It's time for your quadrennial reminder that the Summer Olympics don't actually start with the Opening Ceremonies. They begin with the soccer tournament's first game on Wednesday, July 25 - two days before the flame is lit in London on Friday, July 27.
It so happens that July 25 is also the day of the Major League Soccer All-Star Game. As you'll see below, there will be a lot of great soccer on a lot of TV networks that day.
Your remote control has been warned.
Liverpool at Toronto FC
4:00 p.m. Saturday (Fox Soccer Channel)
Yet another disastrous season for Toronto got even worse this past weekend when star forward Danny Koevermans tore his ACL. So while a big crowd is expected at the Rogers Centre, they might not get much entertainment from the home team.
The visitors, though, will have a big new signing. Italian forward Marco Borini joined the Reds from AS Roma last week in a $16 million move. In addition, rumors have been flying in recent weeks that U.S. national team star Clint Dempsey is Liverpool’s next target.
If the deal gets done, Dempsey’s debut could come next Wednesday in Boston, The Reds play AS Roma - which just signed American midfielder Michael Bradley for $4.5 million – at Fenway Park on Wednesday (6:30 p.m., ESPN2). It would be quite a homecoming for Dempsey, who started his pro career with MLS’ New England Revolution in 2004.
San Luis at Santos Laguna
7:55 p.m. Saturday (Telefutura)
Mexico’s domestic season kicks off this weekend, and it won’t take long to see why the newly-renamed Liga MX is the top league in North America. The skill level is high, and so is the decibel level created by fans across the country.
Santos Laguna, whose roster features U.S. national team striker Herculez Gomez, is the reigning champion. They also reached the final of the CONCACAF Champions League last season. Among the San Luis players tasked with shutting Gomez down will be former Union defender Michael Orozco Fiscal.
AS Roma vs. Zagłębie Lubin
3:30 p.m. Sunday (Fox Soccer Channel)
The highlight of this game might not be the two teams on the pitch. Instead, it will be the surroundings: the famed friendly confines of Wrigley Field. The playing surface has been laid out to run from home plate to the right field wall, which means corner kicks will be taken close to the venerable stadium’s famed ivy.
Expect a strong turnout from Chicago’s Polish immigrant community to support Zaglebie, and of course a hearty Italian contingent to cheer on Roma. With the supporters’ clubs seated next to each other along the third base line, it could make for a festive – and multi-lingual – rendition of “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.”
Chelsea vs. Paris Saint-Germain
7:00 p.m. Sunday (Fox Soccer Channel; Univision Deportes)
Before coming to Philadelphia to face the MLS All-Stars, Chelsea will have the honor of participating in the first ever soccer game at the new Yankee Stadium. But they will have to share the spotlight with a team that is just as star-laden as the reigning European Cup champions.
Paris Saint-Germain has seized headlines across Europe this summer by buying two of the continent’s top strikers: Ezequiel Lavezzi from Napoli and Zlatan Ibrahimovic from AC Milan. If they can mesh well with Argentine playmaker Javier Pastore, PSG could finally fulfill its potential of bring elite soccer to France’s capital city.
Great Britain women vs. New Zealand women
10:30 a.m. Wednesday (MSNBC; NBCOlympics.com)
The Summer Olympics officially begin two days before the Opening Ceremonies light up London. This year’s tournament will feature a unique entrant. In most international soccer, the four nations that make up the United Kingdom – England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales – get their own teams. But in the Olympics, there’s just Great Britain.
Putting the home team’s squads together hasn’t been easy. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have expressed fears of losing their soccer independence. But the job is done, and now fans and politicians alike can focus their energies on the field.
In the Olympics’ first game, the British women’s team - led by former Philadelphia Charge midfielder Kelly Smith – will face an improving New Zealand squad at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales. There are 12 teams total in the women’s tournament, and the top eight from three groups of four will advance to the medal round.
United States women vs. France women
11:30 a.m. Wednesday (NBC Sports Network; NBC Olympic Soccer Channel; NBCOlympics.com)*
If you were planning to devote your attention on Wednesday to the MLS All-Star game, you might want to make time to find your nearest soccer bar for lunch first. The United States’ quest to repeat as Olympic champions begins just hours before MLS’ big names take the field at PPL Park,
Abby Wambach, Hope Solo, Alex Morgan and the rest of the star-laden U.S. squad will face a tough test from a crafty French team in their tournament opener at Glasgow’s Hampden Park. Talented forwards Eugénie Le Sommer and Marie Laurie-Delie took Les Bleues to the semifinals of last year’s World Cup. Now they are in position to potentially win a medal.
Brazil vs. Egypt
2:45 p.m. Thursday (MSNBC; Telemundo; NBCOlympics.com)
Brazil has won every soccer tournament possible in its storied history – except for one. The five-time World Cup champions have never stood atop an Olympic men’s soccer podium. If anyone can fill in the last hole on the Seleçao’s glittering résumé, it’s Neymar.
Even though Olympic men’s soccer rosters are age-restricted – all but three players on each 18-man roster must be under 23 years old – Neymar brings big-time star power to the field.
He'll have plenty of help leading Brazil’s attack in this game, which will be played at Cardiff’s Millenium Stadium. AC Milan’s Alexandre Pato will join Neymar up front, with Porto’s wonderfully-named Hulk as backup.
The defense will be marshaled by Real Madrid stalwart Marcelo and former Milan centerback Thiago Silva, who just made a big-money move to Paris Saint-Germain.
If Brazil can put it all together, they’re good enough to win that elusive gold medal. There’s every chance that Neymar will be in just as big a spotlight as Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps by the time the Olympic flame is extinguished.
* - The NBC Olympic Soccer Channel is a special channel that is being created just for the duration of the Olympics. It will show every game from the tournament either live or tape-delayed. The reason why I mentioned it only once in the three games above is that the U.S.-France contest is the only one of the three that will be shown live on the channel.
You can get the full schedule of Olympic Soccer Channel broadcasts by clicking here and choosing "Specialty: Soccer" from the "CHOOSE NETWORK" drop-down menu. There's also a specialty channel for basketball that will work in a similar fashion.
I haven't seen anything yet about where the channels will be located on various cable providers; I'll post that information when I have it.
In addition to the various television broadcasts, all Olympic soccer games - indeed, every event at the Games regardless of sport - will be streamed live free of charge on NBCOlympics.com.
You have to authenticate with a login via your cable provider (i.e. a Comcast.net e-mail address or a Dish Network ID number), but there are plenty of provider options to choose from.