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Chelsea, Barcelona Are Popular Visitors

Times Staff Writer

It has become a rite of summer in the United States the last few years and shows no signs of dissipating.

Visitors from overseas invade our shores, eager to spread their message, display their world-renowned talent and try to conquer another piece, albeit a large one here in America, of soccer fandom.

The takeover continues this weekend when two of the world’s leading club teams -- FC Barcelona and Chelsea FC -- show up for high-profile exhibitions, including one at the Coliseum, where all 92,650 tickets already have been sold.

Locally, Barcelona, the reigning Spanish and European champion with its star-studded roster, will kick off its three-game tour of the U.S. when it takes on CD Chivas de Guadalajara at 6:30 p.m. Sunday. The game will serve as the main event after a Major League Soccer undercard of Chivas USA and the New England Revolution at 4.

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Today at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill., two-time defending English Premier League champion Chelsea, with its own stable of world-class talent including new additions Michael Ballack and Andriy Shevchenko, takes on the MLS All-Stars at 3:30 p.m. PDT.

Real Madrid, which played the Galaxy at the sold-out Home Depot Center last summer, also has a two-game tour planned for Seattle and Salt Lake City.

“It will be interesting because I know from experience that it is always difficult to play against these kinds of teams with the big crowds and the great atmosphere,” Barcelona Coach Frank Rijkaard said. “But it’s an excellent challenge and I hope we can play some nice games.”

Barcelona, which also has matches scheduled for Wednesday in Houston against Club America of Mexico and Aug. 12 in East Rutherford, N.J., against the New York Red Bulls, has brought a 30-player roster that includes Ronaldihno, Lionel Messi, Rafael Marquez and Samuel Eto’o, as well as recent acquisitions Gianluca Zambrotta of World Cup champion Italy and Lilian Thuram of runner-up France, although the latter two won’t play Sunday.

The importance of Sunday’s game, at least as far as prestige, has not been lost on Chivas de Guadalajara, which will send its first team to Los Angeles and use reserves for the opening of the Mexican league season the same day. Jose Manuel De La Torre will try to coach both games, using a chartered jet to make it to the Coliseum in time.


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