International friendly is close to heart.
Almost three years ago to the night, one of England’s best teams played against one of Italy’s finest in Baltimore. Two world powerhouse soccer teams took the field in front of 70,000 fans in Charm City. The atmosphere was electric, unlike any soccer event in Baltimore in the last 30 years. The fans were engaged, cheering, singing and snapping photos of Ronaldino, Drogba, Pirlo, and Cech. The game itself was equally as impressive. Didier Drogba’s 35 yard strike into the upper 90 was simply phenomenal. It was a magical night for soccer, and a great night for Baltimore.
This year, thanks to the efforts of the Baltimore Ravens, The Element Sports Agency and James Grant Sports, Baltimore has a chance to recreate that magic. ”That game was amazing!”, said Shedlon Phillips, of the Element Agency, one of the main promoters of the event. “People from Chelsea FC regarded Baltimore as the highlight of their tour in America”. Phillips has been instrumental in getting this year’s game, which will feature English Premier League rivals Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool FC on July 28, at 1pm at M&T Bank Stadium. “This will also be a classic match, there are so many story lines. It will definitely be interesting.”
Phillips credits the Baltimore Ravens for making this possible. “The Ravens have been behind this 100%. They are very excited about the outreach into the soccer community.” When Phillips teamed up with Damian Willoughby of James Grant Sports, and more recently, Willoughby Sports Management, they were overwhelmed by the positive response. “The Ravens jumped on it right away as an ambassador program to the soccer community,” said Phillips. Once the Ravens supported the idea, Willoughby, who worked for Chelsea FC during their game here, used his contacts to make it happen. The structure of the event could not be any more solid with the Ravens, who are widely regarded as a first class organization, leading the charge and Phillips on the promotional side.
The story lines are truly abundant in this unique international friendly. To begin with, Premier League teams rarely have friendlies against each other. In this case, both jumped at the chance to play in Baltimore. “The word was so positive about Baltimore form the Chelsea/AC Milan game. It really put Baltimore on the map.”, said Phillips. Both teams are introducing new managers, which will certainly bring a level of intensity to the game. So much so, that Liverpool already committed playing some of their key starters in it. In addition, Tottenham has recently signed a deal to wear Under Armour for their 2012 kit, bringing another Baltimore flavor to the international game.
“Tottenham has made it a point to send and reinforce the message that they are here to establish the Tottenham Hotspurs name for the long term,” said Phillips. By “here”, they mean the Maryland soccer community, not just the United States. Tottenham has partnered with the Soccer Association of Columbia to develop talent and educate coaches. They are actively working with Elite Tournaments, founded by local soccer standout, Mike Libber, to arrange international competitions between local teams and Tottenham development teams. Most recently, they are soon unveiling their Under Armour uniforms, allowing the Baltimore based apparel giant into the most fanatical soccer arena in the world.
For Phillips, it this game is a passion for him, but it also has a deeper, more personal meaning. Sheldon Phillips’ father is long time coach, and soccer icon, Lincoln Phillips. He has been described as both a pioneer and builder of the soccer community in Baltimore. “I am a continuation of my Dad’s efforts” said the younger Phillips. Lincoln Phillips played for Trinidad’s National team until he moved to Baltimore in 1968. From that time, he played for the Baltimore Bays professional team in the ASL, coached Howard University to two NCAA National Championships in 1971 and 1974, and coached the Baltimore Bays professional team in the mid 1980’s. “He was a great role model to emulate”, said Phillips about his father.
This game is personal for Phillips and his father. For the Baltimore soccer community as a whole, it is personal as well. It is an opportunity for the Baltimore soccer community to again, show the entire world how much the game is loved. In return, the fans get to see the world’s finest at work. The fans get to see the amazing level of play they bring, the precision of the touch they have, the remarkable speed at which they play. The players get to see the Baltimore soccer community, its passion and its overwhelming support. It has been three years since the Chelsea/AC Milan game put Baltimore on the map. “This game could keep us on the map and be an annual thing. From there, who knows? International Friendlies each summer, US National Team games, maybe a World Cup game,” said Phillips.