SOUTH BEND – The result wasn’t the important part for either soccer club, but the experience at Notre Dame Stadium was what the Americans angled. All three sides left Friday night with mixed feelings.
The international soccer friendly between European champions Liverpool and Bundesliga giants Borussia Dortmund was the first of three stops on a preseason United States feature for Liverpool, which will make stops Sunday in Boston at Fenway Park against Spanish titans Sevilla and in the Bronx Wednesday against Portuguese club Sporting CP at Yankee Stadium. Liverpool, the UEFA champions clinched in June in a 2-0 result over fellow English Premier League side Tottenham, had the heavy edge in support in the stands Friday at Notre Dame, but as with preseason initiatives, much of the star power in the advertised matchup was missing, including in the seats.
Dortmund took the early advantage with a Paco Alcacer strike in the third minute and used some sloppy Liverpool organization in the defense early in the second half to score two quick goals by Thomas Delaney in the 53rd and Jacob Bruun Larson in the 58th. The eventual result for Dortmund had its moments, certainly for the pockets of Dortmund supporters, but also for the overwhelming throng of Reds fans.
Liverpool drew level in the 35th minute when Harry Wilson found the back of the net and Rhian Brewster potted a penalty kick in the 75th to set the score at 3-2, where it would end in favor of the German club.
Dortmund, which played against the MLS’s Seattle Sounders Wednesday in Washington, flew to South Bend late Wednesday and had little time to prepare. While German National Team hero Mario Gotze and current German forward Marco Reus did see action, the team were without American superstar Christian Pulisic, who signed with EPL side Chelsea in January. Pulisic, one of the young stars for the US National Team, was part of the advertising campaign when the match was initially announced last year.
“Christian is a very good player but is with Chelsea now,” said Dortmund manager Lucien Favre. “He was a good player for us. At the beginning of the season, he made strides for us. By the end of the season, he was very valuable in our attack. We have some young players who we like to fill his role, and we wish him well with Chelsea.”
Liverpool, one of the most storied clubs in European soccer, did have Joe Milner and Jordan Henderson in action, but were without the services of megastar Mo Salah, who is with the Egyptian National Team in World Cup qualifying.
The pitch itself, which had grass brought in to replace the recently-laid turf at Notre Dame Stadium, presented some issues for the sides, including a burnt strip on the east side of the pitch. A game-time temperature of 92 degrees in a stadium that had never hosted a soccer match, along with a paid attendance of 40,361 – less than half of a stadium that packs in over 81,000 on Saturdays in the fall – left Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp less than impressed.
“You want to talk to me about the pitch? What do you think?” Klopp said Friday night. Klopp noted in a Thursday press conference that the European soccer stadiums offered much more to the game than American football and baseball stadiums. “Difficult because it’s not a soccer pitch. They put grass on it. Everybody tries his best, but in the end you saw these two teams can play much better football. It’s difficult when the ball is not rolling. That’s an important part of the game — that the ball rolls.”
Lucas Oil Stadium had nearly 42,000 watch Chelsea and Inter Milan play in 2013 and over 101,000 cheered on Liverpool and Manchester United last July. Blame the heat, point to a shortage of superstars, but the two European sides did utilize the chance to get some work in ahead of its club seasons that start in a few weeks. And it was a unique experience Notre Dame has never seen before.
“A lot of good moments of football and a step further in preparation in the preseason,” Klopp said. “But we have to fight and we have to defend situations, and there were a lot of good things to take.”