2 top soccer squads coming to Chicago this summer

  • Goalkeeper Hugo Lloris of Tottenham Hotspur and his teammates will take on the Chicago Fire in July at Toyota Park.
Goalkeeper Hugo Lloris of Tottenham Hotspur and his teammates will take… (Getty Images )
May 08, 2014|By Paul M. Banks | For RedEye

Summer is the most popular season in Chicago, starting with the pleasant weather.

Unfortunately, the teams playing in Chicago—mostly the Cubs and White Sox—are notoriously far from top-notch.

English Premier League football, on the other hand, is the cream of the crop. And with it comes some of the most devoted and passionate fan bases on the planet. The league boasts Manchester United, perhaps the most popular sports club on the planet.

Surveys estimate that MUFC has 670 million fans worldwide. After United lost to their bitter rivals, Liverpool, earlier this season, 450,000 people unliked United's Facebook page. However, that's just a drop in the bucket, as that page has 47.5 million likes and counting.

Premier League fans are so hard-core that they start petitions to have bad players removed and fly airplanes over the stadium towing banners calling for managers to be fired.

You can see the zeal and spectacle in July as Chicago hosts a midsummer weekend of football.

The Chicago Fire will welcome Tottenham Hotspur to Toyota Park in an international friendly July 26 (7 p.m.). This is just the fifth time the Fire will welcome an English side to the Chicago area. The Men in Red are 2-2-0 in international friendlies against clubs from England (Aston Villa, Manchester United, Everton and Derby County).

"For the Spurs game, it will be especially fun for Chicago to go up against London from an international competitive standpoint," said Atul Khosla, Fire chief operating officer. "We expect Toyota Park to be full, our supporters to be loud and have fantastic soccer played on the field.

"As the professional soccer team in town, this game allows us to introduce the Fire to an additional group of soccer fans in the Chicagoland area and hopefully convert some Tottenham/EPL supporters to Fire fans."

Then on July 27 (5 p.m.), Liverpool takes on Greek champions Olympiacos at Soldier Field. Premier League stories are by far the most popular topic on my website, thesportsbank.net. It's a general sports site based in Chicago, but demand for EPL coverage is so strong that we've spent over a year focusing on the British top flight. So here's a primer on the two clubs coming to town.

Tottenham Hotspur

The club is often compared, rather unfairly, to the Cubs. The Spurs play in their home games at White Hart Lane, which is similar to Wrigley Field—an outdated stadium nestled in a residential neighborhood on the north side of a metropolis.

But the analogies end there. Tottenham actually has a tradition of winning, having taken the Football Association Challenge Cup, or FA Cup, eight times and the UEFA Cup twice.

"Wrigley Field is 100 years old this year; White Hart Lane feels like it's 100 years old, but it's even older," said Ian Williams, a member of the Chicago Spurs Supporters Club. "You walk past people's homes that are right there, and you get into the stadium and it's a completely different world. I would say Wrigley is very much like that."

Williams is a West London expatriate who now lives in North Center. White Hart Lane, opened in 1899, has a capacity of 36,284. Wrigley, opened in 1914, has a capacity of 41,072.

"This will be their first time here and we can't wait to show off our city," Khosla said.

Liverpool FC

The city known minaly for The Beatles has also produced one of the biggest brands in sports. "The Reds" have been historically dominant, especially in the 1980s. However, they haven't won the English Premier League title since 1990, though they were very much in contention until recently.

Liverpool is owned by Fenway Sports Group, led by John W. Henry, owners of the Boston Red Sox. Liverpool was also the main subject of "Hillsborough," perhaps the most critically acclaimed "30 for 30" film. Liverpool competed in a FA Cup semifinal at Hillsborough Stadium on April 15, 1989. Ninety-six Liverpool fans died as a consequence of overcrowding in what became known as the Hillsborough Disaster.

Liverpool is a tight-knit community. The song "You'll Never Walk Alone," originally from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical "Carousel" and later recorded by Liverpool musicians Gerry & The Pacemakers, is the club's anthem and has been sung at games since the early 1960s. The "You'll Never Walk Alone" portion of the Shankly Gates is also reproduced on the club's crest.

Paul M. Banks owns thesportsbank.net, an affiliate of Fox Sports. A frequent analyst on national talk radio, Banks is a former contributor to NBC Chicago and the Washington Times. @paulmbanks

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