Wednesday, October 1, 2014
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Games to Watch: Champions League final, MLS, U.S. national team

For the first time ever, the UEFA Champions League final will be an all-German affair.

Games to Watch: Champions League final, MLS, U.S. national team

Bayern Munich vs. Borussia Dortmund

2:00 p.m. Saturday (Fox) 

For the first time ever, the UEFA Champions League final will be an all-German affair. It's a sign of how strong the Bundesliga has become - though Americans might not know it, since the league has virtually no TV presence here. 

Both clubs are stacked with stars. Bayern is led by Franck Ribéry and Thomas Müller. Dortmund is led by Marco Reus and Robert Lewandoski. London's Wembley Stadium is a fitting venue for such a dazzling array of talent. 

Perhaps the biggest star player won't be on the field, though. Dortmund's Mario Götze will miss the game due to a muscle injury. 

It's a cruel twist of fate one of the world's top young talents. Bayern paid more than $50 million to bring him to Munich next season, and this was to be his sendoff. Now he'll have to watch from the sidelines as his current and former teams fight for one of soccer's biggest prizes. 

The other storyline has been written as much in the boardroom as much as the locker room. An all-German final is a fitting reward for a nation that has become even more of a soccer has powerhouse in recent years.

Bundesliga teams have huge fan bases and ultra-modern stadiums, and the league perennially boasts of Europe's highest goals-per-game average.

But there's also an insistence on financial prudence. Teams are mostly fan-owned, have some of the lowest ticket prices in Europe, and focus relentlessly on developing their own talent. Müller and Götze are just two examples of young starlets who've risen to international fame.

Contrast that with England, the country where the Champions League final will take place.

Premier League clubs have become renowned in recent years for spending huge sums on flashy stars, with little regard for domestic talent. England's national team has suffered greatly as a result. While Germany rides high among Europe's elite, the Three Lions often barely make the knockout stages of major tournaments.

Many top teams also carry dangerously large debts. Sure, there's lots of glitz and glamour, but some clubs can barely sustain the way they're living. Even powerhouses such as Manchester City and Chelsea struggle to turn a profit. If their jet-setting owners decide to walk away, what will happen?

It's a question that Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund don't have to answer. That makes their success in the Champions League even more appealing.

There's one other storyline that deserves to be mentioned. UEFA has banned both teams' fans from unveiling giant “tifo” displays before kickoff. It's something that Bayern and Dortmund are renowned for, and we won't get to see it.

Apparently, having flags and banners cross over multiple decks of Wembley Stadium would breach "health and safety" rules. Which rules specifically, you might ask? The ones that protect VIPs in luxury boxes from having their view obstructed.

The real fans - at Wembley and worldwide - deserve better.

Chelsea vs. Manchester City

5:30 p.m. Saturday (Fox Soccer Channel)

On the same day that London welcomes the Champions League final, the city's top team will play an exhibition in America's most glamorous city. The newly-crowned Europa League winners will face last year's Premier League champions at Yankee Stadium.

The American soccer community is still buzzing over the news that City and the Yankees have joined forces to buy Major League Soccer's latest expansion team. New York City FC will start playing in 2015, and could call the Bronx home while they build their own stadium.

That news will overshadow the night's other big storyline: Both teams are getting rid of managers who brought them major success.

For all that Chelsea fans booed Rafael Benitez this season, his half-a-season in charge delivered a major trophy. Though he isn't gone yet, it's just a matter of time before owner Roman Abramovich throws him out and brings José Mourinho back.

Up at Man City, Roberto Mancini won the team's first English league title since 1968. But Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan wanted more style with that substance, and Mancini alienated some of the team's top players. So the Italian is gone, and Manuel Pellegrini is en route to replace him.

Abramovic and Mansour are among the world's richest men, and their soccer teams are their personal fiefdoms. So they get to call the shots - for better or for worse.

Houston Dynamo at Sporting Kansas City

3:30 p.m. Sunday (NBC Sports Network)

Kansas City ended Houston's Major League Soccer record 36-game home unbeaten streak earlier this month. Now Brad Davis and the Dynamo will look to turn the tables. Already one of MLS' deepest teams, Sporting got another boost when Kei Kamara returned to the team from a loan to England's Norwich City.

Columbus Crew at New York Red Bulls

5:00 p.m. Sunday (UniMás)

Are the Red Bulls finally for real? Sunday's dramatic win over Los Angeles showed that they might just be. Tim Cahill is finally playing like the star he's supposed to be, and Jámison Olave has been one of MLS' best defenders this year. A win over Federico Higuaín and the Crew would solidify New York's place atop the Eastern Conference.

Seattle Sounders at Los Angeles Galaxy

11:00 p.m. Sunday (ESPN2)

After a rough start to the season, Seattle is suddenly red-hot. The attacking trio of Mauro Rosales, Eddie Johnson and Obafemi Martins has helped the Sounders score four goals in each of their last two games.

Los Angeles, meanwhile, has won just once this month. But the two-time reigning champs have Landon Donovan back, and his partnership with Robbie Keane is arguably Major League Soccer's most dynamic duo.

Watford vs. Crystal Palace

9:55 a.m. Monday (beIN Sport)

The Champions League final isn't the only big game coming up at Wembley Stadium. The nPower Championship playoff final will determine the last team that will rise from the second division of English soccer into the Premier League next season.

It's known as the richest game in world soccer because of the huge pile of TV money that comes from reaching the top tier. This year's jackpot is nearly $160 million.

The winner will be promoted with Cardiff City and Hull City, which won automatic promotion by claiming the Championship's top two spots. The third- through sixth-placed teams faced a playoff to join the party.

Former Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia backstopped third-place Watford to a come-from-behind win over sixth-place Leicester City. One-time Manchester United youngster Wilfried Zaha helped fifth-place Crystal Palace upset fourth-place Brighton & Hove Albion.

The two teams' stadiums sit just 30 miles apart, on opposite sides of London. Expect Wembley to be packed and noisy for this winner-take-all showdown.

Belgium at United States

8:00 p.m. Wednesday (ESPN2/UniMás)

The U.S. national team starts a big stretch of five games in just over three weeks with a friendly match in Cleveland. There will be nothing polite about the encounter, though – it's a warmup for next month's crucial World Cup qualifiers.

Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley headline the American squad. Chelsea's Eden Hazard and Manchester City's Vincent Kompany lead a stacked Belgian team.

After this game, the U.S. will play Germany in D.C. on June 2, as part of the U.S. Soccer Federation's centennial celebration. Then it's three World Cup qualifiers in 11 days: June 7 at Jamaica, June 11 vs. Panama in Seattle, and June 18 vs. Honduras in Salt Lake City.

About this blog
The Goalkeeper is your home for the latest news about the Philadelphia Union, Major League Soccer, U.S. national teams and the rest of the world's most popular sport. It's also a place for fans to gather and celebrate the culture of soccer and its unique place on the sports landscape.

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
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