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Houston Hosts International Soccer Titans

The International Champions Cup is a tournament of exhibition games that features 12 of the greatest soccer clubs in the world. In July at NRG stadium in Houston, I witnessed a showdown between two of the best—FC Bayern and Real Madrid—and the game was action-packed. Bayern Munich scored first when Corentin Tolisso fired off on of an assist from David Alaba and won 3-1.

One Real Madrid supporter first saw the club in 1965 in Quito, Ecuador. He had been supporting his team for 52 years. Fourteen-year-old Sebastian from Ecuador looked forward to seeing Thomas Müller, Thiago, and Robert Lewandowski in action. 

A small group of Bayern supporters travel with the team. They got into the stadium before doors opened to the average fans and set up the supporters’ section. They draped flags of different Bayern fan club chapters over the railing and prepared to cheer on their club. Rockets star point guard James Harden and Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson even made appearances. Watson presented the Man of the Match award to Lewandowski. During halftime, Texans cheerleaders and the Deep Steel Thunder band put on a show.  

”The international support here was unreal. Real Madrid supporters roared to an extreme volume as their team made moves. When Bayern’s second-string goalie, Sven Ulreich, received a questionable red card in the 81st minute, his exit was met largley with boos from Real Madrid supporters for allegedly tripping Rodrygo and a trickle of admirable claps on the Bayern side. 

Immediately after, 18-year-old Real Madrid forward Rodrygo Goes hit a perfect corner shot on a free kick for his first goal in his first game with the club. Real Madrid’s supporters erupted at their first goal of the match. 

However, later in the second half, chants of “Lets go Bayern!” rumbled through the stadium. Though Bayern fans were visibly outnumbered, they brought the noise with their planned chants. The number of Real Madrid supporters didn’t intimidate Bayern fans from coming alive and thundering at a goal from their team. In fact, they created that serious noise on three exceptional occasions: for Corentin Tolisso in the 15th minute, Robert Lewandowski in the 67th, and Serge Gnabry in the 69th. Bayern supporters clapped their hands, screamed in delight, and chanted for their team. Nineteen-year-old Fiete Arp participated in only his second game with Bayern. The first was another International Champions Cup game in Los Angeles. In that match, Bayern lost 2–1 against Arsenal. On debuting with the team on this huge international stage, Arp remarked, “It’s getting bigger and bigger, but I try to do my best and learn from everything.” 

After the game, some FC Bayern stars offered up a bit of advice to kids who wish to be in their boots someday. Manuel Neuer stressed the importance of having passion for whatever you do, from music to soccer. Javi Martínez emphasized the value of playing for fun, and Thomas Müller gave three simple directions, “Work hard, train well, and always stay positive.”     

For many supporters, it was their first pro soccer game. I spoke with kids who had never seen their favorite team in person and people who had been fans for 52 years. Chloe, 17, is a Bayern Munich fan. Her family members are Dynamo season- ticket holders, but this was her first international game. Chloe was excited about the atmosphere and the opportunity to see her favorite player, Robert Lewandowski, play. 

Alessandro, a 12-twelve year- old Real Madrid fan, came from Dallas to attend the game. This was his second time seeing Real Madrid play. He had previously seen them in action in his hometown in 2014, against AS Roma in the same tournament.