On May 14, the Galaxy tweeted out an image promoting its July friendly against FC Barcelona.
Four players were featured prominently on the ad: Gyasi Zardes and Robbie Keane from the Galaxy, and Lionel Messi and Neymar from Barcelona.
Two months later, only one of those players made it onto the pitch Tuesday night. And it wasn’t either of Barcelona’s superstars.
So among the thousands of fans who made it out to the Rose Bowl, the general feeling seemed to be muted excitement. The atmosphere was not helped by an accident on the 210 freeway that snarled traffic and made reaching the stadium all the more difficult. Despite being officially sold out weeks before, there were significant gaps in the seats five minutes before game time.
For those who did make it, the game was their first and likely only chance to see Barcelona live. Red-and-blue striped shirts dominated the crowd.
But the vast majority of the jerseys were those of Messi and Neymar, and many expressed disappointment the two did not make the trip to the U.S.
“Messi should have been here,” said Claudia Helsdon, a Barcelona fan who said Messi was her favorite player. “Definitely should have been here.”
Some fans were willing to give the two a break though, as they both played for their national sides in the Copa America last month. Messi has returned to Argentina for the summer, while Neymar is vacationing in Las Vegas.
Most people said they still would have bought tickets had they had known Neymar and Messi would not play, but some younger fans took their absence particularly hard.
“We were in line with a couple whose son, all he wanted to do was see Messi. They spent $1,200 on tickets. And when they told him yesterday, he ripped down all the Messi posters in his room,” said Sean Railing, a Barcelona fan from Fresno.
Instead, Railing placed the blame on the event organizers for leading fans on to expect Messi and Neymar by including them in the marketing campaign for the match.
“They should have told us they were going to give Messi and Neymar a rest,” Railing said. “I’ve heard a lot of people using the phrase ‘bait-and-switch.’ There are some people who are pretty upset.”
In Messi’s and Neymar’s place, many fans said they were most excited to see star striker Luis Suarez of Uruguay, who has come back from his four-month ban for biting in the 2014 World Cup to form one-third of one of the best attacks in the world.
At the official Barcelona team store at the pregame fanfest, Suarez’s No. 9 jersey was the most prominently displayed, along with those of Gerard Pique and Andres Iniesta.
But even if the two biggest stars were not present in Pasadena, their handiwork was. All three trophies from the team’s “treble” season, in which it claimed titles in the UEFA Champions League, La Liga and Copa Del Rey, were set up for fans to take pictures with. Four hours before kickoff, it was a 30-minute wait to snap a photo with the cups.
With all the excitement and controversy that Barcelona and its stars generated, it was easy to forget the Galaxy is actually the home team in Tuesday’s matchup. L.A. shirts were few and far between at the fanfest, and even though some said they supported the Galaxy normally, the real reason for coming was the opposing side.
A few die-hard Galaxy fans were on hand, however, and despite last season’s 7-0 thumping at the hands of Manchester United, they said they were hopeful.
“I think it’s going to be much better. Steven Gerrard is a great player, Keane is on top of his game. We have a good keeper. Everything is going to be fine tonight,” Walter Dettmer said.
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