Robbie Keane needed to take fluids intravenously just to get on the field for the Galaxy’s last game three days ago. But that was an important league match with conference rival San Jose, so it was worth the effort.
Just don’t expect the same level of sacrifice for the Galaxy’s friendly Tuesday with Barcelona at a sold-out Rose Bowl (8 p.m., TV: Fox Sports 1, ESPN Deportes). In fact if Keane had his way, he wouldn’t show up at all.
“I’m not really a big fan,” Keane said of exhibition games in general. “It can be difficult when you’re trying to concentrate on certain games and there’s other games in between.”
There are some on the other side who feel the same way. Barcelona excused five starters, including superstars Lionel Messi and Neymar, from the trip to Southern California. And Coach Luis Enrique would have preferred the rest of the team had stayed home as well.
“Honestly, I prefer not to go on tours,” Enrique said Sunday, shortly after Barcelona arrived to begin preseason preparations that include three games in the U.S. over the next eight days.
“It’s nice to come but there are aspects that are uncomfortable, for example the jet lag. But the club has commitments and the competition is interesting. You could do the same in Europe. But we have to accept it.”
The reason is money.
Barcelona’s tour is part of the International Champions Cup, a series of tournaments that will see 16 teams play on four continents. Relevent Sports, the New York-based company organizing the events, declined to discuss financial guarantees for the teams, though a soccer official with knowledge of similar agreements said Barcelona will likely get around $2.2 million for Tuesday’s appearance while the Galaxy’s cut will approach $1 million.
“When you look at our business — what we invest in players … what we invest in youth development — there are many factors that come into the actual business side of what we do,” Galaxy President Chris Klein said. “We’re not going to hide behind the fact that this [exhibition] is a good business venture.”
But it is bad timing. Though Barcelona is just starting preparations for the La Liga season and needs practice games, the Galaxy is in the middle of its Major League Soccer schedule. And with seven games — including two friendlies — scheduled, July is one of its busiest months.
The Galaxy is also dealing with a short roster, since four starters are playing for their national teams in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup. And, in addition to exhaustion, there is always the chance of injury.
“It’s hard,” Galaxy defender Todd Dunivant said. “We’re already playing so many games with all the different competitions. And then you throw in friendlies against the best teams in the world. It’s not exactly a day where you can trot out there and go through the motions.”
Money is not the only thing the Galaxy will get out of Tuesday’s game, though. Over the past five years, the team has played nine midsummer friendlies against top European teams — among them Real Madrid, Manchester City, Juventus and AC Milan — and each has helped the Galaxy build its brand.
“Barcelona plays anywhere in the world, it’s a big story,” Dunivant said. “And when they play the Galaxy in Los Angeles, the whole world knows about that.”
That’s not always a good thing. The Galaxy has won just one of those nine friendlies, losing 7-0 to Manchester United last season. As a result Bruce Arena, the Galaxy’s coach and general manager, cautions against reading too much into the final score.
“We beat Juventus two years ago and I still think they were a better team than us,” he said. “We got spanked by Manchester United last year and they are probably not as good as they were on that night. But these are, again, exhibitions and they serve a purpose for all the teams involved.”
The Manchester United game, for example, served as a wake-up with Keane and others later saying the embarrassment improved the team’s focus for the final four months of the MLS season, when the Galaxy lost just four of 22 games en route to its third league title in four years.
Klein hopes for a more representative result Tuesday. But even if he doesn’t get it, he says, there are more than a million reasons why the team will continue to play midseason friendlies.
“If this was just a money grab, we wouldn’t do it,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense on every level. But there are enough that continue to make sense for us to continue to do it.”