The Ten Commandments for a Successful International Friendly

I had the fortune of attending the DC United and Paris Saint-Germain friendly this past weekend, one which this site has covered fairly extensively due to the debut of Zlatan Ibrahimovic for the French side.  The game, as has been noted, was scheduled at the last second as Juventus withdrew from its North American tour to prevent fatigue before the Italian Super Cup in China.  One of the advantages of being DC United is that its history and location make it a fairly compelling opponent for a friendly, meaning these kind of last second deals can happen.  But all of this happened before the Swedish star was transferred, so the game took on that much more importance.

I am an avowed agnostic of the international friendly, from a fan’s perspective – I rarely go out of my way seeking to attend one of these matches unless I have a specific rooting interest.  I understand the positive economic benefit to teams and the desire for fans to see their favorite overseas teams play in person, but I rarely if ever watch a friendly independent of one I am covering.  That said, as I sat and watched the DC v. PSG friendly this weekend, I began to think through what exactly should constitute a good friendly, i.e., what are the components of a very good international friendly that benefits both sides, fans, and American soccer in general.  The following are my “ten commandments” of the successful American soccer friendly.  Please feel free to share your own thoughts and amendments in the comments’ section, but I suspect these are fairly comprehensive.

[Two notes – I write this from a fan’s perspective, not a journalistic one.  Media have their own criteria for a successful friendly.  Second, this is for international teams coming to play MLS teams in North America, or two international teams playing in North America.  This does not extend to tours of other continents teams engage in that, while similar to U.S. tours, have some differences.]

1. Both teams play as many first team players as possible, for a good portion of the game.

While the names on the front of the jerseys attract the fans (or more accurately, the crest next to the sponsor’s name), it helps when the teams playing take the match somewhat seriously.  While Liverpool v. Tottenham in Baltimore will never be confused with an EPL match, it still helps the fans feel better about shelling out close to or over $100 a ticket if they can see some name players on the pitch.  While it is unrealistic and common sense to expect the normal starting XI to play 90 minutes (and if you are actually a fan of the team, do you want to see that?), having the big names on the pitch for a decent amount of the game helps make the friendly feel like a real match.  When the teams treat the game as a pre-season match and not a meaningless friendly, that makes a major difference in fan experience.

2. The game is competitive, regardless of who wins.

Of course we want our favorite team to win if we have a rooting interest, but in the end the game doesn’t mean anything in terms of standings or trophies.  The next best thing is a game where both teams are aiming for the win and it is back-and forth throughout.  A blowout either way loses fan interest quickly in a match.

3. Plenty of goals are scored, but the final score is not ridiculous.

When I wrote this commandment, I was thinking of this year’s Seattle versus Chelsea match a few weeks back.  Six goals were scored and while Chelsea were obviously the better team, Seattle was never out of it and there were plenty of exciting scoring chances.  While we soccer fans defend the scoreless draw as at times being admirable, when the stakes are low even we will admit to wanting to see the ball in the back of the net.

4. The big names for the international team(s) play up to the hype

One of the best things about the Saturday DCU v. PSG friendly was Zlatan Ibrahimovic living up to his billing almost immediately.  His goal in the third minute was a thing of beauty, a pull-back shot that could not be defended and Bill Hamid was lucky to almost get a hand on.  Reiterating the first point, while we care about the jersey we still want to see the big names on the pitch.  We pay to see Ibrahimovic, John Terry, Michael Bradley, Fernando Totti, Gareth Bale, and all of the other players that adorn our desktops and dens.  Friendlies without these players are just lacking something.

5. The big name MLS players shine in the bright lights.

Conversely, if we are seeing an MLS team play against the big boys, we want our players to also shine.  We want to feel secure in thinking that our MLS All Star can hold his own against the world’s best.  However, if that star is a younger player, we want them to play well but not TOO well as to be noticed by the scouts in attendance.  His time is coming, we tell ourselves as he breaks up a play or creates a goal, but it’s not time yet.

