Spanish soccer league tries again to stage game in Miami
By ROB HARRIS
Undeterred by the resistance it faced last season, the Spanish soccer league is trying again to take a regular season game to the United States.
The Spanish soccer federation has been asked to allow Villarreal's home game against Atletico Madrid on Dec. 6 to be moved to Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.
The renewed push has been launched despite the league gaining no indication that the federation would reverse its opposition which forced the abandonment of plans to take the Barcelona-Girona game to Miami in January.
Approval is needed from the domestic federation, which controls regulations and fixtures throughout Spanish soccer, including the top-tier competition known as La Liga.
The U.S. Soccer Federation would also have to sanction the game being played on its territory but it had not received a formal request ahead of Thursday's public announcement from La Liga. The Spanish game is slated for almost a month after the Major League Soccer season has ended.
The league said it had consulted more widely than last season when the Spanish players' union joined the federation in protesting the plans because their views had not been sought.
"The players and coaches of both teams have been informed and have shown their enthusiasm for being able to play in front of fans in the United States," the league said in a statement on Thursday. "The Association of Spanish Footballers has also been informed of the request."
While the federation blocked the league from taking a game overseas, it did move its Super Cup to Morocco last year and has talked about taking future editions to Saudi Arabia.
"We can go back to my statements from last year," federation president Luis Rubiales said. "FIFA's executive committee has already said that a home game in a local competition must be played at the team's venue, but if it's a competition on a neutral site, it can be played abroad. We remain under FIFA and UEFA, so our opinion hasn't changed."
The FIFA council opposed the idea last year, although its permission for the match was not mandatory. Approval could be rejected from the regional confederations impacted - UEFA in Europe and CONCACAF in North America.
Neither FIFA nor the Spanish federation intervened to stop the Copa Libertadores final last year being switched from Buenos Aires to Madrid after the second leg was abandoned in Argentina due to fan violence involving Boca Juniors and River Plate supporters.
La Liga last year took legal action against the Spanish federation to try to stage the game in the United States.
The Spanish league's plan to play games in the U.S. is part of a new 15-year partnership with sports and entertainment group Relevent, which operates the International Champions Cup, a tournament of club friendlies during the European offseason in July and August around the world. Relevent has filed lawsuits against the U.S. Soccer Federation in federal and New York court, seeking to force international league matches to be sanctioned on American soil.
Taking games outside Spain is part of La Liga's strategy to take on the global commercial might of the English Premier League.
"This match will be another boost to the internationalization strategy of LaLiga, which is providing great results for all our member clubs," La Liga president Javier Tebas said. "We hope that this time we can carry out this positive action for everyone, as other leagues like the NFL or the NBA do when they stage matches overseas."
Villarreal season ticket-holders would be compensated for losing out on a home game. They could receive a 40% discount on their next season ticket purchase, free entry and travel for up to 3,000 fans to the away game at Atletico's Wanda Metropolitano or a paid-for trip to Miami for up to 600 people, the league said.
Similar compensation packages were offered to Girona fans last season, and many had already accepted them when the game in Miami was called off.
Atletico is third in the league, behind leader Real Madrid and Barcelona, and Villarreal is ninth in the 20-team standings.
Villarreal president Fernando Roig said exporting a league game benefits the whole of Spanish soccer.
"The United States is a very important country, where Villarreal already has official academies and carries out different activities for the development of football," Roig said in a statement.
The game would kick off at 4 p.m. local time, which is 10 p.m. in Spain.
"This match in the United States will allow us to keep working on this," Atletico CEO Miguel Angel Gil said. "Furthermore, we will be able to bring Spanish football closer to fans who live outside of our country."
AP Sports Writer Tales Azzoni in Madrid contributed to this report.
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Updated October 17, 2019