Tagged: Soccer

Valencia-Cosmos update


I am currently tuned in to audio feed of the Valencia-Cosmos game online and following what is going on with the match updates on the Cosmos website. I guess the audio is not in Spanish after all, but Valencian. No wonder I can’t comprehend it, then.

Honestly, folks, it sounds like the Sask. fans are sitting on their hands there – no singing or chanting, nothing. Just polite clapping. I’m surprised, because Sask. fans are infamous for being loud and rowdy.

Based on what I see on Twitter of the stadium “pitch”, I am not impressed! There are lines all over the field! Now you know, Regina, why Toronto FC fans were whining so loudly when the Toronto Argos moved in as co-tenants at BMO Field. Those soccer fans there were deathly afraid there would be football lines all over the field, just like what you are seeing at Mosaic Stadium today! And it really does ruin the look of the soccer pitch. Couldn’t they have figured out something beforehand to get rid of the lines for this game? Heck, they figured out how to do it in Toronto. 

(Update: on further inspection it looks like they did try and paint over the lines. But they did a lousy job, you can still see all the lines all over the field.)

It is great to see this “beautiful game” in Regina, but it looks like Saskatchewan still has work to do to get the hang of this strange “soccer” sport yet.

Life in Sask.: Soccer takes over Mosaic Stadium, Regina


Welcome to an increasingly rare “Life in Saskatchewan” post. Obviously, the big story today is supposed to be “Soccer Day in Saskatchewan” as Valencia CF takes on New York Cosmos in an “international friendly” at the new Mosaic Stadium. 

I wonder whether there is any real excitement out there for this game. Seriously, all the usual-suspect radio stations were ignoring this contest all week (even though over 15,000 people will likely be there) in favor of their usual nonstop overkill reporting of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who take on Calgary Stampeders later tonight on the road. 

Meanwhile, up here in the Battlefords, all the interest is in the Saskatchewan Hockey Hall of Fame inductions event happening tonight (which I am covering). So a lot of SK folks aren’t paying attention to this soccer game, even though it is apparently the very first international friendly ever played in Saskatchewan. Which tells you all you need to know about how off the beaten track Saskatchewan is as a major soccer venue.

The other thing is that there is a lot of talk out there about this new “Canadian Premier League” that could be starting up after the 2018 World Cup. There is a group interested in putting a pro franchise in Saskatchewan, a group that includes Lee Genier, former president of the lacrosse Saskatchewan Rush. But when these guys appeared on CKRM the other day, a lot of the questions were “how can you expect to compete against the Riders?” You get the picture.

Now, I love the CFL like everyone else in Sask., but I also like a range of sports. Personally, I’d like to see the other big-time sports make their way to Saskatchewan, so I’d be all for this “Canadian Premier League” setting up a team in the province. But they really ought to put it in Saskatoon, simply to avoid the ‘Riders.

Anyway, back to this Valencia CF-NY Cosmos game. SB Nation has this piece previewing the game. You can also go to the Valencia website and see their stuff here and here about their trip to Regina. Also, they have lots of videos of the team coming to Regina. Great stuff. 

The game’s audio is also being streamed live on the Valencia CF website. Don’t worry, you unilingual English-speakers; you’ll still be able to understand what’s going on, particularly when somebody scores a goal. “Gooooooooooooooal!”

Also, you’ll be amused by the announcers’ pronunciations of Canada, and Regina. “Re-gee-na!”

To sports fans still in football withdrawal: MLS returns tonight!


Ahem, Major League Soccer is back. Portland hosts expansion team Minnesota United tonight and there is a big slate of games tomorrow. That’s good, this league ought to be good “NFL replacement programming” to keep me occupied until the major league baseball season starts.

Also, I suppose Canadians should be excited about the prospects of their local MLS teams, given how well they did last postseason, but fans in this godforsaken country of ours are too interested in following curling, as well as the National Hockey League. Who cares about a real sport that is popular the world over? Oh, well, that’s life in Canada. 

Classless move: Leicester City fires Premier League-winning manager Claudio Ranieri!


In a move widely seen as cruel, heartless, a disgrace, and so on and so forth, Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri was sacked Thursday

This comes less than a year after leading this lousy excuse of a football organization to the Premier League title! They won the effing title, a 5000-to-1 shot, up against all these wealthier top-spending clubs in the biggest cities in England! Most clubs in Leicester’s position would be pleased. Yet now, just because this team is only a point above the relegation cut-line, they decide to fire him. This is a panic move by a panicked Thai-based ownership, who are panicking out of fear that their meal ticket, membership in the Barclays Premier League, could potentially go right down the drain — and with it, all the gobs of TV money that flow into the club. 

Well, guess what, folks, firing the one guy who helped the team win in the first place isn’t going to save the day. The thing is, Leicester City isn’t going to do much better without Ranieri. He led them to the title, so he’d probably be the best hope to turn around this situation they are in now anyway. Now, morale on the club is surely in the sink after this, and the clubs just below Leicester City in the standings will be looking at this and licking their chops, thinking they can overtake these guys. 

