Real Madrid vs. Juventus provides soccer satisfaction for 93,702 fans at Rose Bowl

The COVID-19 pandemic might be waning, but it’s not completely gone, with more than 127,000 infections and nearly 450 deaths having been recorded daily across the U.S. in the last week.

And judging by the crowd that packed the Rose Bowl on a picture-postcard Saturday evening to watch Real Madrid play Juventus in a meaningless summer friendly, American soccer fans have apparently grown tired of waiting for the virus to go away.

Real Madrid, the reigning European champion, won 2-0 but that wasn’t the most important statistic.

The big number was 93,702, the number of tickets distributed for the game, the most for a soccer match in the U.S. since July 2018 when 101,254 packed Michigan Stadium to watch Liverpool beat Manchester United in the International Champions Cup.

The ICC, an annual series of summer friendlies featuring as many as 18 of the world’s top clubs, organized by veteran promoter Charlie Stillitano and the Relevant Sports Group, was scrapped in 2020 because of COVID-19.

 The idea was revived this summer by sports and entertainment presenter AEG in the form of the Soccer Champions Tour, a series of five exhibitions in four cities that concluded with Saturday’s match.

The reception the brief tour received — the average attendance for the five games topped 56,000 — proved U.S. fans missed the giant European clubs during their three-year absence.

“We wouldn’t have done it unless we thought it was going to be successful,” said Tom Braun, senior vice president of soccer, business operations and business development for AEG, which didn’t announce the tournament until six weeks before it kicked off.

“There’s a lot of pent-up demand. You have the UEFA Champions League winners in Madrid. You have a perennial champion in Juventus. We didn’t see it as risky.

“We saw it as these teams haven’t been here for a lot of years because of COVID.” Stillitano, who was among the crowd at Saturday’s game, agreed. But he also saw a deeper meaning in the attendance figures.