Now that the FC Tucson season is long past us, you still need that soccer fix. Let us help you keep track of the best matches (and the best storylines) to watch this upcoming weekend. (All times listed are Arizona time).
By H. Jose Bosch
Soccer is a sport where the imperfect is celebrated almost as much as the perfect. Take Pele’s almost-goal in the 1970 semifinals of the World Cup. It’s arguably one of the most celebrated moments in soccer history and a goal wasn’t even scored.
Soccer fans love the process of play as much as they love the results, and so many great moments stem from the imperfections of a game. A defense breaks down. A supporting attacking player isn’t where he’s supposed to be. A striker takes a blind strike with nothing to lose after a ball is poorly cleared.
These moments define soccer.
But imperfections can also be harmful. This last week we were reminded of the other imperfect aspects of the world’s game. On Wednesday it was reported that INTERPOL arrested the alleged ringleader of a global match-fixing network, “Dan Tan,” in addition to 14 others. While most attention has been spent on the Italian match-fixing connected to this ring, there have also been alleged match fixing in Canadian and Costa Rican soccer.
And then there was FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s remarks about Qatar’s 2022 World Cup bid. Blatter told the German magazine Die Zeit, “European leaders recommended to their voting members to vote for Qatar, because they have great economic interest with this country.”
Those remarks, combined with FIFA and UEFA pushing to move the 2022 World Cup to the winter, have added fuel to what has been a simmering fire that began the day Qatar was awarded the World Cup in the first place. This week has just been another reminder to soccer fans all over the world of just how imperfect (or “corrupt” if you ask most) soccer’s governing body actually is.
So, it is amongst this whirlwind of ugly imperfections that we all saw the shining example of soccer imperfection at its finest.
He’s not the tallest player. He’s not the fastest player. And he’s probably not the strongest, although to survive playing a physical game with that frame he’s certainly not weak. But he is unequivocally the best, no matter what his “measurables” say.
Messi scoring multiple goals in a match (even a Champions League match) is nothing new. Not even a hat trick (which he notched against Ajax on Wednesday) is particularly un-Messi like. We’ve been watching him do this for years now.
But to see it happen now, while two of soccer’s ugliest black marks dominate the headlines, is a breath of fresh air. It’s a lovely reminder that imperfections aren’t always bad and that soccer wouldn’t be the game it is without them.
The biggest and strongest do not always equate to the best. The most well-thought out plans will not always lead to success. Soccer matches are as much won (and celebrated) in the moments of chaos than in the moments of well-executed plays and set pieces.
It all makes soccer the perfect game to watch.
And now, on to the five matches you need to keep track of (in no particular order).
Tijuana vs. Cruz Azul
Tonight, 7:30 p.m.
The top eight teams make the playoffs in Mexican soccer and even though it’s still early in the season, this battle between the 7th-place club (Cruz Azul) and the 10th-place club (Tijuana) will be a good one. Cruz Azul lost in the Clausura 2013 finals while Tijuana won Apertura 2012. So even though the clubs aren’t at the top of the table, they have the firepower to compete for a title this season. And you can also keep tabs on players in the US Men’s National Team pool. Edgar Castillo, Joe Corona and Paul Arriola play for Tijiuana.
LA Galaxy vs. Seattle Sounders
Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
NBC Sports Network
It’s the final stretch run in MLS and neither of these two teams are in any real danger of missing the playoffs. But they want to be playing their best soccer heading into the postseason and nothing helps a club’s form better than beating a top-of-the-table-quality opponent. For the Sounders, this could be the first step toward excising some playoff demons. Two of their four playoff runs have been ended by the Galaxy, including last season in the Western Conference finals.
Liverpool vs. Southampton
Saturday, 7 p.m.
NBC Sports Network
Four matches into the season, Liverpool is still at the top of the table and all by itself with ten points. A major reason for this is Daniel Sturridge. While he likely won’t score 38 goals this season (he has four in the club’s first four games) he’s a dynamic playmaker that has been one of the most fun players to watch during the early stages of the English Premier League season. Liverpool’s attempt to get back into the top four of the table may be one of the most compelling storylines of the season if the team can keep its current form. It may seem like a long shot, but you shouldn’t miss the chance to watch the club now while it looks like a world beater.
Milan vs. Napoli
Sunday, 11:45 a.m.
beIN Sport En Espanol
Juventus is the two-time defending Serie A champion and most people’s pick to win this season. And Milan, who won the league title in 2010-11 is a name even casual soccer fans know and another legitimate pick to win the title this season. But the soccer die hards (or at least the ones who claim to be) think Napoli is the team to win the league this season. (To be fair, they finished second last season and are currently at the top of the table. So it’s not a stretch pick). And if they do, then it could very well be because of new manager Rafa Benitez and his play-making midfielder Marek Hamsik. It’s easy to pick out names like Rooney, Ronaldo and Messi, but if you want to watch a playmaker whose name doesn’t roll off the tongue, take the time to watch this one.
Manchester City vs. Manchester United
Sunday, 8 a.m.
NBC Sports Network
No one does derbies better than the British. Well, at least that’s what they want you to think. While Manchester United-Liverpool is a historically more relevant rivalry, the Manchester Derby right now is much bigger thanks to the billions of dollars that have been thrown into both clubs. All eyes will be on United manager David Moyes, who so far has a loss (to Liverpool) and a draw (to Chelsea) against the other potential league title winners. Another negative result against a top club will make things more uncomfortable for the man who is already tasked with replacing a soccer legend in Sir Alex Ferguson. (A 4-2 win in the Champions League earlier in the week does help).
Those are the five matches you should be keeping an eye on this weekend. Want a complete schedule of every match happening around the world? Click here.
And don’t forget, tomorrow morning, from 9 a.m.-10 a.m., tune in to Soccer Talk with FC Tucson on ESPN Tucson 1490 AM and 104.9 FM. Want to ask him a question? Call us at 520.298.1490.