6. That up-and-coming what’s his name plays well enough that you remember him when he becomes a star.

This commandment is a little harder to gauge, but usually in these friendlies a new player who has been in the academy or on loan to a lower sided team uses the match as an opportunity to make a move for playing time.  The die-hards know this player and applaud when he’s introduced, but if he plays well enough that the casual fans are asking who he is and why more people don’t have his jersey, you have a memorable friendly.

7. Both teams bring a loud and raucous cheering section.

Friendlies are supposed to bring a piece of European football to the American shores.  Part of that experience is the cheering, the chanting, and the singing that is absent from American sports.  A friendly has a more authentic feel when the two teams have fan sections that are chanting and cheering the entire time.  This is hard to achieve, but when it happens it is magnificent.

8. The referees call a competitive but light-handed match.

Hey ref, it’s not all about you.  Just call the game tight enough so no one gets hurt but loose enough so the entire match isn’t spent with you drawing shaving cream lines in the dirt.  Refs should get excited about refereeing big name teams but it should not let them affect the play nor the casual atmosphere of the match.

9. The game’s backdrop is different, classy, or creative.

Say what you will about teams like Chelsea playing at Qwest CenturyLink Field, but I really enjoy when teams play at non-soccer sites that are sacred to other sports.  This season, we’ve seen teams play at Fenway, Yankee Stadium, and Wrigley Field, and while the dimensions were odd it was awesome to see the teams play with each stadium’s iconic setting in the background.  Last year, Manchester United playing at Soldier Field gave me shivers seeing English football history play on one of American football’s sacred spaces.  I bet some of you will argue it’s better to have a team play at your home stadium, but a different and unique setting adds something to the friendly.

10. There are no major injuries.

Because nothing is worse than an important player getting hurt in a meaningless game.


So for those who like to keep score, how can you apply these commandments to your local friendly?  Here is a handy scoring guide – assign one point to each of these rules that your local friendly matches, then add them up and compare to the below chart –

8 – 10: This match is the reason these friendlies are scheduled, well done World Football Classic/Herbalife/local business owner. You’ve fulfilled this fan’s dream.

6-7: Good match, there could have been some better components but overall probably worth the overpriced ticket.

4-5: Eh, glad the teams played but would have been happy catching it on TV.

1-3: Fails to live up to expectations, there were some positives but overall the match was just not worth being scheduled.

0: Someone’s getting fired.

For the record, the DC United v. PSG match on my scale came in at a 6/7, and I hope those in the stands agree.

23 Responses to The Ten Commandments for a Successful International Friendly

  1. The original Tom says:

    We could use a high profile friendly in Colorado next year because
    our team sucks.

  2. Charles says:

    First of all the CLink is a soccer stadium. How many times will
    soccer people screw this up ? I am guessing a billion more, but it
    doesn’t stop me from thinking they don’t know what they are talking
    about…..because they don’t. The only reason the stadium was built
    was because a soccer team was included to play there and be a
    part…a BIG part of the plans. The CLink is NOT a NFL stadium, it
    is a MLS AND NFL stadium. 100% true. Please change your article to
    reflect that…………………I hate the friendlies, they are a
    worthless, sellout, money grab. But I agree with 9 of the points.
    Number 7 is completely backward. No one wants a pack of Chelsea
    tools, running around pretending to be a fan of a team 6 thousand
    miles away. Most of them thinking they are better, more serious
    soccer fans because they follow the most popular league and no one
    else in the country care about it like they do. Give me a soccer
    mom taking her kids to a game over them any day of the week.

    • Tijuana Robert says:

      I agree Charles, I live 1,256 miles away from Seattle and will
      never root for MLS Sounders because they are thousands of miles
      away. I will never root for LA teams because it’s LA. Seattle to
      Miami is 3,355 miles away so as your logic follows people who live
      too far away shouldn’t root for a far off team. Anyone without a
      MLS team in their immediate city shouldn’t root for any MLS team.
      Great logic there pal, you have proven the months/years of
      arguments we have had as to why we need pro/rel. Until then, I will
      continue to travel 15 miles to see my local club.

      • Charles says:

        Ummm wrong. That is why we DONT need pro/rel. 40 teams in first
        division means you are closer to a top flight team than 20 teams.
        You really need to think before you post……ps. the only thing I
        agree with is you rooting for Tijuana. I don’t believe you do, but
        IF you did.

