Major League Soccer kicks off its biggest weekend of the season to date with Friday’s “Soccer Night in America” on Fox Soccer Channel (10:30 EST).
The following night, ESPN2 (and Deportes) will carry the marquee New York vs Los Angeles matchup (11:00 EST), and on Sunday morning at 11:00, Fox Soccer will have the titanic Premier League clash between Manchester United and Chelsea, who are three points apart atop the table with three games to play.
There are also, of course, about 261 other interesting games—including a chance for Barcelona to clinch La Liga against Espanyol, a crucial relegation tilt for U.S. defender Jonathan Spector and West Ham, and a potential title clincher for AC Milan against Roma.
So don your agoraphobic sweater, shutter the blinds and stick some fresh batteries in the remote, it’s going to be a busy weekend.
Fox’s new “Soccer Night in America” telecast will feature a revamped set and state-of-the-art replay and graphics technology as it broadcasts Portland vs Philadelphia from the Rose City’s JELD-WEN Field.
Portland is unbeaten in three games at home this season—can Peter Nowak’s grind-it-out side, currently second in the East at 4-1-1, be the first team to get a result at JELD-WEN? We shall see, and appreciate once again the incredible atmosphere in Rip City.
Unlike last year’s two versions of the New York–Los Angeles matchup, tomorrow night’s meeting between MLS’s two biggest clubs will feature a record five designated players in the starting lineups.
Last season, an injured David Beckham missed the Aug 14 matchup (a 1-0 win for LA at Red Bull Arena) and Thierry Henry sat out the Sept 24 meeting (a 2-0 win for New York at the Home Depot Center).
Tomorrow night, both of those players are expected to start, along with New York’s Rafa Marquez and LA’s Landon Donovan and Juan Pablo Angel. (Angel, of course, played for the Red Bulls for four years before signing with Los Angeles, and is New York’s alltime leading scorer. It will be interesting to see him face his old team, which probably could have handled his exit more gracefully.)
Add the Red Bulls’ Dwayne De Rosario—one of the best attacking midfielders in league history—and young U.S. internationals Omar Gonzalez (LA), Tim Ream and Juan Agudelo (both NY), and you have a game that could really scratch your footy itch.
There is one potential absence, though, that could be huge—big enough, in fact, to tip the outcome of the game. New York holding midfielder Teemu Tainio—whom coach Hans Backe has said may be the best MLS signing of 2011—has been declared a “question mark” for the game. Tainio has become very important very quickly for New York, settling the team’s midfield and helping to impose its possession style on opponents.
The Finnish veteran of the Dutch first division and the Premier League left last week’s game against Kansas City at halftime with a groin injury, and did not train on Monday or Tuesday of this week. His replacement in the second half against Kansas City, Carl Robinson, was a parachute-drop of a step down.
We are on the record, repeatedly, regarding Robinson, the 34-year-old Welsh midfielder, and if he starts against LA, well, we highly recommend that you bet big on the Galaxy on Saturday night. Backe does have other options in that spot (Mehdi Ballouchy, Jan Gunnar Solli, even youngster Matt Kassel), so it’s not a foregone conclusion that Robinson will get the nod.
As for the Man U–Chelsea affair, we have to go with the Red Devils. Alex Ferguson rested something like seven starters in the midweek Champions League game against Schalke (and still cruised to a 4-1 aggregate victory), and his first unit should be perfectly primed for this one. Our crystal ball is showing images of Ryan Giggs factoring in big.
On the other hand, a Chelsea win would certainly inject some interest into the remaining two games. After Chelsea, Man U plays at Blackburn then home to Blackpool, while Chelsea’s final two matches are against Newcastle and at Everton.
Give us your predictions in the comments, and enjoy the games.