Soccer Watching Extravaganza
Remember Euro 2012? It was only last month, and it included 12 consecutive days of two soccer matches a day featuring top international players, a number of days of knockout round games and a finals that was thin on drama but full of Spanish proficiency.
While the Euros are behind us, American soccer fans do have a stateside league to follow, and this year, there’s Olympic competition, too. Plus, ‘tis the season for top European teams to tour the globe for pre-season exhibition matches. All three of these happy things converge today for perhaps the best soccer-watching day this summer.
This morning, the U.S. Women's National Team started its campaign for a gold medal — two days before the Olympics even officially kick off — with a match against France in Glasgow at 11 a.m. The match airs live on the NBC Sports Network, though perhaps the most reliable Austin soccer-watching venue — Fado — may also carry the game.
Unlike the men’s Olympic soccer competition, which features under-23 teams, the women’s teams feature the best players each country has to offer. And unlike the American men, who didn’t qualify for the Olympics, the women’s squad is a favorite to win gold, with goalkeeper Hope Solo and forwards Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan anchoring the team. Coming off last year’s runner-up performance in the Women’s World Cup, this team is talented, flashy and fun to watch.
At 5 p.m., one of the nation’s most famous baseball stadiums, Fenway Park, converts to a soccer stadium as Liverpool faces off against AC Roma in an exhibition match (viewable on ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes). Liverpool has one of the largest American fan bases among EPL teams, is owned by the same ownership group as the Boston Red Sox and is a rumored destination for Clint Dempsey, who’s emerged in the past year as the United States’ top soccer export.
They’ll face Roma, a contending team in Seria A (the top Italian league, which is contending with a match-fixing scandal and a developing power shift between top teams), of interest to American fans because of the recent signing of U.S. Men’s National Team stalwart Michael Bradley.
Then, at 7:30 p.m., the MLS All-Stars face off against recent UEFA Champions League and FA Cup winners, Chelsea, in what might be the most fascinating game of the three.
In its infancy, the All-Star Game was a typical West vs. East matchup. But since 2005, the entire league’s All-Stars have been matched up against a touring EPL team (with one exception, in 2007, when they faced Scottish Premier League powerhouse Celtic), providing a 90-minute test to see how MLS players match up against a team from the better-established, and generally more talent-rich, EPL.
Chelsea, given its two recent cup wins, provides one of the more formidable challengers in the history of the match, and the Blues have bolstered their squad with Eden Hazard, a much-sought-after player who had a number of the top EPL teams courting him as he looked to move from France’s top league. Hazard’s first action with Chelsea has been on this American tour, which included a 1-1 tie against Paris St. Germain at Yankee Stadium last week.
Of course, Chelsea’s a familiar opponent to three of the MLS All-Stars’ top players: L.A. Galaxy’s David Beckham (who spent the majority of his career as the focal point of some talented Manchester City teams), the New York Red Bulls’ Thierry Henry (who had a similar leadership role with Arsenal in the first half of the ‘00s), and the L.A. Galaxy’s Landon Donovan (whose successful career has included EPL time with Everton).
Other MLS All-Stars to watch include the league’s top goal scorer this year, the San Jose Earthquakes’ Chris Wondolowski, Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman (he’ll be the one with dreadlocks), the Vancouver Whitecaps’ Jay DeMerit (one of the top USMNT defenders), and MLS All-Star first-timer Graham Zusi (of Sporting Kansas City, which has emerged in the last two years as a top-performing MLS teams).
The MLS-Chelsea match also includes several watch party options around Austin. Red 7 will be showing the game on a projection screen, with doors opening at 7 p.m., admitting all ages for free, with specials available until 10 p.m., according to event organizer Tyson Swindell.