All that has been accomplished with this classless move is a lot of needless drama. If the club was going to fire Ranieri, they should have waited until the end of the season, and spared themselves all this chaos. The club has surely sealed their doom into next season’s Sky Bet Championship. But look on the bright side: if Leicester City wins the title there, it will be two titles in three years.

Enjoy the Barclays Premier League (logo above) while you can, Leicester City fans, because as of today Cinderella’s carriage has turned right back into a pumpkin.

Tigres wins the Liga MX title on, surprise surprise, penalty kicks!!

It was a big day for sports in the NBA and NFL this Christmas Day, but down in Mexico the stakes were even higher as Tigres beat Club America on penalties 3-0, after their two-game series finished with each team scoring a goal each. 

The soccer action is, of course, not over. Monday is Boxing Day and that means a traditional full slate of Premier League action. Obviously, I will be tuning in to that, and then I’ll go to the mall to try and spend some of my gift cards on Boxing Day sales. 

Oh, and in other unrelated news, RIP pop artist George Michael.

This is it! Toronto FC vs. Seattle Sounders today for the MLS Cup!

Tonight is the night for the most important soccer game on Canadian soil in years — the MLS Cup final between Seattle Sounders and the host Toronto FC.

Seeing the pundits gauge the fan reaction has been interesting. I read this piece in the Guardian that basically treated MLS as if it were fighting for relevance in Canada! Then there’s this piece at SB Nation which has a very upbeat assessment.

My own assessment leans more toward that latter article, but it still really depends on whether you live in a big city or not. Soccer interest is highest in the biggest urban centres, it seems (and I can personally vouch for Toronto where interest in soccer was very strong long before MLS arrived). Once you get outside the big cities and into the smaller communities and rural areas, interest drops off dramatically in favour of football and especially hockey. Honestly, the level of interest in, and coverage of, hockey in this country is insane. It’s out of proportion to pretty much the entire rest of the world, really.

Still, soccer interest has been growing. The people most worried about the inroads soccer is making seem to be the CFL football fans. That is supposed to be the number two sports league in the country behind the NHL, but the baseball Toronto Blue Jays have been cleaning the CFL’s clock for two years and now this league has MLS to worry about as well.

The CFL fans look at the attendance levels for MLS soccer, which ran ahead of the CFL in all three of the markets MLS is in: Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Then there were the TV ratings: 1.4 million for the second Toronto-Montreal Eastern Conference finals game, a week after drawing a million viewers for the first game. Those were better than what the CFL got most of the season. 

But what really has the CFL supporters freaking is that the MLS Cup final at BMO Field sold out in something like three minutes, while the CFL had no end of problems selling out the Grey Cup. So the CFL fans are panicked this is the beginning of the end of their sport and their league.

I will be very interested in seeing the reaction in the country if Toronto FC does pull off the championship tonight. An MLS Cup victory could well push soccer to new heights of popularity in Canada.

News from Latin America dominates the News from Nowhere

I still have my recent trip to Mexico on the brain in this edition of News from Nowhere.

Of course, the main news that broke while I was in Cancun had nothing to do with Mexico. It was all about Cuba and the death of Fidel Castro. I am listening to his funeral coverage right now.

There were all sorts of reactions to this news from all the usual world leaders. The big story, though, was the unbelievable reaction of Canada’s out-to-lunch Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, who issued his gushing statement praising and eulogizing Castro as if he had been some great humanitarian, instead of the tyrannical dictator he was for so many years. 

Fidel Castro was a larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century. A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation.

That prompted a barrage of outrage and ridicule, all of which was well deserved. The best online reaction, though, came on Twitter from Florida Senator Marco Rubio: 

Is this a real statement or a parody? Because if this is a real statement from the PM of Canada it is shameful & embarrassing.”

Anyway, the bloom is definitely off the Trudeau rose now, as he goes “from cool to laughing stock” as Maclean’s puts it. In fairness, though, his comments are nothing compared to the praise being heaped on Castro tonight by world leaders at his public memorial. Everyone speaking there, including President Jacob Zuma of South Africa and others, is making this Castro character out to be this great statesman. Anyway, enough of that.

As for my trip to Cancun, it was great, with sunny weather for a whole week. Far better than my Cuba trip of a year ago, the place really puts Varadero to shame. Obviously, it’s also a good thing I didn’t go to Cuba on vacation this year, because the tourists there are having a hard time of it right now.

While in Cancun, I tuned in plenty of sports. But as it turned out, I never did tune in to as many NBA games as I had hoped to. Oh, I did tune in a few games on the radio from Florida and Texas stations, but mainly I watched NFL football and endless soccer games on the TV. Basically, you had no other choice, that was what dominated the main Mexican sports channels — Fox Sports and tDN — last week.