        • Tijuana Robert says:

          Charles, you just said we don’t need Chelsea Tools running around
          pretending to be a fan of a team 6 thousand miles away. Wouldn’t
          that apply to someone being a Sounders Tool running around
          pretending to be a fan while living in Miami? 40 teams isn’t enough
          for over 19,000 registered municipalities in the USA.

          • Alan says:

            What he is saying is that with more teams you are likely to be
            close to one. Miami might have a Miami team to supoort , or maybe a
            Tampa team, or even Orlando. Or they can stick to their local team.
            Or both. Pretty simple stuff.

          • Tijuana Robert says:

            But Miami doesn’t have a team right now so what should they do
            right now? The closest team to me is LA and will never root for a
            LA team. What should i do?

          • Charles says:

            Alan, it can’t be too simple for
            Robert……………………………………. 40 is greater
            than 20 Robert. If there are 50 eligible teams then 50 would still
            be greater than 20……………….. Really, don’t trust me, ask

          • Alan says:

            Well, if it were ME (I can’t speak for anyone else) I would first
            and foremost support the Fort Lauderdale strikers, and support the
            MLS team with my favorite playing style or favorite player. My
            focus would be FL though, and when Miami finally gets a team
            (partly due to my support of FL, then I would consider supporting
            them. If Miami didn’t get a team, then I would support another
            Florida team, but my main team would still be FL. Again, pretty
            simple stuff. Just like when I lived in Michigan. I supported the
            Michigan Bucks (division 4, and no pro/rel) but watched San Jose on
            TV because I knew that I was moving here. The Michigan Bucks did
            pretty good in the US Open Cup, and I followed that as best I
            could. Detroit just got a team close to the Michigan Bucks named
            Detroit FC. They are also division 4. My buddy (a HUGE AC Milan and
            Argentina fan, and runs the Serie A page on Reddit) bought season
            tickets to Detroit FC and proudly wears their jersey the same as he
            does for AC Milan. I guess you can support a team thousands of
            miles away while lowering yourself far enough to support that awful
            American soccer. Who would’ve thunk it?

          • Tijuana Robert says:

            @Alan, sounds like you are a tool cheering for a team 1,000 of
            miles away that Charles despises so much.

          • Charles says:

            Good point Alan……………..I shouldn’t be a hater in the first
            place and in this case because there are handful of REAL fans mixed
            in…………….Go Se4ttle Sounders tonight.

          • Alan says:

            Robert, my club of attachment is the one that I can see regularly.
            The others I am fans of, but it is different. I don’t hold the same
            sort of attachment to the club. I enjoy watching them play, I root
            for them, I would love to see them live, but it is not the same as
            supporting your local side through thick and thin. You can’t do
            that with a club that you have no real attachment to. I am attached
            to the city, area, state (although I hate the Galaxy, what San Jose
            fan doesn’t?), etc. I am attached to the players because I can
            watch them regularly. I am attached to the fans that I cheer with
            game in and game out in person. It’s great to watch Juventus, and I
            love them, but its not the same and I wouldn’t trade San Jose for
            them anyday, regardless of what MLS does, what the system is, etc.
            Those are real athletes playing for real fans. It’s not about
            Garber, single-entity, etc. Even if I was a pro/rel troll, I would
            be cheering for my local side, like any real soccer fan would. I
            bet if England switched to single-entity, there would be riots in
            the streets, but those same people would support their club.
            Charles, you are right about those that claim attachment to a club
            1000 miles away the same way that you support the Sounders or that
            Robert supposedly supports Xolos. My point with my friend is that
            even though we was one of those guys that you speak of, he proudly
            started supporting his new local club in a heartbeat, through thick
            and thin with no questions asked. You are right about the majority
            of “real” fans. They deserve to be called out for what they are.
            You just can’t possibly bleed for Barcelona when you are not from
            Spain, have no desire to go there or visit there, and have no back
            story to go with your “support”. I talk to people that used to live
            in Italy, or have a real attachment for a real reason, that support
            a team like Juventus. We trade good stories, but my support is just
            not the same as someone that grew up with them and has fond
            memories of seeing them in person. My gf rooted for Japan Women
            during the World Cup because she lived there for a while and knew
            people involved in the disaster there. She is also completing her
            degree in Japanese. It was a special moment for her to watch them
            win, and had tears in her eye. I rooted for the US Women because I
            have an attachment to them (and watch 2nd division WPSL when I
            can). Its just how it is. I talk to most “fans” and they really
            can’t explain why they like them in those terms. Most are
            “attached” because they think they are a good team, or they like a
            particular player, etc. It’s just not the same, and some of the
            trolls on this site just won’t get it. Heck, I have even heard The
            Gaffer express support for Fort Lauderdale (whom I have watched
            live) and MagicJack (now defunct), and he is an EPL fan (and I know
            he has personal reasons for his EPL love too). It is possible,
            whatever you think of the league or its system.

