European soccer clubs come to Chicago courting talent, fans, brand loyalty – Chicago Tribune

Across the turf of Schaumburg’s Olympic Park they scampered, 300 children wearing the distinctive navy blue of global soccer titan FC Barcelona. It was billed as a camp, but you could just as easily call it an incursion.

The week of drills and scrimmages marked the Spanish mega-club’s first step into Chicago’s youth soccer community. It will be followed this fall by academies where players can practice Barcelona’s fluid, crowd-pleasing style of play.

But while Barcelona is planting its flag in fresh territory, other European clubs are already here, running their own camps, scouting players and forming bonds with local teams. As some see it, the clubs are competing not just for talent — those athletes of rare quality who might make it to the top rung of professional soccer — but for brand loyalty.

“Why are Europeans in this market now? Because in 10 years this will be the hottest market on Earth,” said Marco Segarra, of ISL Futbol, the Spanish company that is managing Barcelona’s expansion into the U.S. “There will be no other market but America. The (global center) of soccer will be here.”