Robbie Fowler has this advice for soccer fans at Saturdays Liverpool-AC Milan exhibition at Charlottes Bank of America Stadium: Keep an eye on Liverpools Philippe Coutinho and Ricky Lambert.
Coutinho is just a wonderful young talent who is a creator in midfield, said Fowler, a former Liverpool star who is serving as an ambassador for the team during its summer tour of the United States. Lambert is a great player who has played for a lot of clubs. Hes a local lad who is back playing for Liverpool now.
Fowler warned that its not guaranteed that either Coutinho or Lambert will play Saturday. Thats the nature of these friendlies, which are essentially glorified preseason warm-ups in which coaches are free to test any number of player combinations.
But, as the seasons for Englands Premier League and Italys Serie A draw near, there is a good chance Liverpool coach Brendan Rodgers will find time for stars such as midfielders Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson, and strikers Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling against AC Milan, which has its own set of standouts in striker Mario Ballotelli and midfielder Keisuke Honda.
The teams actually do have something to play for. The game is part of the eight-team International Champions Cup. Liverpool leads the tournaments Group B with a 2-0 record, while AC Milan has lost both its games to Greeces Olympiacos and Englands Manchester City by a combined 8-1.
Liverpool would clinch a spot in Mondays championship game in Miami with a victory. Manchester City and Olympiacos, who play Saturday in Minneapolis, could win the group if Liverpool loses or ties AC Milan (ties are broken by penalty-kick shootouts).
The tournament has been a success so far, with large crowds watching games in venues such as New Yorks Yankee Stadium and NFL stadiums such as Chicagos Soldier Field and Philadelphias Lincoln Financial Field. Saturdays match between Manchester United and Real Madrid in 110,000-seat Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich., has been sold out for months. Ticket sales for the Liverpool-AC Milan game have hit the 66,000 mark.
We came two years ago and there was a buzz about (soccer) in the U.S., said Fowler, who scored 162 career goals over a 16-year career in England and is the Premier Leagues sixth all-time leading scorer. It seems much different now. (Soccer) here is thriving, its pretty obvious. We can feel the passion from the people. Playing in Chicago was special and a place like Yankee Stadium is wonderful. But people keep telling me to wait until we get to Charlotte. Its probably the best of the lot.
Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14
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