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Del Olaleye: Here is your weekend soccer primer with the World Cup looming
The World Cup comes as a nice little interlude between the end of the NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Playoffs and the start of the football season. The buildup to the World Cup is beginning in full as teams around the world name their rosters and start playing friendlies in preparation. We’re seeing the promos consistently on FS1 as well as Fox begins their run as the broadcast partner with the World Cup.
The one caveat is the absence of the United States. The lack of home country participation certainly lessens some of the excitement here. The short of it is, the USMNT had about a 90 percent chance to qualify for the World Cup going into the final day of qualifying and failed miserably. New U.S. star Christian Pulisic attributed the failure to a lack of focus. The United States will still be playing this summer and thankfully not in that proposed also-ran tournament that never got any traction. We’ll get to the U.S. squad later. Here are a couple of competitive matches this weekend to wake up that part of your brain that pretends to like soccer every four years.
Saturday, May 26th
Champions League Final: Real Madrid vs Liverpool
The two European giants face-off in the biggest prize in all of club football. Cristiano Ronaldo and Madrid are looking to do something historic. A win over Liverpool would mean the third Champions League title in a row for the Spanish power. Liverpool is a storied club in their own right but have not enjoyed the same type of recent success that their opponents on Saturday have. A victory over Madrid would give the 5-time European champions their first European title since 2005.
Championship Playoff Final: Fulham vs Aston Villa
The lesser known of the two finals being played on Saturday is the Sky Bet Championship Play-Off Final. Lesser known but valuable just the same. The victor in this winner take all will receive just over $228 million and promotion to the highest division in English football. Fulham and Aston Villa are both familiar with Premier League football. Aston Villa spent the previous 24 seasons in the top flight before being relegated before this season. Fulham was relegated in 2014 and are looking to win promotion after finishing the season recording points in 23 out of their final 24 games.
Side note: Fulham is owned by Shad Khan, the owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Monday, March 28th
Friendly: USA vs Bolivia
The game against Bolivia is one of several friendly matches the USMNT team will play as they try to transition from the disappointment of not making the World Cup. The U.S. have called in a youthful roster as they look to see who can be a part of the uncertain future of U.S. Soccer. A game against World Cup qualifier France follows a match against near-qualifier Ireland in the month of June as well. If you’re interested in getting to know the future of U.S. Soccer these upcoming matches are for you.