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Chelsea looks to leave blue footprint

No European club has pursued a share of the North American soccer market with more intensity than English Premier League side Chelsea.

The West London outfit will make its fifth trip to the United States in six years this summer when it takes part in the inaugural World Football Challenge – a round-robin tournament also featuring AC Milan, Inter Milan and Club America.

Chelsea's desire to grow its brand Stateside is good news for its growing army of U.S. fans, who will have the chance to see their heroes in action in Seattle, Los Angeles, Baltimore and Dallas in July.

Yet despite the inroads Chelsea has made in generating support over the past few years, it still lags way behind EPL rivals Manchester United and Liverpool in terms of American fan backing.

So what can the club bankrolled by Russian oil magnate Roman Abramovich's billions do to match its chief rivals in this corner of the world soccer map? And why does it keep coming back instead of targeting other regions such as Asia or the Middle East?

In an exclusive telephone interview with Yahoo! Sports, Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon spelled out the club's North American blueprint for growth.

World Football Challenge schedule

July 19: Club America vs. Inter Milan at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, Calif.

July 21: Chelsea vs. Inter Milan at Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.

July 22: AC Milan vs. Club America at Georgia Dome in Atlanta

July 24: AC Milan vs. Chelsea at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore

July 26: Inter Milan vs. AC Milan at Gillette Stadium, in Foxborough, Mass.

July 26: Chelsea vs. Club America at Cowboy Stadium in Arlington, Texas

"The United States is one of our four key areas, along with Russia, China and India," Kenyon said. "It is and will continue to be an important market for us in the future.

"Coming here regularly has definitely helped us so far. Our fan base over here has more than doubled in the last three years and we are seeing a genuine interest in our team, our club and our brand from people in this part of the world."

Ultimately, Kenyon insisted, Chelsea invests its time and energy in the U.S. because it is a strong believer in the future of the North American game.

"Everyone wants success today but you have to remember that clubs in England have been around for 100 years, while Major League Soccer is a new and growing product," he said. "Starting up our own MLS club (like FC Barcelona considered recently) is not something we would look at. Running our own franchise is enough for us.

"We feel strongly that there are other, better ways in which we can make a big commitment to North America but in a way that is easier for us to manage. You get out of a market what you put into it and we have shown how important North America is to us. That is why we come here and why we will continue to do so."

Before the World Football Challenge begins, Chelsea will play a friendly against the MLS expansion Seattle Sounders FC on July 18 at Qwest Field.