What a night! August 1 was the biggest soccer game in Indy history, at least in terms of the crowd size and the quality of the teams. There are a couple of US Open Cup final matches that might have been more important, but make no mistake: this was a big damn deal, even if the match was essentially a preseason warmup for both teams.
But first and foremost, it was a lot of fun.
While it’s not my day job, my love is photography. When you combine that with my love of soccer — well. I’m incredibly jealous of guys like Stuart MacFarlane and David Price (the Arsenal team photographers). They get to combine these two joys every day. So, when John Koluder (the Indy Eleven PR director) suggested I apply for media credentials for the match, I did so without expecting much. But the team was able to help me get my credentials, and I had a wonderful chance to work in a setting I’ve dreamed about. Thanks, John! It was a memorable night.
Indy is no stranger to setting up for a big event, and the city did well by itself. The Chelsea fans in particular showed up from out of town, as well as a handful of neutrals just interested in a big game. The city is at its best for these kinds of events — the enjoyable downtown, friendly residents, and efficient layout really help people have a good time. And venues like Chatham Tap and Claddagh really went into overdrive to support the soccer scene.
When I got to Lucas Oil at around 5pm, fans were already starting to congregate at the stadium. The crowds weren’t packed, or drunk, but they were having fun and enjoying themselves. The Chelsea marketing arm was frankly astounding, and the 20,000 flags they gave out were only a part of it. Chelsea fans were having a great time! The atmosphere was building nicely when I headed inside to check out the stadium.
It was more than strange to see Lucas Oil covered in real grass. It looked like a better surface than the Seattle CONCACAF qualifier had in June… but maybe not by much. If the big new US football arenas are going to host serious soccer matches, they’ll have to figure out how to lay down a better surface than this.
Still, it was great to see the Brick House covered in the real thing for once, and as the fans filtered in, the soccer vibe began to build. The visiting fans were ecstatic to see their teams play, and the home fans were ready to party and to try something new.
And then, the teams showed up.
Watching Inter and Chelsea take their warm-ups on the field — and then marching out in their iconic kit — was both wonderful and surreal. Who could think such storied teams could find a way to Indianapolis? Watching John Terry at the head of the lined-up squad, holding the hand of the mascot — and only 10 feet away from me — was not something I could ever imagine seeing in my home town. That isn’t some Belgian driver come to test his mettle at the Speedway; that’s Eden Hazard. And he’s going to play in our city.
The introductions? Amazing. The choice to use Fanfare for the Common Man was inspired and sent chills down my spine. Frankly, the US should adopt it for all our big soccer matches. Copeland is ours, and the music suits us, and suits the occasion.
And then we kicked off. Watching the game unfold in our city, our stadium, was electric. We’ve seen our share of world-class athletes and exciting visitors. But this is soccer. I kept thinking about the broadcast going out to diehard fans up late in London and Milan (and Helsinki and Budapest and Singapore and Buenos Aires. True, we might have that for a big Pacers or Colts game — at least a few fans. But this wasn’t an American game. It was soccer.
And so they played.
The game was evenly balanced at first, but frankly I think Chelsea were just waiting to see if Inter could find another gear. And they couldn’t. The midfield in particular was Chelsea territory, and after absorbing some inconsequential Inter pressure, the Blues spun up through the gear and worked a nice move through Victor Moses to get a goal via Oscar.
Hearing the Lucas Oil stadium erupt was surprising and exciting. It wasn’t polite applause — it was the roar of a soccer crowd seeing their team take the lead.
The goal was against the run of play, but Chelsea deserved it all the same. Inter tried to find some bite, but the effort wasn’t enough. When Moses won a penalty, and Eden Hazard converted it, the game was taken out of reach for the Italian side. It was amusing to watch the Inter players frantically try to get the referee to watch the replay on the big screen. Moses was clearly outside the box when he was fouled… but if you think a ref is going to change that call just because of a replay, you don’t know FIFA.
