Seven Hot Matches
The English and Spanish league seasons kick off this weekend.
Seven Hot Matches
Sunderland at Arsenal
9:50 a.m. Saturday (ESPN; ESPN3.com)
Whether or not you think it’s the world’s best league, there’s no denying that the English Premier League is the most glamorous. The new season kicks off this weekend.
After spending the summer fraying Arsenal fans’ nerves, Robin van Persie still hasn’t decided whether or not to leave the team for more lucrative offers elsewhere. But recently, the Gunners’ summer signings have stolen the spotlight - especially midfielder Santi Cazorla and forward Lukas Podolski.
A good start to the 2012-13 campaign should sweeten the taste of Robin van Persie’s bitter departure to Manchester United. Van Persie could make his United debut in their season opener against Everton on Monday (2:55 p.m., ESPN2).
Southampton at Manchester City
10:30 a.m. Sunday (Fox Soccer Channel)
For the first time in 44 years, Manchester City will take the field as the champions of English soccer. It’s a safe bet that no one in Manchester has forgotten the dramatic end to last season’s title race, in which City snatched the crown from rival Manchester United in the final seconds of the final game.
City’s defense of its title begins with a home game against newly-promoted Southampton. The Saints have a long history of success, but have been out of the Premier League since 2005. A matchup with England’s best team is quite a welcome back to the top flight.
Valencia at Real Madrid
3:00 p.m. Sunday (beINSport USA)
Ina addition to the Premier League, Spain’s La Liga kicks off this weekend. If you haven’t heard of beINSport yet, you aren’t alone. The channel, owned and operated by Qatar-based al-Jazeera, just launched on August 15. It has the U.S. rights to La Liga, Italy’s Serie A, France’s Ligue 1 and South American World Cup qualifying games.
As of now, only DirecTV and Dish Network are carrying beINSport. Plans are in the works for online streaming, and discussions are underway to add the channel to cable providers such as Comcast. Stay tuned.
Portland Timbers at New York Red Bulls
7:00 p.m. Sunday (Galavisión)
There’s a lot of time left in the regular season, but the pressure is already mounting on the star-laden Red Bulls to finally deliver a championship.
This matchup against the worst team in Major League Soccer’s Western Conference should allow the Red Bulls to show off all of their big attacking weapons. Expect former Timbers forward Kenny Cooper to be especially motivated to show his old team what they’re missing.
Celtic at Helsingborgs
2:30 p.m. Tuesday (Fox Soccer Channel)
The last stage of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League presents a tough challenge for Celtic. Scotland’s reigning champion has played in five countries over the last month - including last Saturday’s loss to Real Madrid in Philadelphia. That game took place after their domestic league season had started, stretching the Hoops’ thin roster even farther.
Now Celtic must travel to Sweden for the first leg of a home-and-home series. If the club doesn’t make the group stage, it will miss out on a financial windfall that it desperately needs. Even though Celtic is a virtual lock to win the Scottish Premier League this season, the bankruptcy and relegation of rival Rangers has led to a dramatic fall in the value of domestic TV rights.
Houston Dynamo at FAS
10:00 p.m. Wednesday (Fox Soccer Channel)
While most American soccer fans were watching the Olympics, the CONCACAF Champions League began its new season across the continent. Five of the 24 teams - which are divided into eight three-team groups – come from Major League Soccer.
Houston has one of the toughest group stage assignments of the MLS contingent, with home and road matchups against El Salvador’s FAS and Honduras’ Olimpia.
No matter the quality of the opponent, road games in Central America are always big challenges for MLS teams. The stadiums are rickety, the fans are hostile, and the accommodations aren’t what you’d want on a Carribean vacation. It will be a significant accomplishment if Houston makes it to the knockout round.
Real Madrid at Barcelona
4:25 p.m. Thursday (ESPN3.com)
The Spanish SuperCopa pits the league winners against the Copa Del Rey winners. But no one cares about that part of this matchup. It's Real Madrid and Barcelona, and it's European soccer's best rivalry. That means another chance for Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to face off. Both clubs are also stacked with players from the Spainsh national team that won its second straight European Championship last month.
The SuperCopa is played out over two legs, with one at each team's home stadium. The second game will be at Madrid's Estadio Santiago Bernabéu on Wednesday, August 29.