Cristiano Ronaldo, David Moyes and Rafa Benitez’s Everton challenge
For nearly a decade, the United States has been Everton’s premier summer destination, but their return next week will be their first visit in eight years.
Unlike Eddie Murphy who failed to convince critics after choosing 2021 for his Coming 2 America sequel, some 33 years after the popular original film, the Blues are hoping for a new perspective under new manager Rafa Benitez rather than rehashing the same old routines.
Everton will play two matches in a tournament called The Florida Cup at Camping World Stadium in Orlando.
They first face the Colombian team Millonarios on Sunday July 25 (1h30 Monday, UK time), then either Internazionale, Serie A champion Romelu Lukaku, or Arsenal, Mikel Arteta’s rival in Premier League on Thursday July 29.
While travel restrictions due to the global coronavirus pandemic will prevent a large contingent of Everton from coming from England to support them, the Blues will rely on their experience in the United States to put them in the right frame of mind before the 2021/22 Premier League campaign. .
Former Benitez rival across Stanley Park, longtime Everton manager David Moyes was certainly a fan of America’s escapades, having taken his Blues team across the Atlantic six times while in charge of a seventh trip, under successor Roberto Martinez, organized before the Scotsman left the club.
For the bulk of these visits, Everton have been bolstered by US goalkeeper Tim Howard in their ranks, so it will be curious to see how well they are received on this occasion.
Here is a look back at the matches played by the Blues during the “American Dream” era between 2004 and 2013.
Everton traveled to Houston to compete in the Copa De Tejas tournament, a competition created to help establish Reliant Stadium (now NRG Stadium, home of the NFL Houston Texans team) as a football stadium and help persuade Major League Soccer that the city would be a viable location for an expansion franchise, which was successful with the formation of the Houston Dynamo in 2006.
The trip was seen as a turning point for the Blues under Moyes.
They had finished 17th the previous season with just 39 points, but despite losing star man Wayne Rooney that summer – he was not on the trip as he had free time after his exploits for England at the Championships. Europe – they would shock the football world by finishing fourth the following May ahead of Champions League winners Benitez in what remains their best Premier League ranking to date.
Recalling the tour, a source told Athletic in 2020 how, after being known as a relentless taskmaster on his Everton debut, the 2004 trip to the United States saw the start of a more pragmatic approach.
They said: “The players worked hard, obviously, but for the first time the gaffer gave the guys a few days off.
“He let them go have a few beers and have the next day to recover.
“There was a sports bar next to the hotel, and they would go there and have a drink.
“The best thing was that no one recognized them. Players could let go without worrying and no one would stop them for photos or whatever.
“During their free time during the day, they would go shopping in the mall and buy gifts for their partners and families. Some of them discovered Starbucks for the first time and took a liking to their coffee.
There were also team ties on a trip to a Houston Astros baseball game, although the Blues players had a somewhat top-down experience watching it all.
Dave Billows, Everton’s former strength and conditioning coach, told Athletic: “The guys got in the spirit. Faddy (James McFadden) bought a big foam finger, then the others bought a bunch of goods.
“In the first two heats, there were two home runs. They had this big train that circled the stadium every time there was a home run and the atmosphere was electric. We loved him.
“Then, for the next seven innings, almost nothing happened. It was like watching the paint dry and the guys weren’t happy how boring it was.
On the pitch, Everton faced opponents from Mexico. Goals from James McFadden (3), Thomas Gravesen (12 penalty, 84), Kevin Campbell (57) and Kevin Kilbane (62) gave them a 5-2 victory over champions Pachuca but they missed out on the trophy after losing 3-1 at Club America with new boy Marcus Bent at net in the 88e minute.
Two locations for Everton this time. First, they drew 1-1 with Major League Soccer Columbus Crew, whose assistant coach was former Blues winger Robert Warzycha, in Ohio thanks to a goal from Victor. Anichebe, 18 years old.
Then it was back in the scorching heat of Texas to face Club America again, but this time at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, a suburb of Dallas.
Again, Everton drew 1-1 with Mikel Arteta on the scoresheet, but after conceding an equalizer with one minute of full time the Blues went on to lose a shootout 5-4.
Only one game for Moyes’ men on that occasion and they were beaten 2-0 at 4,328 feet above sea level by MLS hosts Real Salt Lake at Rice Eccles Stadium.
Mixed fortunes for Everton against MLS opponents on this occasion as they lost 2-0 to Chicago Fire at Toyota Park – in the context of the resignation of UK general manager Keith Wyness – before beating Tim Howard’s future club Colorado Rapids 2-1 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park thanks to goals from Arteta (6) and Leon Osman (87).
Back in North America – the first game took place in Canada – for the fourth consecutive year, the Blues faced different types of opposition on this occasion.
They first lost 1-0 to Argentinian giants River Plate at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton before heading to Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah (now home of Real Salt Lake) to face the MLS All- Stars.
Their opponents, made up of America’s top elite players – including Landon Donovan – had in fact beaten the four British tourists in previous encounters (4-1 v Fulham, 2005; 1-0 v Chelsea, 2006; 2-0 v Celtic, 2007; 3-2 v West Ham United, 2008) but Everton held them to a 1-1 draw thanks to Louis Saha’s 14e goal in the minute, then beat them 4-3 on penalties.
Moyes shocked the American Blues hosts by giving his goalie and national hero Howard an extra week off so he wouldn’t play in any of their games in his homeland that summer.
First, Everton lost 1-0 to Philadelphia Union with Dutch defender John Heitinga sent off at the last minute for hitting Christian Hernandez, who had scored the hosts’ winner three minutes earlier.
The Blues improved in their next game, beating DC United 3-1 with goals from Anichebe (4), Diniyar Bilyaletdinov (16) and Magaye Gueye (82).
With Moyes now at Manchester United, new manager Martinez has taken Everton to the United States to play not two but three matches.
Playing in the International Champions Cup, a domestic tournament featuring several top European clubs, the Blues started with a 1-1 draw against Juventus at AT&T Park in San Francisco with Kevin Mirallas scoring in the 61st minute.
The game is best known for young defender John Stones’ Panenka-style penalty kick on their 6-5 hit on a hit.
Going down the California coast, Everton went on to lose 2-1 to Real Madrid at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, their opponents taking the initiative with goals from Cristiano Ronaldo (17) and Mesut Ozil (31) before Nikica Jelavic ( 61) reduce arrears.
The Blues’ final game was a 1-0 loss to Spain’s Valencia team at Sun Life Stadium in Miami and eight-year-old Florida will again be the site of their long-awaited return to the United States later this month – this in Orlando.
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