On Tuesday, it was UEFA Champions League all day. Wednesday, same thing, except it was Liga Bancomer MX playoffs at night. Thursday, it was Thanksgiving NFL football and more Liga Bancomer MX playoffs. 

But ESPN also had a feed that night from the Copa Sudamericana semi-final game between Atletico Nacional of Colombia and Cerro Porteno of Paraguay, and I actually tuned into that contest last week to see what it was about. 

The game was played in Medellin, and Atletico ended up advancing to the final after a nil-nil draw. They were going to take on the Brazilian first-division club Chapecoense in the finals for the Cup.

Well, you may have heard the terrible news today. The plane carrying the Chapecoense team crashed in Colombia overnight, and pretty much the entire team was killed. The finals have been suspended and Atletico is saying Chapecoense should be awarded the Cup in memory of those who died in the crash. 

Moreover, several journalists including six Fox Sports TV employees from Brazil were killed as well, and that is just a horrible thing for those organizations and for sports fans in that country. It’s just a really terrible situation all around.

That is all for the time being.

Iceland for the win at #Euro2016! They play France tomorrow.

This year’s Cinderella story at Euro2016 is obviously Iceland. The country barely has any people, just over 300,000 of them, and is best known as a popular layover for people taking cheap Icelandair flights to Europe. But they can obviously play soccer there. 

The play of the national team has been so good that they not only escaped the group stage but also finished off an England manager (Roy Hodgson) and made it all the way to the final eight of this tournament, where they take on the France on Sunday. Their success has captured the imagination of the world’s sports fans — many of them amused by the Iceland play-by-play guy’s crazed reaction to every goal.

Since it is clear this Iceland squad is completely overmatched against France (Euro2016 hosts) and will surely be eliminated, here is a timely piece from ESPN about their amazing run and the reaction in that country. It’s been fun while it’s lasted. 

Update: And so it ends, 5-2. In the semifinal round it will be France versus Germany, and Portugal versus Wales. (Wales?!)

Leicester City are champions of the Barclays Premier League. Nothing can top this.


Can you believe it? It’s 2016, Donald Trump is about to capture the GOP nomination for President, and Leicester City — a 5000-to-1 shot to win the Premier League — has won it all, as a consequence of today’s 2-2 draw between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur. 

This squad was in the Championship two years ago, and last year they were fighting just to stay up in the Premier League. Now look where they are. This makes the ’69 Mets look like tiddlywinks in comparison.

Honestly, who needs to watch sports any more after today, eh? Nothing can possibly top this. 

MLS playoffs are coming and all three Canadian teams are in the playoffs!

  
Well, it has really been a big year for sports fans in Canada in all the major sports. 

Not only is Blue Jays fever still gripping all of Canada, but here is an item that has been lost in the shuffle — all three of Canada’s teams in Major League Soccer have made it to the playoffs. Vancouver Whitecaps, Montreal Impact, and yes, even perennially hapless Toronto FC. 

In fact, FC clinched their playoff spot on the same day that Jose Bautista was famously flipping his bat after his home run, so the news kind of got lost in the shuffle. Still, this is great news for soccer in this country. And it means that after the Blue Jays run is over there is still more postseason excitement to come our way in frozen Canada. 

The big problem, of course, is the usual one of “what does this mean to the Canadian Football League?” Having MLS playoff fever grip these three major markets in Canada is bad news for all their local CFL competition who have enough problems getting attention as it is. And of course, Toronto still has MLB to contend with.

Even worse is the Toronto Argonauts keep on getting kicked out of the Rogers Centre due to the Blue Jays playoff run — and I don’t understand it one bit. The Argos had to play their home game yesterday in Hamilton, but the fact is the Blue Jays weren’t even at home! They were in Kansas City! And the Jays could be done completely by the time the Oct. 23 date comes around, yet the Argos are being kicked out anyway.

Couldn’t Rogers Centre have found some way to have that field ready in time? I don’t get it!

Today, a Triple Crown-winning edition of Sports News from Nowhere

Welcome again to Sports News from Nowhere — so named because I am located nowhere near any of these sports going on. Such as Belmont Park, New York, where American Pharoah had his date with destiny on Saturday afternoon and ended 37 years of misery for the race fans there.

They showed scenes of the stands after Pharoah crossed the finish line first, and it was just jubilation there after he won the Triple Crown. The fans were way happier than the horse seemed to be.

This begs the obvious question “will this boost interest in horse racing,” given all the gloom and doom about the state of the sport’s popularity in North America. Honestly, I don’t know, it will take plenty of work to reverse the years of decline. I will say this — American Pharoah surely did more for horse racing this weekend than Mayweather and Pacquiao did for boxing with their ridiculous fight. If American Pharoah can’t boost horse racing’s popularity with the mainstream public after this epic performance, nothing can.

