International soccer is becoming something of a summer institution in Charlotte.
On Sunday, for the third time in four years, Charlotte will host an International Champions Cup match — this year, between Liverpool of the English Premier League and Borussia Dortmund of the German Bundesliga. And whether or not you’re going to be in Bank of America Stadium for the 4 p.m. kickoff, there are abundant storylines worth monitoring during the match.
Here are five things to watch for in Sunday’s game:
1. All eyes on Christian Pulisic, the future of American soccer
Even calling Pulisic, the 19-year-old sensation from Hershey, Pa., the ‘future’ of American soccer feels somewhat like a slight — he’s already the face of the American game. Not only is he a starter for Borussia Dortmund this early in his career, but Pulisic has the potential to develop into the greatest player in U.S. soccer history, joining the ranks of Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey in terms of overall success and nationwide appeal. And after missing out on a World Cup appearance this summer, you betcha that he’ll be looking to show off some back on American soil.
Pulisic isn’t the most physically imposing player at just 5-foot-9 and 138 pounds, but he more than makes up for it with his speed in the open field, quick acceleration and change-of-direction ability with the ball at his feet. Pulisic has only been a regular starter for BvB for two seasons now, but he’s already one of the team’s most explosive players. He isn’t always the one who puts the ball in the back of the net, but if Dortmund is going to have any attacking success on Sunday, trust that Pulisic will be heavily involved.
2. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp takes on his former team
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is one of the world’s most famous and creative soccer coaches. In just his third season at the helm of the English club, Klopp led Liverpool on a miraculous run through the UEFA Champions League and into the championship game. And while ultimately his side fell 1-3 to Real Madrid in that match, it just served as another reminder of how special a manager Klopp really is.
Now, Klopp’s team will face another unenviable task: dismantling their manager’s former team. Klopp first rose to managerial prominence at Borussia Dortmund from 2008-2015, leading the club to consecutive league titles in 2011 and 2012. The question now is just how predictable he is to his former team. And if Liverpool scores, does Klopp cheer or show restraint? All things worth monitoring.
3. Will Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper attend?
Funny that the first major event in Bank of America Stadium in the post-Jerry Richardson era isn’t an American football game, but no matter. New Panthers owner David Tepper, who held an introductory press conference earlier in July, will finally have an opportunity to check out live sports action in his new stadium — but will he show?
One reason to think he might: Tepper mentioned Major League Soccer and a potential expansion team in Charlotte during his introductory press conference, saying, “if we do development here, that’s new development that keeps people here not just on game day, and we open up for other things, and I make an investment in MLS and I bring that in here, I bring that many more dollars into the community.” Other potential MLS expansion sites tend to have their own stadiums, but Tepper may want to see firsthand how BoA Stadium handles a major soccer game. If all goes well, he may be more inclined to push for MLS expansion to Charlotte in the future — the next round of expansion sites will be decided in two years.
4. A glimpse at this season’s best player, Mo Salah
Usually soccer fans think of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo when they think of the world’s best player, but how about Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah? The 26-year-old Salah suffered a shoulder injury in the Champions League final and was unable to lead his native Egypt to World Cup glory, but his first season at Liverpool (44 goals in all competitions) makes him a serious contender to win the 2018 Ballon d’Or, given annually to the world’s Player of the Year.
At 5-foot-9 and 157 pounds, Salah is far from the strongest player, but his intelligence and vision with the ball, breakaway speed and sensational finishing make him a threat to score almost anytime he gets the ball. Liverpool may not play Salah the entire game as he continues rehabbing his shoulder, but even a glimpse of him will be a treat for soccer fans, regardless of their fandom.
5. A prediction, if you still need help picking a side
For those of you without a diehard allegiance to either team, a quick prediction on how this game turns out:
Liverpool, with a recent appearance in the Champions League final and a flurry of summer signings, surely has more offensive firepower than Dortmund. The combination that includes Salah and Sadio Mane up top rivals the attack of any team in the world. That said, Dortmund’s defense is absolutely capable of holding its own, and can often utilize its defenders as offensive threats on set pieces. This doesn’t figure to be a low-scoring affair, but it’s hard to see a way that Liverpool comes up short with its multitude of attackers.
Prediction: Liverpool 3, Borussia Dortmund 2