Busch Stadium ready for Chelsea-Manchester soccer match

Thursday, May 23, 2013 | 12:24 a.m. CDT
Members of Chelsea FC work out Wednesday at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Chelsea is scheduled to play an exhibition soccer match against rival Manchester City on Thursday evening in St. Louis.

ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis Cardinals anticipate standing-room attendance of about 46,000 for Thursday night's soccer match between Chelsea and Manchester, the first of two U.S. friendlies between the teams.

A two-day conversion process at Busch Stadium got the seal of approval from the Chelsea groundskeeper. The second game is Saturday at Yankee Stadium.

Attendance was announced as 10,259 with fans paying $20 for the practice session followed by a concert by Cracker and fireworks display in a nearly empty stadium.

Chelsea midfielder Juan Mata and defender Branislav Ivanovic, promised they'd be playing to win and took note of hundreds of fans who showed up in team regalia. Three hours before the practice, fans lined up 20 deep to pose with Chelsea's Europa championship trophy.

"It's a huge stadium, it's a pleasure for us to play here and we are expecting a great atmosphere," Mata said. "All we can do is try to do our best."

If there were complaints about the extended season, they kept them to themselves.

"We'll have our rest in the summer," Mata said. "Now it's time to enjoy it here in the States, try to enjoy these two friendly games."

They had limited knowledge of the Cardinals, who have the best record in the National League. Chelsea is using the visitor's clubhouse.

"The Cardinals, yeah they're famous," Mata said. "But I don't follow too much the sport."

Chelsea players seem pleased Jose Mourinho appears headed back for a second stint as manager, even after he failed with Real Madrid.

Mata said the 50-year-old Mourinho has been a winner in several countries.

The move has been widely reported, though there's has been no official announcement.

"We don't know what's going to happen but if he comes he's welcome because he's one of the best," Mata said. "Chelsea always wants to be a top squad and I think if he comes we're going to be happy to have him."

Mata wasn't about to judge Mourinho's shortcomings with Real Madrid. He won two major titles, the 2011 Copa del Rey and the 2012 league championship, but couldn't produce a European Cup.

"You have to be there to understand everything," Mata said. "What I know is Madrid is a massive club and there's a lot of pressure, and I think it shouldn't be easy. All I can say is if he comes, we're going to try to do our best with him or with whoever to win the title."

Whatever happens, Ivanovic said it was important to finish strong and "in the moment."

"We'll see what will happen with Chelsea next," Ivanovic said. "For every player it's a big challenge to play for the big managers and to do everything, but all these things are with one aim — for Chelsea to be one of the best teams."

Mourinho left Real Madrid after winning two major titles, the 2011 Copa del Rey and the 2012 league championship, but falling short of taking a European Cup.

Manchester City arrives on game day Thursday also set for changes. Roberto Mancini was fired one season after winning the English league title, and it has been reported Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini has been lined up as a replacement.

The Busch Stadium soccer layout is just shy of FIFA dimensions. Sod covering the pitcher's mound, which was taken out with a back hoe, and the infield dirt, stripped with a machine that mimics a wood planer, was a lighter shade of green.

Seams appeared evident at ground level, but Joe Abernathy, director of stadium operations, said Chelsea had no complaints.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in the makeover was dealing with a quagmire of mud in the infield after a 10-foot stretch of tarpaulin ripped open during violent storms Monday night.

Chelsea worked out Tuesday at Saint Louis University as the team watched. The Billikens, whose uniforms are the same shade of blue as Chelsea, toured the field and posed for a group photo while sporting a Chelsea flag.

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