23-24 Feb 2016 CONCACAF Champions League

As European teams were battling it out in the Champions League, I covered one of the other Champions Leagues that take place on our planet – the CONCACAF Champions League.

One day I want to go into the Congo and cover the African Champions League, but, for now, a simple hop to LA was the order of the day.

Traveling on the amazing double-decker Airbus A380,  I had no clue on what the Shrewsbury Town v Manchester United score was until I landed when a heap of text messages informed me the United had won 0-3.

This represented me at LAX Airport as I tried in vain to get through passport control quickly and catch my forwarding flight to Seattle.

I got through and three hours later, I was fast asleep in my Seattle hotel. With snow on the Washington State mountains, deep blue skies, a full sun lit up one of my favorite US Cities when I awoke the next morning.

The Link Light Rail Train from the airport to the shore is always a pleasure to ride.

And on to the Soccerball. #LETSGOSOUNDERS

The Seattle Sounders faced Club America in this CONCACAF Champions League Quarter Final First Leg fixture.

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If I ever write an autobiography, I will certainly cover Israel Airport Security. Upon entering Israel, all is calm, until that is you have to leave when you are interrogated like no tomorrow. I can safely say that the security upon entering the stadium was the not intense that I have ever been involved in.

I have covered Club America 6 times in the past 7 months. Not bad considering I have not been to Mexico in years! And as ever, I did not enthuse over Club America, they were awful. Walking in front of the opposition trying to take free kicks, rolling around pretending to be shot by a sniper and generally being horrible and making out to the referee that he should do them a favor.

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It was the Clint Dempsey show for Seattle, scoring the opening goal with a wonderful free kick. But the aspect of the game that will remain with me for a long time, was the ever-growing culture of soccer in the USA. For me, the MLS was a joke when it started. Now I am in the stadium which is the home to the Seattle Seahawks, with nearly 43,000 fans in – and all standing!

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Fans standing up, waving flags, drinking beer, it’s the stuff most English fans dream of!

Talking of English, a noticeable aspect was the fact that the Sounders had an ENGLISH announcer!

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Washington state has a grunge feel to it, the cities of Portland and Seattle especially. Some fans looked like they were going to a rock concert sporting large beards, stylish glasses and lots of leather bands on wrists.

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The biggest difference to the UEFA Champions League was the constant referral to the fact that the winners of the Champions League would represent their continent in the FIFA Club World Cup.

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For sure, this would never be seen in any German stadium in the UCL. CONCACAF perhaps celebrating the global game more than UEFA who simply surround the pitch with multi-million Euro sponsors.

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The game ended 2-2. Friendly officials made sure that I was fed and watered as I was offered the chance of the warmth of the press box – sitting on the 4G pitch was getting a bit chilly.

I took the wonderful tram back to my airport hotel and after what seemed like a 5-minute nap, I was back in the airport for an early morning flight back to Los Angeles.

I normally get a rental car in Los Angeles, but in 24 hr, I would be on another aeroplane heading back to London. The ever helpful Vicky at LA Galaxy suggested that I tried Uber for my transport. I had never used Uber before, I can certainly understand grumpy professional yellow cab taxi drivers, but for the customer it is the best thing ever!

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After registering with the Uber App on my iPhone, I quickly requested a lift back to my hotel after going for a walk. “Brad” picked me up in a minute and I could see his location. No money changed hands, it was all taken off my credit card and within minutes of finishing the ride, my mailbox had a receipt and full breakdown including a map of the journey. Using Uber, I got a ride to the LA Galaxy stadium for their CONCACAF Champions League encounter against Santos from Mexico.

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It is supposed to be the Californian winter. In the day it was 92c. Summer vacation weather.

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One of the reasons I was there was to cover Galaxy in their new Adidas kit. However, I forgot how bad the floodlights were. Shooting in RAW, I shot at 5000 ISO and spend what seemed to be like an age in attempting to perfect the colour balance. Sometimes the old days of Black and White were so much more simple!

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Nigel De Jong made his debut, for his first game, he looked class.

The other most noticeable new recruit was Ashley Cole.

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In season’s gone past, I have probably just noticed attackers trying to get past him. When he played for England, he was ‘just’ the left back – the strikers were more glamorous, but Cole, in this match was Man Of The Match and more. I thought he was awesome, but my American colleagues did not understand why.

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Despite a not so full stadium, the fans were certainly in full voice.

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Gerrard played his part too but sadly for the Californians, they could not get past Santos. It was a very 0-0 game and not a pulsating end to end game like I had encountered the day before. I was disappointed with my shoot.

The LA Galaxy look so much better under deep blue skies and sunshine rather than under dull floodlights. It is fair to suggest that this season, LA Galaxy have a very very good team as well as the most helpful media team on planet Earth! I thanked them for the Uber tip off and hoped that our paths would cross again very soon.

With Venice and Manhattan Beaches waving at me on the map and opportunities of visits to Disney Land and Universal Studios, the only location I needed to be at was Terminal B at LAX for my flight back to London.

A 13,000 mile round trip in two and a half days for two games of football. Friday was a day at the car hospital to fix my aching Mercedez. And Stoke City v Aston Villa was my game on Saturday. No time for sightseeing or soaking up the sun, just a professional in and out job.

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