As for sports that are popular among the fans, Cleveland and Golden State continue to do battle in the NBA finals, and despite Kyrie Irving being out for the series with his bust knee, the Cavaliers managed to win game two in OT thanks to another epic performance by LeBron James, a triple-double. After game one I was all ready to write off Cleveland, but if there is one thing that is the Warriors’ Achilles heel so far in this series it has been their inability to stop LeBron. 44 points in game one and 39 last night. If this keeps up, the hapless city of Cleveland might actually celebrate a championship after all. 

Finally, the Women’s World Cup of Soccer is well under way here in Canada and it’s great to see what are usually CFL stadiums actually filled with fans, for a change. I saw the scene at that first game between Canada-China in Edmonton, and the stadium and the city looked great on TV. Totally world-class. 

But the locale didn’t please everyone. The big controversy prior to game one was that ridiculous article in the Globe and Mail by Cathal Kelly complaining about how the opening game of the Cup should have been in Toronto, because Toronto’s the most important city in Canada and so on. Well, the folks in Edmonton and the rest of Canada were insulted, and they should be, because there is far more to Canada than Toronto. 

But face it, folks, the real reason you’re getting this Toronto-centric column from Kelly is because Toronto is beside themselves that they aren’t hosting any games at all! Because Toronto is hosting the Pan Am Games, they have to skip out on the Cup. This must drive Torontonians crazy. Every summer when a World Cup is held, people in Toronto absolutely get into it and go to their favourite watering holes to cheer on their favourite countries. The locals there practically consider it their tournament. So to finally have a FIFA World Cup event in Canada, with Toronto on the outside with no games at all, is surely a jolt to the system. Fans there must be reeling. 

Then again, we don’t have any World Cup games in Saskatchewan, either. But our reaction is different. It’s more an indignant “I don’t care and it’s FIFA’s loss, and when is CFL season starting again?” 

The answer to that last question is: tonight! Pre-season game is on between Hamilton and Ottawa! Woo hoo! And that is it for now.

Sepp Blatter finally walks the FIFA plank today

That didn’t take long, did it? 

Embattled FIFA president Sepp Blatter announced today he will be resigning. This is just four days after he was re-elected President of this scandal-ridden organization. 

Good. This sport of soccer was on the brink of tearing itself apart if nothing was done about his leadership, with all this recent talk of boycotts and a possible “breakaway World Cup“, and so on. Now, maybe, this sport has a chance of cleaning itself up at the top. 

As for the FIFA Women’s World Cup, I honestly don’t feel that tournament will have a big impact on my life over the coming weeks, as I plan to be fully preoccupied by baseball season, auto racing season, golf season, the NBA Finals and the Stanley Cup. And of course, Roughriders training camp. Yes, I have my priorities. 

TSN continues to wheel and deal, adding UEFA Champions League and possibly UFC

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I continue to find the business of sports TV to be fascinating in Canada in the wake of the big Rogers NHL deal that kicked in this fall.

Seeing how TSN has responded to this has been fascinating. A lot of commentators had claimed TSN would be decimated. And in the short term it seemed that way, given that the two top sports properties in Canada — the NHL and the Blue Jays — were locked up by Rogers.

The reality, however, is that there were a lot of other sports rights out there that Rogers was going to have to pass on, given that they broke the bank for the NHL to the tune of upwards of $5.2 billion dollars. On top of that, TSN had a lot of money available to spend and programming holes to fill.

So they locked up the CFL long-term, locked up the NFL on Sundays, locked up a ton of ESPN programming including more baseball, and they continue to have a ton of NBA basketball and international hockey including the World Juniors. So they are not in bad shape at all, now, in my opinion. And now comes word that TSN has locked up some more rights to some important sports.

Starting next season, TSN will be home of the UEFA Champions League and Europa League. This is big news, it adds a ton of high-level midweek soccer to the TSN lineup. I suppose we ought not be surprised that this is leaving Sportsnet, because Sportsnet’s main midweek programming is the Wednesday night NHL package, and it’s pretty difficult to re-air any of the afternoon Champions League games in prime time when you’re showing hockey.

In any event, this adds to TSN’s soccer commitment, which already includes half the Premier League and most of MLS, and reduces the Rogers commitment significantly.

We are also waiting for word about Canadian rights to the UFC package and I point you to this story that suggests TSN is about to acquire the rights to the UFC, though no official announcement has been made.

If this is indeed happening I consider it great news, because for the last while Rogers has been consigning its UFC programming to Sportsnet360, a channel I don’t have in my cable package. So I haven’t been happy for that reason, but Dana White and crew cannot be happy with Rogers turning Saturdays into their big NHL night, either. This basically reduces UFC to total second-class citizenship by Sportsnet on that night. So it would not surprise me at all if they walk over to TSN, simply for that reason.

