Champs of Europe, Chelsea starts tour in Seattle

If it’s possible to ignore a disappointing sixth-place finish in

the Premier League, then Chelsea’s 2011-12 season has to be counted

among the finest in club history.

FA Cup title? Check. A first Champions League crown, and in

dramatic fashion? Check.

Embroiled in drama both on and off the field, the Blues will try

to move forward from the roller coaster of last season when their

preseason American tour begins on Wednesday night with an

exhibition against the Seattle Sounders.

The short offseason has nearly matched the commotion of the

entire 2011-12 season. From striker Didier Drogba leaving to play

in China, to manager Roberto Di Matteo having the interim tag

removed, to John Terry being cleared of racially abusing an

opponent, it’s been a busy couple of months at Stamford Bridge.

Throw in the signings of midfielders Eden Hazard from Lille and

Marko Marin from Werder Bremen and it hasn’t left much time for the

Blues to fully appreciate what they accomplished at the end of last

season.

”The belief was always there. … Last season, besides from not

competing as much as we could have done in the Premier League, it

was a fantastic season,” Chelsea defender Gary Cahill said. ”It

was a great season and hopefully we can continue that into this

year.”

Just how rare was what Chelsea accomplished? Thanks to Drogba’s

clinching shootout penalty kick in the Champions League final

against Bayern Munich, Chelsea became the first English club since

Liverpool in 1981 to win a domestic cup title and the championship

of Europe in the same season, without winning the league title.

Manchester United won the FA Cup, Premier League and Champions

League in 1999.

Winning two cups by the end of the season was amazing, Cahill

said. ”So we need to push on from that. It’s nice to be involved

in all the competitions as we (were) and hopefully we can compete

more in the Premier League this season as well.”

The Blues will be without five of their biggest names for the

first stop of a four-game American tour that will feature the first

soccer match at the new Yankee Stadium against Paris Saint-Germain,

a match with the MLS All-Stars in Philadelphia and a final

exhibition versus AC Milan in Miami.

Spanish star Fernando Torres, who helped Spain win the European

Championship earlier this month, and Portugal’s Raul Meireles will

join the tour later. As will French midfielder Flourent Malouda and

the English defensive duo of Ashley Cole and Terry.

It was just last Friday that Terry was cleared of racially

abusing an opponent. He was accused by Queens Park Rangers defender

Anton Ferdinand of using racial obscene language during a Premier

League match last October. While Terry was cleared in the courts,

he still may face punishment from the English Football Association

after it concludes its own investigation.

Even Ferdinand could receive punishment after both he and Terry

admitted during the court case to using obscene language during the

Premier League match that led to the trial.

It’s unclear when the five players will join the tour, although

they are expected to play at some point in the American tour.

Meanwhile, striker Daniel Sturridge (Britain), defender Ryan

Bertrand (Britain) and midfielder Juan Mata (Spain) are playing for

their respective countries at the Olympics. That creates an

opportunity for some younger players to impress Di Matteo ahead of

Chelsea’s Premier League opener on Aug. 19 at Wigan.

”Hopefully, I can make my mark and impress (Roberto),” said

19-year-old midfielder Josh McEachran, who already has 22

appearances for the Blues.

The match against Chelsea is the conclusion of a hectic month

for the Sounders. They get a 10-day break after Wednesday’s

exhibition and hope this match against a Premier League club is

less embarrassing than their last.

A year ago, Seattle hosted Manchester United in its lone

international exhibition and it was a competitive match for one

half. But as Seattle subbed in its reserves in the second half, Man

United brought on the likes of Wayne Rooney and Ji-Sung Park and a

1-0 halftime game turned into a 7-0 United rout.

Coach Sigi Schmid and general manager Adrian Hanauer said

afterward that they would reevaluate how to handle major

international exhibitions in the future. Schmid said Tuesday it

helps this time that the Sounders don’t have a game this weekend

and can play their starters more.

”The lasting impact is you don’t want to have that happen

again. That’s the whole thing,” Schmid said.

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