Packers score big points by hosting the other football, and would be wise to make soccer a regular gig

Robert Zizzo
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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GREEN BAY – On a sticky and stormy Saturday night, two of the world’s most recognizable soccer powers invaded Lambeau Field, a bastion of American football like no other.

It was a clash of sporting cultures. The Beautiful Game played in a town filled with fans of so-called real football.

And it was glorious.

When Manchester City, the English Premier League defending champion, took on Bayern Munich, the German Bundesliga defending champion, at perhaps America’s most-iconic stadium, there was an energy and atmosphere reserved for only the biggest of Green Bay Packers games.

Make no mistake, though, these weren’t Packers fans dressed up as soccer fans. These were actual soccer fans from all over the world.

According to the match promoter, people from 19 countries and all 50 states, Puerto Rico and Washington D.C. bought tickets.

It was a proper soccer atmosphere hardly dampened by a 15-minute lightning delay of the kickoff and then another 55-minute weather interruption 12 minutes into the match.

Except for the colors worn by the partygoers, the tailgate scene was indistinguishable from a Packers game.

The sellout stadium crowd was loud and enthusiastic, with thousands of the 78,128 in attendance remaining in the stands during the worst of the storm. There even was a streaker.

And when Erling Haaland scored in the 12th minute – his first goal as a Man City player and the first professional goal at Lambeau Field – the stadium bowl erupted as if Aaron Rodgers had thrown a 75-yard touchdown pass.

“It was amazing,” Haaland said, “the thousands cheering, supporting, really a fantastic atmosphere in the stadium.”

Everything about this match shouted success.

The economic impact for Green Bay is expected to be $10 million and the Packers got a bonus weekend of fans spending money in and around the Titletown District.

American soccer fans – yes, we exist – got a chance to see Haaland score his first of what’s expected to be many goals for Man City, and see Matthijs de Ligt make his debut with Bayern Munich. To the uninformed, they are two of the most sought-after players in Europe, Haaland transferring from Borussia Dortmund for a reported $63 million and de Ligt from Juventus for around $84 million.

Even though the match was truncated because of the weather and the width of the field was truncated because of space limitations, the exhibition was a success in the eyes of the players and managers.

“Honestly, it was incredible yesterday without people in this massive stadium. But with people, it’s bigger,” Man City manager Pep Guardiola said. “And I know how important for this city that we came. Every time the Packers play a game, it’s full. The grass was perfect, so congratulations for the organization. Because it was very good.”

Said Bayern manager Julian Nagelsmann, “We were happy to be here. Great stadium. Great mood in the stadium. Great fans.”

All of this is not to say that America is turning into a soccer nation.

That will never happen. The most-important soccer leagues in the world play during the NFL and NBA seasons. Major League Soccer, America’s top league, plays from February to October – basically the MLB season – and it won’t change to compete with the NFL.

Besides, we’d ruin the sport with our need for more and more scoring. We’d implement a 3-point shot, or widen the goals or something just as silly.

However, 78,000 passionate soccer fans showed that the Packers would be wise to make this a regular event.

Nothing would be more welcomed and profitable than alternating years of a match of big soccer teams and a Wisconsin Badgers football game.

If nothing else, this match proved that there is a hunger for top-level soccer in places you’d least expect it.

More:Get to know Bayern Munich and Man City, two European soccer powers that are playing Saturday at Lambeau Field

More:A historical look at Lambeau Field and City Stadium, home of the Green Bay Packers

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