I think TSN may emerge as a long-term winner with these rights acquisitions. Slowly but surely, they are locking up the rights to the sports that matter to younger sports fans in Canada — and those are soccer, the NBA and the UFC. Those sports have a lot of growth potential in this country, in my view. And speaking of the NBA — folks at TSN must feel they have really lucked out due to the impressive performance so far of the Toronto Raptors.

UPDATE: Done deal!! Here is TSN’s announcement about the UFC.

The Premier League is back!!!

The World Cup is over, but all is not lost soccer fans: Liga MX is back!!

Yes indeed, soccer season is back on — in Mexico! The story on why you need Liga MX in your life is here from SBNation.

Heck, the World Cup only happens once every four years. Soccer fans need something to watch the rest of the time — or at least, until the Barclay’s Premier League comes back.

(This post is in honor of some friends of mine who love Mexico and like to go there on vacation all the time. They’re not big Liga MX fans but still, they’re big on Mexico. Fun place.)

As usual, the finale of the World Cup comes way too soon

A month of lost productivity at work comes to a sudden end this afternoon as Germany and Argentina play at Maracana Stadium in Rio for the World Cup to wrap the tournament in Brazil.

That’s right, the home countries of the last two Popes are going head-to-head. Both Francis and Benedict XVI ought to get together at the Vatican and pray today, or something.

And as usual, this tournament has just flown by. From a fan perspective I think it was a great job by Brazil — I mean, this country looks good on TV.

But I don’t know if Brazilians feel that way. There were plenty of protests at home. A lot of them feel, rightly, that building these expensive stadiums was a total waste of money, and I agree with them! The costs of the facilities to host World Cups, and Olympics for that matter, are through the roof and increasingly look like an investment that isn’t worth it. Countries are slowly but surely gathering the courage to tell both FIFA and the Olympic people what they can do with their Games and their price tags, and aren’t bidding for them anymore! That’s good — maybe sanity will start to prevail in the future.

Also, this World Cup will live in infamy in Brazil for the disasterous performance of the home side in the last two games, including that jaw-dropping 7-1 loss to Germany earlier this week.

That had Brazilians recalling their other jaw-dropping home humilitation in 1950 to Uruguay. To their credit, the Brazilian people didn’t stage a riot, even though it seemed the whole rest of the world expected one. (I think they were too shell-shocked and humiliated to riot. )

Anyway, that’s it for the World Cup. We can now go back to watching baseball nonstop now — although I guess we can’t even do that for a few days because we’re at the All-Star Break.

———————-

UPDATE: Well, it was an exciting finish – 1-0 Germany, in the third straight World Cup final to go to extra time.  I’d say that has this year’s Super Bowl all beat.

 

USA exits the World Cup, meanwhile, Americans are having a big debate about whether they like soccer

The USA was finally kicked out of the World Cup the other day, losing 2-1 in extra time to Belgium in the round of 16.

We’re seeing lots of stories in the US press about how great the USA team played and how heroic the goalkeeper Tim Howard was.

If this team was representing any other country, though, the USA team would have been lambasted. Had this been England playing, you can bet the British press would have gone wild declaring it to be a terrible performance, with the goalkeeper getting shelled throughout the game and with the rest of the team only showing up for the final fifteen minutes of play in extra time. There would have been calls for the manager’s resignation, the works.

Anyway, this was not England playing, it was the USA, and the expectations were never high anyway. Having said that, I guess there is something to also be said about lasting 120 minutes longer than England at the World Cup — or, more accurately, 210 minutes because England’s final match against Costa Rica was an complete nothing game. They’re the ones who really ought to be embarrassed.

I notice there is a big debate in the USA as to whether Americans actually like soccer now. Certainly ratings for ESPN suggest this World Cup 2014 has been a hit. My opinion, though, is that soccer still has a long way to go before Americans truly embrace it. Right now I see comparisons to the sport of tennis. Americans will play tennis, and they know the big names, and they’ll get really interested in the really big tournaments, but the rest of the time it’s something that isn’t that Important to their daily lives. Same thing with soccer and the World Cup. They tune in every four years, and they know who the big names are, but the rest of the time? Meh.

I notice there is quite a lot of divided opinion on the American sports talk shows on the subject of whether “soccer is mainstream” now in the USA. A lot of people are watching the World Cup, to be sure. But I notice the ones who don’t like soccer have been holding nothing back in their denunciation.

These detractors complain about everything from the diving by the players to the accents of the people calling the games. It’s unbelievable, actually.

For whatever reason, this sport seems polarizing down there. Heck, even hockey doesn’t get the same negative reaction. The non-hockey fans in the USA simply seem uninterested, but the reaction of the non-soccer fans borders on hatred for a number of them.

How bad is it? So bad that there are those who consider soccer to be anti-American!!

Howard Kurtz did a big article about those sentiments from the likes of all the usual isolationist political folks. You know, the usual people such as Ann Coulter, who describe it as “a sign of the nation’s moral decay.”