        • Alex says:

          Your argument is completely backwards. so by your logic a good
          portion of the country should have no right to be a fan of a club
          because they live several thousand miles away. Then you come around
          saying people should support their local side yet don’t bring pro
          rel because it will do just that, promote grass root support for
          the local club to rise up the ranks . You bash eurosnobs but mls
          fanboys are just as bad, alittle worse than soccer moms.

          • Alan says:

            Your argument is backwards. Most of the country do have a club near
            them at some level. As far as MLS goes, most fans would love to see
            MLS grow bigger in size. Most of us want there to be a first
            division side close by. Also, I have not once said that I am
            against pro/rel. Not once. I have said that the way it is
            implemented in most countries is stupid and does very little to
            promote having a team rise through the ranks. The way that it is
            implemented is artificial. I am also no MLS fanboy. I like watching
            it, but its not the only league that I like. I love my team. I
            would love my team if they were in NASL or USL or whatever league
            just as much. There is nothing backwards to my logic. You just
            don’t get it, and I’m not surprised.

          • SSReporters says:

            Agreed. No one should be obligated to root for the local club for
            the sake of it. I’ve never been to Canada yet I’m a Toronto FC fan
            … and it’s so so bad.

      • Harry says:

        I guess this means I need to have a discussion with the residents
        in DC who root for the Cowboys (who only come this way once a year
        (sounds familiar?) and are also 1000s of miles away.

  3. Harry says:

    Dang it…I missed everybody this year!! Good article!! LFC v Spurs
    4- 5 considering we sweltered in the heat for this… Agree on the
    PSG v DC United match! I am somewhat disappointed that when i go
    see Real Madrid v Celtic next week it will be at Linc Financial and
    NOT at PPL Park!

  4. Earl Reed says:

    I was at the match with Robert (as an aside, my own report focused on the PSG perspective can be found at ), and it was 5X better than Liverpool-Tottenham in my book. The crowd was more animated in Baltimore, but PSG put on quite a show. Maybe it’s also the relative thirst for attention – Liverpool and Tottenham both have a good support base in the US already. Maybe PSG’s owners made it clear that they needed to put on a show to help them gain supporters and recoup some of the cash splashed.

  5. Alan says:

    That can’t be. EPL is the best league in the world. Any EPL fan
    will tell you that.

  6. Lysander says:

    Clink is a soccer field. Not sure why you thought otherwise.
    Another key factor to making freindlies worthwhile is to make them
    matter. But then they are not a freindly. Hmm…

  7. Brian says:

    I have no interest in these friendlies. In some case, they’re an
    insult to MLS fans, to be honest. These teams put crap turf down
    for competitive MLS and CCL games, but as soon as the fancy
    foreigners come in, they spend the bucks to bring in a real soccer
    surface: grass. This is because teams that actually have top class
    players know that you can’t play serious soccer on garbage turf and
    won’t accept anything less than the real thing.

    • Lysander says:

      If these ‘top class’ players were smart they would stop demanding
      real grass when the stadium is has turf. They temp stuff they put
      in is worse than any artificial turf. I agree I have no interest in
      freindlys, but thankfully my loss of interest is only tied to
      importance of the game and not the surface it is played on.

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