Over There

English Premier League matches might be going abroad, beginning as soon as the 2010-11 season.

We trod on their turf. Now it’s their turn.

English Premier League matches might be going abroad, beginning as soon as the 2010-11 season. A unanimous vote by the 20 EPL clubs this week sends Britain’s best one step closer to visiting North America, Asia, Australia or the Middle East.

Cities would bid for the right to host and the matches would count toward the league standings. The rest of the details and the ultimate fate of the proposal will be decided at the clubs’ annual meeting this summer.

This represents a bold step beyond the Champions World summer tours of Manchester United and Chelsea to Seattle a few years back. This would be the real deal, with the best players on the pitch and a battle for every 50-50 ball.

You have to wonder whether it was one of the Glazers or some other fellow with a funny American accent who brought up the idea at the EPL owners meeting. Already the NFL is expressing a desire to expand beyond one regular season game at Wembley to potentially adding a 17th game and soon sending every franchise overseas.
 
Still, imagine attending a London derby at the Rose Bowl, Arsenal under the lights in Tokyo or Liverpool donning the red shirts in Dubai.

That said, this is a plan which could quickly be shot full of holes.

From the homeland will come cries of outrage by the traditionalists, angry about the addition of a 39th match. When the idea was first floated last autumn, 80 percent of fans polled rejected it. Not only that, but the potential unfairness of it all if, say, your relegation-threatened club is drawn against Chelsea for the third time while your rival gets Watford. Life won’t be fair.

Then there’s the matter of the marquee clubs. The Big Four (Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Man U) would not play one another. Still, they are assured a sellout wherever and whomever they play. Birmingham City-Bolton, not so much.

No doubt the players’ union would also need to sign-off. Shoehorned into an already congested fixture list of domestic and European tournaments, these trips around the world would create an added strain on the performers themselves.

And what would federations such as U.S. Soccer think of it? Would they consider it a threat to the development of the domestic game? If so, this EPL globalization may become a ship without a harbor.

Make Players, Not Money


Instead of fattening their wallets, European club owners ought to be fielding more homegrown players. So says Sepp Blatter, the FIFA president.

At the next FIFA congress in May, Blatter may ask the 204 football associations from around the world to vote on his proposal calling for clubs to limit foreign players.

Once upon a time, foreigners were minorities in European leagues, yet held a majority of positions in emerging nations such as the United States.

Nowadays, the domesticated club is a rarity. At one end of the spectrum is Guadalajara’s Chivas, which has never used a non-Mexican. At the other end of the scale is Arsenal, which uses only a token Englishmen.

For 2008, Major League Soccer raised the number of foreign player slots to 112 (the slots can be traded from club to club), which represents about 30 percent of all players. Under current guidelines, Seattle will start operations with eight foreign slots on its 28-man roster.

Compared to the major European leagues, that figure would be fine with Blatter. What bugs him is the trend in England and Germany. In the Premiership 55 percent of the players were foreign in 2007. In the Bundesliga it’s 45 percent.

Blatter proposes limiting clubs to no more than five foreign starters. He contends that having six national team-eligible players will motivate domestic youth to press on. He added that, “By signing more and more foreign players, clubs have gradually lost their identity. In some cases all players hail from abroad or even from a different continent.”

Blatter, who’s more concerned with the health of the game and, specifically the FIFA World Cup, believes that the growing influx of foreign players hurts the development of domestic players and, thus, national teams. Witness England’s early exit from Euro 2008 and Germany’s rough spell prior to the 2006 World Cup.

The beneficiaries of the club rosters going global are Brazil and, perhaps surprisingly, the United States. Brazil had 140 players playing in major European leagues last year, and the Americans are the fastest-growing population of expatriates. Both have national teams in relatively robust health.

Domestic Affairs


It was an active week for the calendar keepers at U.S. Soccer House and MLS headquarters as the schedules for country and clubs were released.

Coming up on the horizon for the men’s national team are friendlies at Poland (Mar. 26) and Spain (June 4), plus home dates both before and after the latter. Opponent possibilities include Argentina and England. The first 2010 World Cup qualifier is June 15 at Carson, Ca., against either Barbados or Dominica.

Qwest Field is on the short list of possible sites for a semifinal qualifier next fall, with likely opposition being Trinidad & Tobago, Cuba and Guatemala in September, October and November, respectively. Locally, those dates would present some potential problems, given the start of the Seahawks’ season.

The complete MLS schedule bears little resemblance to the ’07 model, where it was all about getting David Beckham and the Galaxy seemingly to every city on the same evening.

Beckham & Co. will be beamed to your TV set 20 times, beginning Mar. 29. Thursday nights will be the dominion of ESPN2 while Saturdays are on Fox Soccer Channel and HDNet.

ABC will again be involved, beginning with a June 24 doubleheader featuring the Galaxy at D.C. United, followed by the European Championships final from Vienna. The MLS Cup will also be on ABC Nov. 23 from Carson.

The Pepsi MLS All-Star Game will be broadcast by both ESPN2 and TeleFutura from Toronto on July 24.

On the Tube


The best games this weekend are confined to pubs, which can be a good thing, if the kickoff comes after dawn in the West.

The Bundesliga’s top four collide, beginning with Bayer Leverkusen-Hamburg on Saturday (6:30). Leaders Bayern Munich, sadly minus star Frenchman Frank Ribery, meets chasers Werder Bremen on Sunday (8). Also on the dish Sunday is the Manchester derby between United and City (5:30). The best matchup from Spain will be Saturday’s Barca-Sevilla clash.

At a couch near you, there’s a reeling Reading (winless on the road) visiting Everton in the first game Saturday (7 a.m.) on FSC. Best of the bunch on Sunday (8 a.m.) is Chelsea putting its 75-game home unbeaten streak on the line against Liverpool, minus Fernando Torres.

Throw-Ins


Although the African Nations Cup final is Sunday there is sidebar story threatening to steal the spotlight, and for all the wrong reasons. Freddie Kanoute of Sevilla and Mali was awarded the mantle of 2007 African Footballer of the Year. However, Didier Drogba (Chelsea/Ivory Coast) contends he was dropped as a finalist because he refused to attend the awards ceremony in Togo. Both Drogba and Michael Essien (Chelsea/Ghana), another finalist, elected to remain with their national teams, which, at the time, were preparing for quarterfinal games in Ghana. As for the games, Egypt will go for its second straight ANC title and (sixth overall) against four-time winner Cameroon…Still another week or so to go before Champions League play resumes Feb. 19…Will your bitter taste better if it’s sanctioned by Big Brother? Mr. Pub Owner, you may now apply to have your establishment designated an Official U.S. Soccer Bar by emailing soccerbar@ussoccer.org…After seven years on NeXturf, Portland’s PG&E Park will install FieldTurf prior to the Timbers’ USL season opener. A clear benefit: lower bounces and fewer rugburns in the Rose City…The USA women’s roster for the Algarve Cup (Mar. 5-12) will be determined next week…Gig Harbor keeper Tally Hall saw action for the U.S. U-23 (Olympic) team during the Feb. 2 game with D.C. United…Nike is nearing completion of its $556 million takeover of Umbro. Aiming to surpass adidas as the world’s No. 1 soccer brand by 2010, the Nike will profit from Umbro’s traditional ties in Britain, although the swoosh will not replace the diamond logo on such jerseys as the England national teams, as well as Everton, Blackburn and West Ham.