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Friday, May 27, 2011
MLS looking into Galaxy-Chivas conflict

By Scott French

The Galaxy's friendly with Real Madrid could force Southern California soccer fans into a tough decision. Do you want to see Cristiano Ronaldo or Thierry Henry?

That's the situation after Major League Soccer, through its marketing arm, confirmed an evening start on July 16 at the Coliseum for the Galaxy's clash with the Spanish giant.



Chivas USA also is playing that night, against Henry, Rafa Marquez and the mighty New York Red Bulls at Home Depot Center, a dozen miles south on the Harbor Freeway. It's one of the few money games on the calendar for the Goats, who have not nearly the following the Galaxy does, and the conflict could cost them thousands of fans.

The Galaxy-Real Madrid game is part of this summer's World Football Challenge, featuring MLS clubs against big-name European opposition in a series of exhibitions produced by Soccer United Marketing, MLS's marketing arm, and CAA Sports.

Major League Soccer officials responded to an interview request with a statement: “We are aware of the situation. At this time, we are analyzing options.”

Primary among those options would appear to be moving Chivas' game from Saturday night to Sunday, July 17. An MLS spokeswoman said in an email Friday that the “overlap is still being examined.”

Tom Payne, the Galaxy's president of business operations, acknowledged that the conflict was considered “for a minute, to be frank” while setting up the date.

“At the end of the day, sometimes these games are almost dictated for you,” he said. “This is the time Real Madrid could play. … We certainly didn't mean it to fall on that day. We didn't have any choice in the end.”

Real Madrid, which will be conducting preseason training in Southern California for the second straight year under noted Angelenophile Jose Mourinho, had strict timeframes with which to work. The Merengues also are playing Guadalajara on July 20 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, a date that doesn't please the Galaxy.

Chivas, which is a tenant in the Galaxy's stadium and has bristled from perceived slights inflicted by its archrival the last six seasons, isn't happy about the scheduling snafu, although nobody with the club will say so publicly. General manager Jose Domene deflected questions, saying he has nothing to do with scheduling, and president/co-owner Antonio Cué did not respond to an interview request.

“We'll play wherever, whenever they tell us to play,” Domene said. “And we'll beat the Red Bulls.”

Even a change of date is going to hurt Chivas' gate -- the Red Bulls game is one of few this season the club could count on to sell out, especially with the presence of Mexican star Marquez.

Even bigger, for the neutral fan, is the presence of Henry, one of the finest players of his generation. The French forward is 33, and there will be only so many opportunities to see him in person. Is he enough to pull the scales from a Real Madrid side featuring Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, French forward Karim Benzema, Argentine star Gonzalo Higuain, Brazilian midfielder Kaka, German midfielder Mesut Oezil and Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso and goalkeeper Iker Casillas?

Payne, whose club will face Manchester City in another World Football Challenge match July 24 at HDC, has mixed feelings about Real Madrid's visit. It was expected -- Mourinho brought Chelsea and Inter Milan to UCLA for preseason -- and last year's Real Madrid-Galaxy meeting drew 89,134 to the Rose Bowl.

“In the end, to be honest, I can't have Real Madrid coming here every year,” Payne said. “I told them that. It means the other guys don't come. They're so … territorial. Like, Man United won't come [to L.A. if Real Madrid does]. That's just the way it works.”

He said he wished Real Madrid wasn't playing in San Diego “because that affects the game up here. Last year we drew from San Diego and all those places,” but fans to the south, and Southern California's huge community of Guadalajara supporters, are likelier to attend the game at Qualcomm.