"We've been talking to whoever we've needed to talk to since last year about getting Real Madrid back here," Smolenski said. "After the success of [last year's] match, the dialogue started as soon as that game ended. It was a matter of CAA Sports [which coordinates the World Football Challenge] getting that in Real Madrid's ear early. But for both teams it was still subject to routing and where they finished in their respective leagues. So once they wrapped up their seasons, it was a lot easier to zero in on these teams, specifically Real and Celtic."
On April 25, it was reported that the Eagles and the Union were in the final stages to return Real Madrid for an exhibition match, but Real's opponent proved more elusive. Smolenski confirmed that along with Celtic, talks took place with Italian giants Juventus and AC Milan but that the "timing for both clubs didn't pan out."
Real will challenge Juventus in its second WFC match at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas on Aug. 5. Real will play a rematch with defending MLS champion Los Angeles on Aug. 2.
A major stipulation was that Real's best players had to participate in this match. So fans again will see Sergio Ramos, Iker Casillas, and star forward Cristiano Ronaldo in Philadelphia.
It's a game that will cap another impressive summer of soccer in the Philadelphia region. PPL Park will host this year's MLS All-Star Game, pitting MLS' elite against UEFA Champions League victor Chelsea on July 25.
"Those marquee players on both teams, those are the players the fans want to see, and that was a big point for us last year as well as this year, is that we want those names playing here," Smolenski said. "They're superstars and they are coming back here. We are very excited about that, in addition to being excited about the fact that we are hosting the Spanish League champions against the Scottish Premier League champions. So we expect this to be a heck of a matchup."
The match is on the same day as the Olympic men's soccer final, but it shouldn't deter sales. The United States failed to qualify for the Summer Games for the first time in more than 20 years. And last year, when Real challenged the Union, more than 50,000 packed the Linc for that match. In addition, this game marks the only time Celtic will play in North America this year and the only time Real Madrid will be on the East Coast.
Contact Kerith Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org.