Fans flocked to Toyota Park Friday night to cheer on FC Barcelona as the team took the field for training to kick off their two-match tour of the USA. A heat index of 90-plus couldn't keep the crowd away.
A few new faces, including manager Josep Guardiola, gave the fans a glimpse of the new season to come. And for Guardiola, preseason is the first step in moving forward.
"There's no doubt that we lost some wonderful players, but they're not on our team anymore," Guardiola said. "We still have to work hard with the players we have."
Sunday, Barcelona will face CD Guadalajara for the second time in two years. The two teams last met at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, a 1-1 draw in front of 92,650 people. The 2006 tour, which included visits to New York and Houston in addition to LA, averaged 80,734 fans.
Mexican defender Rafael Marquez said he enjoys the challenge of playing one of the biggest team's from his home country.
"I'm happy to be playing Chivas," Rafael Marquez said. "We faced Chivas in Los Angeles and they're a fun team to play against."
Barcelona is synonymous with success, winning 18 La Liga trophies, a record-setting 24 Copa del Rey championships and two UEFA Champions League titles. And this season, the team plans on it being no different. To them, it's business as usual.
"The changes this season have taken the limelight a bit," forward Eidur Smari Gudjohnsen said. "When the season starts and we get underway, things will get better. It's a part of football. There are always changes. Players come quickly, so do managers."
Spanish defender Xavier Hernandez said he enjoys traveling around the USA in the preseason.
"It's always fun to visit this country," Hernandez said. "We're using the game Sunday to prepare and concentrate on our league, which is very important to us."
One of the new faces to the club, midfielder Alexander Hleb, said he's just ready to get started.
"I feel like I just joined the club," Hleb said. "I'm enjoying my time here. I plan to give it my best. We want to win this season. That's the most important thing."
Barcelona and Chivas face off Sunday at Soldier Field, with kickoff set for 6 p.m. CT. Barcelona then heads to New York, where they will take on the Red Bulls on Wednesday evening at Giants Stadium.
Kathryn L. Knapp is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.