Huh?! Folks, this is a sport. It’s only a sport. Leave your politics out of it. Actually, I didn’t even know Ann Coulter was a sports fan to begin with, so that is news to me.

As for her ridiculous assertions about “moral decay”, all I can say is that there are other sports in which American athletes have bitten their opponents, too, so there is nothing new about that.

Moray decay? Come to think of it, “tooth decay” is more like it at this World Cup.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad!!!

Man City wins title on final Premier League weekend, but soccer season never really ends

It was an intense “Championship Sunday” to wrap up the Barclay’s Premier League season today, with Manchester City winning the title with a 2-0 home victory over West Ham. It was a great day for Man City, not such a great day for runner up Liverpool, and a terrible day for Norwich City, Cardiff City and Fulham because they were relegated and this was their last day in the Premier League.

So soccer season, or football season as the English call it, is over. Sort of.

In fact, soccer fans still have a lot of games to look forward to in the coming weeks. The final for the Europa League goes May 14. Then, there is the FA Cup between Arsenal and Hull City on May 17 at Wembley. The following week, on May 24, is the Champions League final in Lisbon between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. And then it is a break of just a couple more weeks until the World Cup begins in Brazil on June 12 — by which point you’ll never hear the end of it from soccer fans, because it will be war for a full month.

On top of all that, other European leagues are still not finished, Liga MX still has its Clausura finals, and Major League Soccer is now going full blast in North America.

Clearly, soccer fans don’t have to suffer the misery of an off-season like fans of some of these other sports, like the NFL. NFL fans must wait several months for that league to come back, and in the meantime put up with some real second-rate options like the (ugh) Arena League! About all they have to look forward to is the NFL Draft, that is the height of off-season excitement for those fans.

So soccer fans have the way better deal, in my opinion. The season is over, and yet it is far from over for the fans.

More TSN recovery news: deal inked for 90 MLS games

TSNKeeping you updated on TSN’s ongoing efforts to fill the void now that national NHL rights are gone to Rogers — they have announced they will air 90 MLS soccer games this season. 34 Whitecaps, 23 Toronto FC, 12 Montreal Impact, and 25 US matchups.

Keeping in mind the games featuring two Canadian teams head to head, and it adds up to 90 games, which is a little more than their entire schedule of CFL games (81, plus five playoff games).

Good. The soccer fans should be happy. Besides, TSN should be happy, because soccer is growing in popularity in this country and the MLS continues to grow as a league as well.

As an aside — I am tuning into the Kansas-Kansas State hoops game tonight. I think TSN ought to do this every year — air the entire Kansas season, regardless of whether Andrew Wiggins is on the team or not.

Seriously, that is how starved we basketball fans in Canada are for content. We want hoops on TV, we shouldn’t have to hop on flights to Vegas to get a basketball fix. Every time I go down to Vegas, it’s a breath of fresh air just being able to watch basketball on multiple TVs in the sports books, coming from a country where you’re struggling to find a channel that will just air one game.

Besides, look how many Canadians are prominent in the sport, like Wiggins, and Steve Nash, and other people.  We have to get more college hoops and NBA on TV  in our country — especially now that football is done, and especially since the NHL is shut down for two weeks for the Olympics. So give us more basketball, right now! We need something to keep us going until baseball season. There, that’s my rant for tonight.

FOX SPORTS 1 LAUNCHES ON A BUSY WEEKEND FOR SPORTS FANS

Well, the momentous occasion has finally arrived: the launch happens for Fox Sports 1 tomorrow as they begin their quest to take downFoxSports! ESPN.

No doubt, they should benefit by attracting plenty of broadcasting talent who might be repelled by the thought of living in dull and boring Bristol, Connecticut.

On board are such famed and heavily-promoted sportscasters as Erin Andrews and Charissa Thompson — and that’s just the girls.

They also plan an NFL panel show daily and plenty of live action. Their big launch tomorrow includes — what else — a UFC fight.

They’ll even have Regis Philbin doing a show, and of course a couple of funny guys from some place called Canada are anchoring there, too. Here’s a rundown on what to expect. Fun stuff.

The good news for fans is that the channel will be seen in all the cable markets, too, as Fox dropped their outrageous demand for .80 cent per month carriage fees. Had they held firm with that demand, we all faced the prospect of yet another cable carriage dispute a la the CBS-Time Warner fiasco. Instead, the deal is done and Fox Sports 1 will be distributed nationwide at a low-low price of .23 cents a month.

The bad news, of course, is this is the end of SPEED. No doubt auto racing fans will be crying for weeks on end, but business is business.

The launch of the sports-cable wars couldn’t come at a busier time for sports fans. Not only is this another big baseball and NASCAR weekend, but the NFL pre-season is going full blast and the NFL Network has been running those games nonstop.

To top it off, the new Barclay’s Premier League season opens tomorrow and NBC Sports plans to go absolutely nuts covering that as they launch their three-year deal.

