No holiday

Europe's top clubs no longer treat summer U.S. tours like vacations

Updated: July 13, 2011, 1:00 PM ET
By Doug McIntyre | ESPN The Magazine
NaniMatthew Peters/Man Utd/Getty ImagesNani and Manchester United came up short in a 2-1 loss in Kansas City last July.

A version of this story appeared in the July 25 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

The boos at Chicago's Soldier Field rained down on Manchester United before the drab, scoreless draw was even over. Almost 60,000 fans had paid to see Europe's most famous soccer club light up an exhibition against Bayern Munich in July 2004. Instead, they got a lifeless performance from little-known reserves.

Every summer since, top European teams like United, Barcelona and Real Madrid have embarked on preseason pilgrimages to the States. The U.S. has long offered European clubs top-notch resources; manager Jose Mourinho has used UCLA's facilities as preseason training camps for Madrid, Inter Milan and Chelsea. And global stars like Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney enjoy the relative anonymity they find here. But unlike the cynical cash-grab games of years past, visiting teams are no longer just going through the motions in an attempt to broaden their fan bases and make a quick buck. These days, the U.S. provides another benefit.

Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine. He has covered American and international soccer since 2002.