There truly has never been a better time in the United States to be a soccer fan than right now. Thanks to extensive TV coverage with NBC & NBCSN (English Premier League) and Fox Sports 1 (Champions League, Europa League, Bundesliga and FA Cup) and social media, you can easily follow the top clubs and players from around the globe. Between that and the spectacular FIFA video games, it’s no wonder that younger generations in the U.S. love the game like never before.
Everyone Loves an Underdog Story
Without question, the best current storyline in world soccer, and maybe sports in general, has to be Leicester City (16-8-3). The Foxes are only in their second year back in the EPL after a 10-year absence but two/thirds of the way through the season, they are amazingly at the top of the table (standings) in front of such juggernauts as Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea. Leicester City is two points ahead of second-place Tottenham, five ahead of third-place Arsenal and nine ahead of fourth-place Manchester City (who has a game in hand). Finishing in the top-four ensures a spot in next year’s Champions League - which is great and all, but winning the league crown would be the ultimate honor for Leicester City. They have been led by English striker Jamie Vardy (19 goals, 4 assists) and Algerian midfielder Riyad Mahrez (15 goals, 10 assists) who are quickly becoming superstars.
The Best of the Best
Speaking of the Champions League, the Round-of-16 matches started two weeks ago (best-of-2 series) with the second legs beginning next week. Top to bottom, I think that the English Premier League is the best but competitions like this prove that the latest powerhouse teams (namely defending champion Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, etc.) reside in other countries. The scores from the two matches are added together and away goals are the first tiebreaker used when deciding who advances to the next round. Barcelona (at Arsenal) and Real Madrid (at Roma) each picked up 2-0 wins so they look like good bets to reach the quarterfinals, but Bayern Munich settled for a 2-2 draw at Juventus so they’ll have to work a little harder. Manchester City put themselves in good position to advance further than they ever have with a 3-1 win at Dynamo Kyiv.
Problems In Goal for the USMNT
People can get wrapped up in single results (like last summer’s terrible loss to Jamaica in the Gold Cup) but the bigger picture is that the US men’s national team has never been in better shape under head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. Their goalkeeping situation is becoming a real issue, however. The starter, Tim Howard, reportedly is leaving Everton (EPL) for the Colorado Rapids. Additionally, his backup Brad Guzan’s English club Aston Villa (EPL) has been stuck in last-place virtually all season and their relegation looks almost guaranteed. Howard is 36 and he had lost his starting job at Everton, so going to MLS is disappointing but shouldn’t be that much of a surprise. Guzan is only 31 and should be in the prime of his career but he was also benched so he should look for a transfer elsewhere (hopefully not Stateside).
Follow Metro soccer columnist Richard Slate on Twitter: @RichSlate