What? You didn’t miss them while they were gone?  I cannot blame you. With all the international and Major League Soccer action on TV all summer, soccer really doesn’t have an off-season at all.

YES, IT’S TRUE — THERE ARE CHEERLEADERS IN THE ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE

CrystalsKeeping you up to date on (most) things soccer and (all) things girls, found this fun item about the sexy cheerleading squad of the Crystal Palace soccer club in England.

I’ll bet you didn’t know the Premier League had cheerleaders. I’ll bet even the Premier League fans in England didn’t know. That’s because they didn’t have cheerleaders — until now. The “Crystals” are indeed about to become the one and only cheerleading squad in the Barclays Premier League.

Soccer isn’t a sport known for American-style gimmicks such as this, but Crystal Palace FC have had cheerleaders for about three years now. I am always amused when I see NFL-style cheerleading squads, cheering for completely different types of sports in foreign countries. That tells you something about the influence American sports have had on the rest of the world. I notice the Aussie and NZ rugby leagues also have cheerleading squads, adding some sideline glamour to the fan experience there.

These Crystal Palace girls definitely are major league all the way. They look like NFL cheerleaders, with their hotpants and bare midriffs, not to mention the swimsuits they wear. Plus, they even make music videos.

Just this spring Crystal Palace FC won promotion in the playoffs from the Championship to the Premier League, and their cheerleading squad made this music video based on the Dave Clark Five’s hit Glad All Over, celebrating their club’s promotion to Premier League status. Included in the video are appearances by their newfound friends the Jacksonville Jaguars ROAR cheerleaders, who happened to be in England for a photo shoot. Oh, darn it, I am in a football (CFL) mood and just wanted to do something to get in the mood for the coming season, so this fit the bill, even if the Crystals are cheering for a soccer team across the Atlantic — in south London of all places. Enjoy the video, guys!!

WIGAN ATHLETIC: FROM CHAMPS TO CHUMPS IN THREE DAYS

If there’s a group of fans who feel about as bad as Toronto Maple Leafs fans do today, it’s the few, the proud, supporters of Wigan Athletic Football Club.

Three days ago, they beat mighty Manchester City 1-0 to win the FA Cup — a game that cost the Man City manager his job.

Today, though, Wigan lost to Arsenal 4-1 in a must-win Premier League game, sending the team down to the Championship. That’s right folks, the FA Cup Champions have been RELEGATED.

Wigan goes from the thrill of FA Cup victory to the agony of defeat in three short days. From champs to chumps. (Well, I sure hope they held a victory parade in the meantime before this happened.)

Only in English football. That is sport at its most cutthroat, folks.

THOUGHTS ON MLS EXPANSION AND SOCCER IN GENERAL; I SAY BRING BACK THE COSMOS

In keeping with my role as interim sports reporter for the paper, I am now going to talk about soccer. MLS

I was watching some of the thrilling MLS games from the weekend. In particular I tuned into that exciting Dallas-Vancouver game from BC Place. That was great stuff, with Vancouver coming back to draw 2-2 and the crowd really into the action. I’m thinking: how could you watch a game like that and not be excited? MLS soccer is fun stuff.

I was reading the reports about MLS expansion plans and commissioner Don Garber’s comments about it, and how they plan to make an announcement in as soon as a few weeks. All the speculation seems to be that they’re going to go with a second team in New York.

We’re talking about a club that would actually be in New York City, as opposed to New Jersey where the Red Bulls are playing.

Right now the Red Bulls are struggling just to be relevant in the New York market, against all the other competition in the other sports. Adding a second soccer team seems like a doomed venture to me — that is, unless they are planning to bring back the Cosmos.

When you think of the Cosmos, you think of the glory days of pro soccer in the USA with Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Georgio Chinaglia and the like, playing in the old North American Soccer League. I happened to watch the documentary that was made about the team, called Once in a Lifetime, and it seemed like the team was the toast of New York during the Seventies.

Actually, the problem with the Cosmos was that they were really the entire league. There was them, and then a big dropoff to everyone else in the NASL. Still, it was an exciting time for soccer in New York, with huge crowds packing Giants Stadium, and I think it’s worth trying to recreate that same excitement.

Right now the Cosmos are planning their long-awaited return to the second-tier NASL that exists now, but they really ought to be in the top flight. If it means bringing back the Cosmos, then I am all in favor of an MLS expansion team in New York.

But if these reports are accurate saying the Cosmos aren’t interested, MLS should scrap the whole idea and concentrate on making the Red Bulls relevant in the marketplace. I don’t care if the rich owners of Man. City are behind this latest NY bid; for me, it’s either bring back the Cosmos, or forget it. That’s my opinion on that.

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Now a few thoughts about “English football.” I’ve been following some of the sports news from across the pond lately. In fact, that was how I found out about all this Kelly Brook “hottest woman in the UK” news that I was blogging about — because I was trying to get the English soccer results.

