Traveling soccer teams and touring rock bands occasionally have something in common, as Peter Wilt describes it.
Wilt, the Forward Madison FC managing director, was explaining how his third-division pro team landed Friday night’s exhibition game against Hertha Berlin of the German top division when he made that comparison.
If a band has a show in Minneapolis on Wednesday and another in Chicago on Saturday, it might look for another place to play in between.
Hertha Berlin had a game at MLS’ Minnesota United on Wednesday and is due in Chicago on Saturday as part of its postseason tour of the U.S. Even though Forward Madison isn’t the same level of competition as it normally faces and Breese Stevens Field isn’t a large stadium, the team struck a deal to play here.
“This ended up working out well for them,” Wilt said. “And, obviously, really well for us because I think it’s unusual to get a first-division team to play either against a third-division pro team in America, or in a venue with about 5,000 capacity.”
Typically, Wilt said, covering the cost of bringing in a first-division European club involves having a stadium that seats well over 10,000 or a hefty hike in ticket prices. The lowest entry price for Friday’s game is $20, $4 more than for a Forward Madison USL League One game.
Being a bus ride away from another stop on the tour decreased the expenses for Forward Madison.
Hertha Berlin brought a 60-person travel party, including its first-team players, coaches and staff, for the Berlin Tears Down Walls tour that’s celebrating the upcoming 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Ronaldo Damus and David Rodriguez scored in the opening seven minutes as North Texas found openings through the Flamingos' back line.
The team last Saturday finished its season 11th out of 18 teams in the Bundesliga. On Monday, it flew to Minneapolis, where it gained a 1-0 victory over Minnesota United on Wednesday.
After Friday’s 7 p.m. game against Forward Madison, Hertha Berlin will head to Chicago before the tour moves to Southern California next week.
Hertha Berlin is one of three top-flight teams on Forward Madison’s inaugural-season schedule. The Flamingos also host Minnesota United on June 25 and Mexican team Querétaro on July 16.
Wilt said the team was able to pull off that coup through relationships with other teams and agents that broker games. Forward Madison had to weigh the Hertha Berlin game against the chance to book a contest against a second-division English team that may have carried more name recognition with American fans, Wilt said.
“But in the end, the opportunity to bring in a top-division European team made it readily apparent that it was the best direction to go,” he said.
The timing, however, isn’t great for Forward Madison, which is in a grueling part of its schedule thanks to U.S. Open Cup success.
After a 3-1 loss to North Texas SC on Wednesday in Frisco, Texas, the Flamingos will play their seventh game in 21 days Friday. They also have a trip to play second-division Saint Louis FC in the third round of the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday.
“That’s actually going to be a real challenge for our coaches,” Wilt said. “Because while this is a great game and one that our players are looking forward to, at the same time our coaches need to balance the regular-season games and the U.S. Open Cup games, and see those as a priority over a friendly.”
Madison is only a brief stop on Hertha Berlin’s tour, but the club had some priorities. Wilt said the team asked him for two things: a tour of the State Capitol (it was scheduled for after the team’s arrival Thursday) and to train at Camp Randall Stadium.
For the latter, Wilt worked with University of Wisconsin officials to set it up for Friday morning.
“It’s the day of the game, which is somewhat unusual, so it’s not going to be a strenuous practice, I’m sure,” Wilt said. “It’ll be more of a runout for them. But it’ll be a good experience for them. And it’ll be nice to see soccer played at Camp Randall.”