup. Not only are three of the quarter-finalists for the Champions League participating, but the Chelsea vs. Paris Saint-Germain finish in the round of 16 was spectacular.  Showcasing this rematch, along with the multitude of other high quality and competitive contests, is truly exciting and shows these games are more than just friendlies.”

The games don’t technically count as competitive fixtures, though they remain one of the few ways American soccer fans get a chance to see some of the world’s best teams in person. Thirteen of the 17 matches will be played on American soil, with Mexico, Canada, England and France each hosting one apiece.

Additionally, Earthquakes President Dave Kaval sees the matches as an excellent promotional opportunity for the Bay Area club:

“We are looking forward to playing two of the most storied clubs in the world this summer. We have had good success against international opponents in our history and we are excited to showcase our club in this important tournament. It should be a great summer of soccer for the Quakes and the Bay Area.”

With the clash between Manchester United coming approximately three weeks before their English Premier League campaign begins, it’s likely that the Earthquakes will see a United side consisting of many first-teamers, as was the case during the ICC in 2014.

It will also be interesting to see what type of lineup the Earthquakes elect to trot out for the friendlies, with the added matches against United and America giving the Earthquakes a busy stretch of five games in 16 days. The matches also fall during the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which lasts from July 7 to July 26, meaning the Earthquakes could already be without a handful of key contributors.

The match with Manchester United will mark the second time the Earthquakes have faced off against a top English side, with the first coming in 2010 against a Tottenham Hotspur team fresh off Champions League qualification.