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Interest high for Heinz Field soccer match between top Euro teams

| Wednesday, July 23, 2014, 7:27 p.m.

Heinz Field is accustomed to large football crowds, but this weekend it will be for football of a different type.

European soccer powers Manchester City and AC Milan will meet at 4 p.m. Sunday as part of the 2014 International Champions Cup. The game is expected to draw the largest crowd for a soccer match in Pittsburgh.

Ticket sales have eclipsed 30,000.

“These are two great teams, and coming off a World Cup, there's a lot of interest. It was big for us to be chosen as one of the cities to host a game,” said Jimmie Sacco, Steelers executive director of stadium management.

The last time Heinz Field hosted professional soccer was July 29, 2004, when Chelsea defeated AS Roma, 3-0, before 25,137 fans.

This time, the matchup is again between top teams from the same two leagues, but the level of exposure that England's Premier League, Italy's Serie A and soccer as a whole has gained through U.S. television has increased greatly.

“Certainly the EPL is more popular in the U.S. than (10 years ago), so that base of fans is bigger. A few years ago, Manchester United, Liverpool, maybe Chelsea, were the only EPL teams people really knew. Now that the games are on NBC every weekend, even the casual soccer fan can probably name 10 or 12 teams,” said Tim McCoy, executive director of PA West Soccer, the local U.S. Soccer state association.

PA West served as the group ticket sales partner for the game, and McCoy said at least two local youth soccer clubs were responsible for buying 300 tickets each. McCoy also pointed out a purchase of 45 tickets from Mercer County-based Shenango Valley Soccer Club as one example of how people will be traveling an hour or more for the game.

Pittsburgh is one of 13 cities that will host a match in the ICC, a preseason tournament featuring eight European teams.

Eight venues are current or former NFL stadiums, but the host sites also include Yankee Stadium and Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, which is expected to draw a U.S.-record 110,000 fans to watch Manchester United face Real Madrid.

“There's a lot of growth in the (soccer) industry, and you're seeing a lot more recognition of it here. We didn't lose sight of that after the Chelsea game,” Sacco said. “Tickets are still selling now with less a week to go, and there are still good seats available.”

Manchester City-AC Milan will be televised on Fox Sports 1, and all the ICC games will be shown nationally between Fox and NBC outlets. For their part, Sacco and the Steelers hope what viewers see in a large, enthusiastic crowd for an event they hope becomes a regular visitor to Pittsburgh.

“All these games are going to be on national TV, and it doesn't just showcase Heinz Field, it showcases Pittsburgh as a city,” Sacco said. “And yes, we are lobbying to try and bring other soccer matches and events to Heinz Field.”

Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mgrubba@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Grubba_Trib.

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