Let me tell you, the Sun and the Mirror just go crazy with their sports sections. They make our sports coverage here look like tiddlywinks in comparison.

The title race in the Premier League is all settled with Manchester United wrapping it up this past week, but you still have all these relegation and promotion battles going on. It truly is a battle to the death for these soccer clubs, trying to stay afloat in their respective leagues.

The other day there was a game between Queen’s Park Rangers and Reading that ended up in a 0-0 scoreless draw, and that game sent both teams relegated down to the Championship.

Of course, now the recriminations have started over there. QPR could sell off their star players, and they’re telling the press the situation for the club is so dire that they might never be back in the Premier League.

Meanwhile, fans in Wolverhampton rioted on the field after their team lost a Championship match, so that squad could end up getting sent down straight to the even more pathetic League 1 — this, just one year after the Wolves got relegated to the Championship in the first place. What a disgrace!

I’ll tell you this, I don’t blame these Wolves fans for getting angry. Here in North America we don’t have to deal with any of this relegation nonsense, and a good thing, too, because relegation is wrenching for the fans. Imagine if you’re a long-time fan of a major league team. You pay good money season after season, expecting top-flight action, only to see your team not only losing but also getting kicked right out of the league.

I’ve kept on hearing from soccer people in North America who say they want relegation and promotion to happen in Major League Soccer, but that just flies in the face of the way major leagues do business in North America. In our leagues, there is always next year, even if you finish dead last. That’s part of the charm of the major leagues in our part of the world — as bad as it gets, there’s always hope.

But if you finish last in Britain, or anywhere else in Europe for that matter, your team has no hope at all. You’re sent down to a miserable existence in the lower league, and you have to unload your star players. It truly is “the agony of defeat” over there. It’s just an awful way to go.

That’s a big reason why soccer is as popular as it is. For drama, it cannot be topped, but it’s also ruthless, too. Anyway, those are all my soccer thoughts for today.

LET’S FACE FACTS — COMPARED TO FOOTBALL, THE OTHER SPORTS ARE NO SUBSTITUTE

I must say, this past weekend without the NFL was definitely a tough one. Looking at it objectively, I must say — you cannot repNFLlogolace the NFL.

It just is obvious looking at these other sports that they all seem second-rate in comparison to the NFL. In my eyes, the only sport that is even close, among the team sports anyway, is soccer. 

I’m not talking about MLS, I’m referring to Barclays Premier League and the other top European leagues. You have players play in front of big crowds in games that are basically life or death — like American football is every week. The problem is the biggest soccer games are all overseas, with many of them happening the minute you wake up in the morning. I’ve been following the English league more and more, but that aspect of watching games for breakfast really takes the fun out of the sport from a North American standpoint.

Plus, you have all these commentators in their English accents. Watching this sport makes you feel like a foreigner. So it’s kind of tough for the North Americans to get too excited about it for that reason.

For me, the sport that has kind of emerged as my replacement programming for the NFL in the off-season has to be auto racing, especially NASCAR — but admittedly, it’s a niche sport and very, very different from football. On top of that, its season runs forever. Major League Baseball is still several weeks off and while the UFC is good, it isn’t on every week. Plus, there’s the problem of having to pay to watch it, which reduces cheapskates like me to tuning in to the prelims instead on cable.

As for the other sports, they really seem second-rate compared to the NFL in my mind. Who really cares about regular-season college basketball with most of these no-name players — it only gets decent once the NCAA tournament starts. And who cares about the NBA. The problem with the NBA is not the product or even the stars; it’s the lack of drama.

These games are basically meaningless, and even if they weren’t, everyone assumes LeBron James and Miami will win anyway. The players don’t treat these games as if they are life or death, but then again, why should they? Too many teams get into the playoffs anyway. The NBA regular season is a farce.  

It’s as big a joke in the NHL, a league notorious for allowing everyone into the playoffs. The team that won the Cup last year, Los Angeles, barely made it in the playoff field, yet won the whole thing. The real problem for hockey is the games only get really interesting when it is playoff time. As LA proved last year, regular season hockey in the NHL is usually a pointless waste of time.

That is, when the NHL actually holds regular seasons. In fact, the NHL continues to get slammed for the way it handled its most recent lockout. A story has been running about this former Edmonton Oilers fan who is tossing all his memorabilia and Center Ice packages, and claims he is not a fan of the NHL anymore. It’s funny, because all the usual fans seem to be coming back to it in droves like nothing has happened. Certainly, our national media in Canada has come back with its obsessive NHL coverage. But I’m convinced this lockout marginalized the sport in a lot of places, especially in the USA.

You tune in the sports shows down there in the USA, and it’s obvious nobody cares about the NHL there. Frankly the way this league has conducted itself, with frequent lockouts and even an entire cancelled season, and it’s a wonder they get any coverage there at all. There. That’s my sports rant for today.