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FC Barcelona US Tour wraps at Candlestick

The three pieces of silverware sat on the table in all their splendor. The Campeonato Nacional, Copa del Rey, and UEFA Champions League trophies each gave silent testimony to the rampant success enjoyed last season by FC Barcelona. But in a way the prizes laid down a challenge as well: Do it again.

Barca's journey towards repeating their treble is still very much in its infancy. After playing exhibitions against the Los Angeles Galaxy and Seattle Sounders FC, the Catalan giants will conclude their tour of the United States on Saturday when they face Mexican side CD Guadalajara at Candlestick Park. The match will serve as the second game of doubleheader that will see the San Jose Earthquakes host the Columbus Crew in the opener.

While Barcelona against Chivas will no doubt be the main event, it's also safe to say that champions of Europe will see tougher battles down the line. And it's perhaps symbolic that a close inspection of the Champions League trophy revealed a few dents. But for head coach Pep Guardiola, the long-term challenge of repeating their trifecta as well as the short-term obstacle of Saturday's game, will both be approached the same way.

"Try to be humble," said Guardiola. "We are starting on the same line all together. Try to get the players to achieve, to feel the help of his teammates so they are stronger for each other. That is the most important thing. We will get each player to enjoy and suffer for his teammates."

Guardiola later added, "Never demand of the players, something they can't do, never. They know that all I ask of them is what they can do. That is my style."

Of course, when you have a roster as star-studded as Barca's, Guardiola is in the position of asking quite a bit, especially now that he has Swedish international striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the fold. But as with most teams, those who stand still will get left behind, and with bitter rivals Real Madrid going on a spending spree that exceeds the GDP of more than a few countries, Guardiola knows his job is never done.

"I think 99 percent of coaches would like to have my roster," admitted Guardiola. "It would be presumptuous to say I'm not happy with roster that I have. I have to speak with the sporting directory about a few things, but that is the job that I have."

One player Guardiola is presumably more than happy with is all-world attacker Lionel Messi, who joined his coach at Friday's press conference. The Argentinean was less than 48 hours removed from scoring two goals in his side's 4-0 dismantling of Seattle. On that occasion, Messi's joyful style was on display for all to see, one that hasn't been hardened by the often cynical nature of the professional stage.

"I do what I love on the field," said Messi. "I haven't changed since I started out. It has always been my style, and I always love doing what I do."

Messi's joy, as well as Guardiola's, figures to increase now that the team has acquired Ibrahimovic. But a hand injury limited the Swede to non-contact drills during Friday's training session, meaning that he'll likely again be a spectator on Saturday.

That hasn't diminished Guardiola's anticipation of what should be an entertaining match against one of the most popular teams in Mexican soccer, one that figures to offer a trickier challenge than the two MLS sides Barca has already faced.

"I think the Americans play different, they have a different style," said Guardiola. "We give players information for the opponent they will face. We have to defend better and attack better. The Mexicans hold the ball, are more dynamic. They don't play as direct as the Americans. It's a good test."

And there will be many more to come.

Jeff Carlisle is a contributor to MLSnet.com

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