As an 18-year old coming to the United States from England to play college soccer, Darren Eales figured the competition was not going to be as stiff as what he had faced in the motherland.
"It's fair to say that when I played 20 years ago, there was a feeling of, 'What do Americans know about soccer?' " said Eales, who played first at West Virginia and later at Brown before playing professionally. "Now there's a real respect for American players."
Eales, director of football administration for Tottenham Hotspur of the English Premier League, has seen that first-hand. Brad Friedel, Tottenham's 40-year-old American-born goalkeeper, is being celebrated in his adopted country for recently playing in his 300th straight match — a record considered as unreachable there as Cal Ripken's streak is for baseball.
The rise of American stars in the Premier League in recent seasons, highlighted this year by the goal-scoring of Clint Dempsey for Fulham, has also led to increased interest in teams like Tottenham and Liverpool, which will play July 28 at M&T Bank Stadium.
"I can't think of another game between two Premier League teams that has taken place on U.S. soil," Eales said Monday after touring the stadium with other Tottenham officials. "It's a great opportunity for American fans to get a feel of what it's like to be at a Premier League game."
The game also coincides with Tottenham, a 130-year old club based in North London, becoming the first European team to partner with Under Armour. Eales said that relationship, which begins officially July 1, led to the Spurs coming to Baltimore as part of their U.S. summer preseason tour.
"It worked for us because this [the U.S.] is a big market for us anyway," Eales said. "It's exciting to actually play in [Under Armour's] home city."
The game has sold more than 22,000 tickets to date, and Ravens officials seem confident that the"friendly" between these two Premier League rivals will draw more than the nearly 37,000 who attended the match two years ago between burgeoning Premier League power Manchester City and then European Cup champion Inter Milan.
Eales acknowledges that Tottenham, which in 1963 became the first English club to win the European (UEFA) Cup, is not as well-known in the United States as teams such as Manchester United, Chelsea or Arsenel.
"We've got a great history in the past, but the American fans who have followed the Premier League the past 20 years might not know us as much as Manchester United or those type," Eales said. "We're now starting to do well in the league, we made a great run in the Champions League [qualifying by finishing in the top four] a couple of years ago."
Eales said that the club's attacking, offensive style of play has also made it popular among fans in England.
"It draws the neutrals," Eales said. "We've become the second-favorite team for a lot of fans of other teams because it's attractive football, we're trying to do it the right way."
Tottenham is using its summer tour to develop U.S.-based soccer camps, including some that will be held through the Soccer Association of Columbia (SAC) in early August.
"Part of the idea is not only for those who pay to go to the camps, but we're also doing camps for kids who can't afford to pay," Eales said. "We just want to promote Spurs football."
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Liverpool FC
When: July 28, 1 p.m.
Where: M&T Bank Stadium
Ticket information: Tickets will become available at ticketmaster.com and at the Ravens' box office. Top-end tickets, on the club level and the lower midfield, will cost $125. Flanking sideline seats will be $79, while end zone seats will cost $56. An area behind each goal will also be designated as a "support section" for each team. Upper sidelines and upper end zone seats will cost $41 and $36, respectively.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun