From sea to shining sea: FC Barcelona players in Chicago

From sea to shining sea: FC Barcelona players in Chicago

Part three of a series examining the links between the Catalan club and American cities hosting matches at this summer’s Copa América Centenario brings us to The Windy City

After examining some juicy slices of FC Barcelona history in and around a pair of American metropolises on the east and west coasts — in Philadelphia and San Francisco, to be exact — our focus turns to the country's midwest region, where the city of Chicago, and more specifically Soldier Field, the home of the NFL's Chicago Bears, has long played an important role in fomenting the growth of soccer in the United States.

In Copa América action on Friday, 10 June, the Barça genius Lionel Messi and his Argentina teammates stormed into the Windy City and flattened Panama, 5–0. After coming on as a second-half substitute, Messi gave American fans a concentrated dose of what Europeans have long become accustomed to, striking thrice in under 20 minutes to fuel the rout.

Another Barça player, the defensive midfield maestro Javier Mascherano, also provided a sublime performance for La Albiceleste, dazzling the crowd with his playmaking ability while completing a staggering 81 of 85 pass attempts (95%). Mascherano had four steals to boot.

Soldier Field is also set to host the second semifinal at this year's tournament on June 22. Chile, whose captain is Barça keeper Claudio Bravo, face Colombia after routing Mexico, 7–0, in Santa Clara.

Following in the footsteps

While the FC Barcelona team itself has never played in Chicago, the fans there have been able to catch a glimpse of its players from time to time. Like Messi and Mascherano, other appearances by Barça players have come exclusively in international competition.

The first, and perhaps the most memorable of these, came in the 1994 FIFA World Cup when, on June 27, 1994, Spain beat Bolivia, 3–1, at Soldier Field in the final game of Group C.

Much like today, the Spain teams of yore were dominated by Blaugrana stars. Seven of the team's eleven starters against Bolivia were either active FC Barcelona players or had just played their final games for the Catalans before moving on to other clubs.

FC Barcelona midfielder — and future, record-breaking manager — Pep Guardiola, who was just 23 years old at the time, started that day and opened the scoring by converting a penalty kick after 19 minutes. Also in the starting lineup was the legendary goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta, who just weeks before had wrapped up his 8-year, 301-game stint at Barça.

Joining Guardiola and Zubizarreta in the Spain XI was an all-Barça defense consisting of right back Albert Ferrer, central defender Abelardo Fernández, and left back Sergi Barjuán. Ion Andoni Goikoetxea and Julio Salinas, who, like Zubizarreta, would move on to new teams in the fall, started at right midfielder and striker, respectively. And FCB legend José Mari Bakero came off the bench to replace Guardiola in the 68th minute.

Curiously, it was the only game at the 1994 World Cup in which current FC Barcelona manager Luis Enrique, who was 24 at the time, did not appear. He started and played all 90 minutes in the team’s other four matches, including Spain's 1–1 draw with Germany, also at Soldier Field, just six days before.

In that match, current Unites States manager Jurgen Klinsmann scored thje equalizer for Germany in the 48th minute after Barça's Goikoetxea had put Spain up in the 14th.

Gold Cup, with a tinge of Blaugrana

Soldier Field has also hosted a slew of matches in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Two of them — in the 2007 and 2009 editions — featured México and FC Barcelona defender Rafael Márquez.

In non-official competition, Ronaldinho also appeared at Soldier Field. On September 9, 2007, the United States national team hosted Brazil in a friendly there.  The Barça superstar scored the game-winning goal on a 75th minute free kick, as the world’s top-ranked side beat the US, 4–2.

Força Barça
Força Barça

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