It doesn’t matter if you’re a recent World Cup convert, a long-time Cauldron stalwart, an international futbol purist or just a little soccer curious — now is a great time to be a soccer fan in America.
With the World Cup — an unquestioned success in TV ratings and stories about America’s growing passion for the game — in the rear-view mirror, the focus turns to club soccer. And, man, there’s a lot of club soccer to be watched in this country.
Between our domestic leagues, international friendly tours, massive broadcast packages of European competitions and constant transfer coverage, the beautiful game never seems to take a day for beauty rest.
If you’re new to soccer, this can be a bit confusing. Soccer is an international sport that doesn’t actually have an off-season — European leagues stretch from August to May, Major League Soccer runs from March to December and a variety of international competitions (coming in 2015: The Gold Cup and Women’s World Cup) fill up the rest of the time.
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Which means, if you need a soccer fix, it’s usually not too hard to find. But it can be a little difficult to figure out where to start looking.
There really isn’t an NFL or NHL that dominates the landscape as the de facto top league*. The English Premier League is the most visible and accessible in this country. Spain’s La Liga features two of the best clubs in the world in Barcelona and Real Madrid. Italy (Serie A) and France (Ligue 1) are both entertaining. The German Bundesliga is highly underrated but difficult to find on your TV dial.
*You could argue that the UEFA Champions League — basically, the best European clubs playing each other — is that league. It’s carried by Fox Sports and starts in August as well. If you were a big fan of getting together during the middle of the afternoon to watch a soccer game at a bar with a few friends, the Champions League is just what you’re looking for — nearly every game kicks off in the mid-afternoon on Tuesdays and Wednesday.
Some of the biggest and best clubs in the world are about to touch down in the U.S., including English champions Manchester City (who will be at Sporting Park next week for a friendly with KC), Real Madrid, Manchester United, Liverpool and AC Milan. Most will be playing each other and/or MLS clubs. German champions Bayern Munich will face the MLS All-Stars in Portland on Aug. 6.
Those clubs are all touring the States in preparation for the coming seasons in Europe. Which are just about a month away. (Again, soccer never takes a break.)
Our domestic league, Major League Soccer, isn’t quite on par with those leagues at the moment. But it’s often very entertaining — even if the TV numbers have yet to quite catch up. (Next year ESPN, Fox and Univision will start a massive new broadcast deal with the league.)
A good place to start with the league would be this weekend’s match up between Sporting Kansas City and the Los Angeles Galaxy, two of the league’s best teams playing at one of the league’s best stadiums (Sporting Park) on ESPN2 Saturday at 5 p.m.
Another big, easy-to-find MLS game this weekend is the Portland Timbers vs. Colorado Rapids on NBC Sports (9 p.m.) on Friday. Portland is another soccer-crazy town with excellent atmosphere.
The women’s domestic game is also in full swing with the National Women’s Soccer League. FC Kansas City, currently in second place this season, will be in action tonight on the road against the Western New York Flash (6:30 p.m.). The NWSL broadcasts games live on YouTube.
While I heartily advise new soccer fans to give MLS and the NWSL a try, the allure of European soccer* is hard to resist. If you’re fortunate enough to have a decent TV/internet set-up, European club soccer is incredibly easy to find in this country.
*Something to remember if this is your first foray into picking a soccer club: There are no wrong answers and you don’t have to settle on one club. Unless your clubs are heated rivals in the same country.
The English Premier League starts on August 16. Every single game is broadcast in this country. Seriously. Every. Game. And NBC Sports does a fantastic job with its coverage as well.
La Liga, Serie A and Ligue 1 all kickoff in mid-August on BeIN Sports. (The channel is available on AT&T U-verse, DirecTV, Dish Network, Time Warner and Google Fiber.)
The Bundesliga unfortunately is a bit harder to find in this country. The TV rights in this country are held by GolTV, which is a lot harder to find on your cable dial. (I’m a DirecTV subscriber right now, and it’s only part of the expanded Spanish-language tier.) Thankfully, the Germans are coming to Fox in 2015.
A little bit closer to home, Mexico’s Liga MX can be found on ESPN Deportes, Fox Deportes and Univision. The fall season opens this weekend.
Now, go watch some soccer.