Chelsea wraps up U.S. tour with WFC title
ARLINGTON, Texas -- No one would mistake success in the World Football Challenge, an odd duck of a preseason tournament in which teams play twice sometimes within 48 hours, as a guarantor of success in more weighty matters ahead for the global heavyweights involved.
Still, if you're going to do one of these whistle-stop tours, careening around a big country in a money-making mix of travel, training and matches, you may as well do it as Chelsea did and win 'em all.
Florent Malouda and young reservist Franco Di Santo each contributed a second-half goal and assist as Chelsea's "B side" protected the Blues' perfect mark in the World Football Challenge with a 2-0 win Sunday over Mexico's Club America. So although it's still very early, Carlo Ancelotti's opening days in charge of the well-heeled West London side could hardly have started any better.
Chelsea had already brushed back Inter Milan and AC Milan en route to Sunday's tournament closer inside the Dallas Cowboys' grand new colossus. So as the Blues left immediately on a charter back to London Gatwick late Sunday evening, Ancelotti could reflect on a successful week and a half in America.
"We played these games at the right moment," he said. "We did 10 days in London, so now was the right moment to play. We played, we played well, we had growth, and now we are ready to start the season."
Chelsea's four-game tour (including one match against the Seattle Sounders that was not part of the World Football Challenge) was certainly profitable. The average crowd of 68,776 eclipsed the previous high-water mark for a foreign soccer tour, according to WFC officials. Manchester United's sweep through the States in 2003 averaged 67,885, the officials said.
Sunday's crowd of 57,229 was probably a bit disappointed that some of Chelsea's big stars weren't involved. The Blues spent less than 36 hours in Dallas and, coming off Friday's win in Baltimore, Ancelotti changed all 11 starters. Not that anyone was too concerned with claiming the prize in a preseason tournament, but Chelsea did come into the night tops among the four sides, requiring only a tie to claim the crown. Ancelotti entrusted the effort to younger types such as Michael Mancienne, Daniel Sturridge and Scott Sinclair, guided by a few wise old hands, Michael Essien, Deco and Ricardo Carvalho in particular.
Frank Lampard, who had played all but three minutes of Chelsea's preseason until Sunday, was nowhere to be seen after a ceremonial prematch presentation. Nor was John Terry, who was the buzz of the Blues' camp for his belated commitment Sunday to remain at Stamford Bridge in spite of Manchester City's aggressive courtship. Didier Drogba was seen -- but only to bear hug Di Santo on the sidelines after the youngster's 76th-minute strike.
Di Santo, a 20-year-old Argentine attacker, was instrumental in the second goal, too, which came just two minutes later. His nifty dribbling on the end line left Malouda with the easiest of finishes.
Club America, fresh off a spending spree meant to rescue the Mexico City giants from impending relegation danger, deployed most of its first team.
Still, it was the Londoners imposing themselves more in Club America's end, with the edge expanding gradually as the match went on. Sturridge blew a golden opportunity in the eighth minute, and a couple of goalmouth melees failed to produce much beyond a few oohs and ahs inside the $1.1 billion facility (which Chelsea players raved over after Saturday night's light practice.)
Chelsea struck the post twice late in first half, both off Malouda's deadeye set piece deliveries. Club America later did the same, just missing in the 63rd, although that's about all they could muster against Blues' center backs Carvalho and Alex.
Steve Davis is a Dallas-based freelance writer who covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He also writes a blog, Dailysoccerfix.com, and can be reached at BigTexSoccer@yahoo.com.