European soccer teams try to establish presence in US

If former U.S. men’s national team goalkeeper Brad Friedel can develop a British accent, then English Premier League soccer can make a splash in the states.

After contributing to three U.S. World Cup teams and spending 23 years in Europe (thus the accent), the 43-year-old Friedel is now part of Tottenham Hotspur, which will play the Seattle Sounders in a friendly today at CenturyLink Field. He’s also a hired ambassador for the EPL club, and works to spread Tottenham’s brand in North America.

Just as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is trying to establish a presence in England, so too do European soccer teams try to raise awareness in the U.S. To do that, playing in front of as many American soccer fans as possible is the goal. Therefore, Tottenham chose Seattle as its first stop in a three-match tour through the U.S. and Canada to kick off the Spurs’ preseason this month.

With Seattle at the top of MLS attendance numbers, playing the Sounders in a friendly seemed like an obvious choice. But Tottenham also considered the level of competition they would face, and how much Seattle could offer Hotspur in terms of preseason conditioning. Hotspur finished sixth in the Premier League last season and is looking to build on that.

“The facilities have to be brilliant because it’s a serious time for the club because we only get one opportunity to get everybody fit and ready for the season,” said Hotspur executive director Donna-Maria Cullen. “There’s a great setup here.”

While in Seattle, Tottenham will practice at Virginia Mason Athletic Center, which is the Seahawks’ facility.

But it’s not just about the match: Tottenham likes to do community events in its host city, too.

On Friday, members of the team went to Pike Place Market to participate in a fish toss with the Sounders. Tottenham also has a supporter group of about 60 fans in Seattle that the team will interact with.

It’s all in an effort to increase Tottenham’s fan base on this continent.

“We want to expand,” Friedel said. “We want to get our message out and about into the American public because we are one of the clubs that are pleasing on the eye, if you like. We’re known throughout history to be a flair attacking football club.”

That style of play is part of what has made Tottenham a club that has 30 American supporter groups throughout the country (Seattle’s is one of the strongest).

Harry Kane, who has been with the club since he was 10 years old, has seen the club’s global footprint increase.

“For me, being a local lad and being part of my home club, for me, it’s extra special,” said Kane, now 20. “We’ve been doing well recently. I think people are starting to notice it.”

Seattle is starting to notice, too. The Sounders had already sold more than 52,000 tickets by the beginning of this week for the friendly, with that number expected to climb as the match arrives.

Friedel praised the Sounders fan base for being “exceptional,” with those fans being a large reason why Tottenham is visiting Seattle on this tour. Tottenham will also play in Toronto on Wednesday and at Chicago on July 26.

For Friedel, the visit stateside will be even more special for him: He’ll get to reunite with Sounders coach Sigi Schmid, who coached Friedel at UCLA. That’s how Friedel knows all too well that Saturday’s friendly will be a tough challenge for Tottenham.

“It will be a great test for us,” he said. “Knowing Sigi, I’m sure he will put a full lineup out. He has German background, after all.”


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