At their best, the soccer exhibitions that roll through the United States every summer tender moments of magic typically reserved for European theater. At their worst, they dissolve into cynical affairs littered with indifferent players and midfield standstills.
On Tuesday, in their final tour appearances before heading home, FC Barcelona and Chelsea charmed a FedEx Field audience of 78,914 with an effervescent show worthy of their acclaimed brands.
The reigning Premier League champions prevailed on penalty kicks, 4-2, after a 2-2 draw, but without any serious consequence, the outcome was secondary to soaring entertainment value.
In a match that whipped back and forth, both sides attacked with energy and joy. Who needed Lionel Messi and Neymar, anyway?
“It was not a tactical game. It was two teams looking for the best intensity, for the best form,” Chelsea Manager Jose Mourinho said. “It was 2-2; it could’ve been 4-4. The penalties, they mean nothing for us and I think they mean nothing for Barcelona. But for the people, it means a lot because it’s the end of a nice game.”
Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, the 2014-15 Premier League player of the year, scored in the 10th minute on a wonderful individual effort. Luis Suarez and Sandro Ramirez answered in a 14-minute span of the second half, but Gary Cahill’s 85th-minute header forced the tiebreaker.
The game was part of the International Champions Cup, a quasi-tournament with standings, and headed straight to penalty kicks without 30 minutes of extra time.
After two weeks in North America, Chelsea returns to London to begin preparations for Arsenal on Sunday at Wembley Stadium in the Community Shield, the annual kickoff event pitting the reigning league and FA Cup winners. The Blues will begin defense of their league title Aug. 8 against Swansea City at Stamford Bridge.
Barcelona, La Liga and UEFA Champions League winners, will face Sevilla on Aug. 11 in Tbilisi, Georgia, for the UEFA Super Cup (Champions League and Europa League titlists). The Spanish campaign does not commence until Aug. 23.
Once Barcelona resettles in Europe, the players vacationing after Copa America duty this summer — Argentina’s Messi and Javier Mascherano, Brazil’s Neymar and Chile’s Claudio Bravo — will rejoin the squad.
It was long suspected Messi and Neymar wouldn’t take part in the U.S. tour, and official word came about two weeks ago. It was the second Messi letdown this year; in March, he accompanied the Argentine national team to Washington for a friendly against El Salvador but did not play because of a foot injury.
Nonetheless, fans in blue-and-claret jerseys labeled with Suarez’s No. 9, Messi’s No. 10 and Neymar’s No. 11 gathered around the tunnel and railings awaiting the team’s arrival for warm-ups. Chelsea supporters in royal blue were out in force as well, forming a tapestry of colors with a burgundy-and-gold backdrop.
Chelsea eyes were on Kenedy, a 19-year-old Brazilian forward on the brink of moving to the London club from Rio’s Fluminense for an estimated $9.5 million. With Fluminense’s blessing, he suited up for the first time. Mourinho paired him with Diego Costa, Chelsea’s leading scorer last season.
The Blues tested Marc Andre Ter Stegen three times before taking the lead on Hazard’s breathtaking run. He accelerated past Ivan Rakitic, skipped over Douglas’s challenge, then veered inside to split Gerard Gumbau and Marc Bartra. The Belgian midfielder then slotted a 12-yard shot into the near corner.
The remainder of the half was a festival of scoring opportunities, near misses and tidy goalkeeping.
Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois made four quality saves, Diego Costa wasted a free run and Oscar rattled the crossbar with a 25-yard free kick.
Barcelona’s equalizer came in the 52nd minute when Suarez gathered a stray clearance in the box, juked a defender and chipped the ball over Courtois. Kurt Zouma’s goal-line clearance was a shade late.
In the 66th, Ramirez pulled the ball back and picked out the far side of the net.
Cahill forced the tiebreaker, nodding a flawed clearance over substitute goalkeeper Jordi Masip, who had come off the line but couldn’t reach the ball. Cahill suffered a possible broken nose on the play and left the match.
“It was logical we looked imprecise at times,” Barcelona Coach Luis Enrique said. “Overall, I liked the way we played.”