The second half had nice moments for both sides, but Inter weren’t terribly threatening, and when Campagnaro was sent off, the air went out of the game. I could hardly blame the fans for starting the Wave, and while the subs tried to make something happen, the second half played out tamely. Final, Chelsea 2-0 Inter.
In Indianapolis. Did I mention it was in Indy?
The game was a lot of fun, and judging by anecdotal evidence, the people who went had a great time. I heard nothing but praise and gratitude from the fans who were there, and a few were jealous that they didn’t make it. The city did well, and it was great to hear the fans really into the match.
Chelsea went on to the ICC Championship, losing 3-1 to Real Madrid. Inter were less able, losing all their matches before finally beating Juventus 1-1 (9-8 on penalties) to take 7th in the 8-team field.
I’m not sure how Relevant Entertainment would evaluate the International Champions Cup. I can say that they drew some big crowds, which has to help. But it’s particularly nice to see Indy come in near the top of the attendance list, with 41,983 fans attending the match. That’s… impressive. Only the final matches, in Miami, drew more fans.
Both managers praised the stadium and criticized the playing surface. But I’m sure that Chelsea (and hopefully the other English teams) took note of the 35,000+ Chelsea fans that came to a Midwestern city with no serious soccer history. Ultimately the match gave both teams a good competitive game… and a major financial windfall, I’m sure. I have definite hopes that we’ll see similar matches played in the US — and hopefully in Indianapolis.
The biggest winner, perhaps, is the Indy Eleven. The team passed 5,000 season ticket sales last week, with more than 500 new signups coming after the match. (That’s aside from people who signed up so they could get good seats prior to the game.)
More importantly, the team made a big splash in the Indianapolis sports scene. There was plenty of news coverage both before and after the game. I don’t think many new people learned about the team — soccer fans were aware. But I think it was immense in showing that the Eleven are not like the Blast or the Twisters. This is a team with a completely different level of clout and organization.
How about Indianapolis? Not surprisingly, the city did quite well as a host. We’re good at this kind of thing, and the relevant players (city government, the Visit Indy folks, and the Eleven) made sure that the attention and support were there. Fans coming from out of town had a good time.
The venue was a bit more of a mixed bag. Lucas Oil Stadium is great and proved to be a solid atmosphere. The pitch was another story, and one that needs to be improved if we’re to keep hosting big-time games. A World Cup qualifier for the US Men’s Team would be a great opportunity. Typically, US Soccer has a dual plan for big matches. Friendly games are played in big cities like New York or Miami or LA, so that they can pack the stadium and bring in a lot of revenue. Meaningful matches are played in the heartland, in stadiums where the US is more likely to have a strong home fan base.
Indy could provide a bit of both worlds — plenty of rabid USMNT fans, but in a larger venue that could really build a rockin’ atmosphere. Looking at it that way, Indy could be a great host; the challenge will be putting it on a good pitch. Hopefully that will get better over time.
I do think though that we did well enough to host another big-time friendly match like this one. Will there be an ICC next year? Will it come through Indy? There are a lot of variables there… but I think Indy did its part.
But maybe the biggest winners were the Indianapolis fans themselves. People who were already soccer fans tend to be a bit skeptical about whether the game can catch on in Indy, and other sports fans tend to believe that soccer isn’t really relevant to the city. Both groups had to be pleasantly surprised by the results. Bob Kravitz from the Indy Star is a good example of an old-school sports guy who’s not into soccer. But even he was impressed and marked the game as a turning point for soccer in Indy.
All in all, a night to remember. The Eleven threw a great welcoming party, and the city was a great host. Well done, Indy! Cheers to you!
You might also want to read a few other interesting reports on the match:
- Indy Eleven: Chelsea Blanks Inter 2-0 in ICC First Round
- Brickyard Battalion: International Champions Cup Experience
- Doug Starnes at Soccer Newsday: Indy Alchemy: A Budding Soccer City?
- Greg Rakestraw @ 1070TheFan: Was Chelsea/Inter a kickoff to soccer success in Indy?