Tuesday’s Column: Soccer TV Coverage Scores Big

Did you know that for the first time ever on American television the English Premier League, the most popular soccer league (in terms of ratings) in this country, can now be seen almost weekly in hi def?

Did you know that coverage of the UEFA Champions League has taken a quantum step forward from announcers calling games in some distant studio rather than being there live, that there is no longer an extremely limited selection of games on TV and that you’ll never have to hear the over-used “bulge in the ol’ onion bag” phrase ever again?

You do now. (Can you tell I’m just a tad excited about these developments?).

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Televised Soccer Update: UEFA Champions League & EPL

This morning is a reminder of how quickly we’ve gone from famine to feast when it comes to watching televised soccer in this country.

Here it is around noon on Wednesday and as a DirecTV subscriber I have a choice of a UEFA Champions League mix on Channel 461 although at the moment it’s only showing two of up to eight games (why I’m not seeing the game between Moldova’s FC and Greece’s Olympiakos since I subscribe to Fox Soccer Channel is a mystery to me though).

DirecTV channels are showing games (for the first time ever) so I could check out Timisoara-Stuttgart on Channel 462 or Copenhagen-Apoel Nicosia on Channel 463 if I was so inclined. (DirecTV channels 461-466 will show games live).

Up on Fox Sports Southwest on Channel 676, (yup, Fox channels other than FSC are now showing games, too) it’s Celtic-Arsenal in hi def.

And ESPN channels will continue showing games as they have in year’s past.

Indeed, it’s become so difficult to keep track of what’s on where and when that Fox has unveiled a television schedule and dedicated UEFA Champions League news Web site here.

BTW, the UEFA Champions League has a slightly different format this year. Here’s a primer.

This latest television soccer development comes just five days after ESPN announced hours before the curtain rose on a new EPL season that the league would return to the network after an absence of more than 10 years (games will also continue on FSC and other outlets).

There will be almost 50 games in hi def on ESPN2, something that will hopefully spur FSC on to do the same sooner rather than later.

For instance, next up at 7 a.m. Saturday is Wigan-Manchester United, followed at noon Monday, Aug. 24 by Liverpool-Aston Villa.

Don’t let the batteries in that remote control run out.

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Wednesday Soccer: Galaxy’s Franklin Out Up to Six Months & More

The not so surprising news this afternoon was that Galaxy midfielder/defender Sean Franklin, hobbled much of this season by a problematic hamstring, is now done for the next four to six months after undergoing surgery Tuesday to repair a torn right upper hamstring tendon.

So he’s pretty much gone for the season then.

Last year’s MLS Rookie of the Year started eight games for the Galaxy this season and frankly looked much better going forward on the right side of midfield in several games than at right back.

In other news:

*ESPN released its Confederations Cup schedule.

ESPN will show four and ESPN2 eight of the 16 games live generally at 7 a.m. and 11:25 a.m. June 14-28 from South Africa.

The U.S. opens against Italy at 11:25 a.m. June 15.

* Cal State Northridge released its men’s soccer schedule.

*There was also a UEFA Champions League thingie today. Manchester United played for 10 minutes then stopped when Barcelona scored. Barca won 2-0. Messi scored the second, which must be worth a buck or two. You can read more about it * here.

The big winners locally were the Galaxy, which put tickets on sale today to their * Aug. 1 game in Pasadena against the now reigning European Champions.

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Thursday Nights Kicks: Sven Out & More

Playing a little catch-up this evening, so you should know:

*Mexico soccer coach Sven-Goran Eriksson was fired today, a day after El Tri crashed to a 3-1 loss against Honduras in World Cup qualifying.

Less than a year into the job, the former England coach had just one win in its last
seven games.

“We told Mr. Eriksson that his term with the national team has finished,” Justino Compean, president of Mexico’s soccer federation, said at a news conference.

*The L.A. Sol of Women’s Professional Soccer today signed 25-year old Liz Bogus, who had 31 goals and 18 assists during a four-year career at Arizona State where she was the 2002 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year award.

*Fox has indeed outbid ESPN for the rights to the UEFA Champions League in a three-year deal. Games will be shown on Fox Soccer Channel, FSN, FX and Fox Sports en Espaol.

The final will air on FX in High Definition each year, a spokeswoman with the network told me. FSC is also “looking to accelerate the time frame in which they will begin broadcasting in HD.”

Although no official on-air talent decisions have been taken, Fox is looking to use the international English-language feeds UEFA provides rather than using American talent stuck in an L.A. studio.

From the (edited) press release:

As the primary outlet for the UEFA Champions League, Fox Soccer Channel will deliver 110 live and delayed UEFA Champions League matches per season to its nearly 35 million subscribers. FSN – reaching up to 83 million homes nationwide through its owned and affiliated regional sports networks – will televise 16 live matches per season, while Fox Sports en Espaol will distribute 94 total contests (live and delayed) in Spanish to its 14 million subscribers.

The UEFA Champions League Final will air each season on FX, reaching over 95 million homes nationwide. Next season, the final will be staged on a Saturday for the first time in its history, with the match kicking off at 11:45 a.m. Pacific May 22, 2010 at Madrid’s Santiago Bernabu Stadium.

Fox Soccer Channel’s UEFA Champions League coverage will include one live and two premiere match telecasts per match day – including prime-time rebroadcasts of FSN and Fox Sports en Espaol’s live offerings – as well as live pregame and postgame shows from its Los Angeles studios. All live matches will kick off at 11:45 a.m. Pacific on Tuesdays and Wednesdays during the course of the season. Fox Soccer Channel will also produce a 30-minute UEFA Champions League highlight show at the conclusion of each match day.

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Final 16 UEFA Champions League Matchups Announced

I like to keep this blog as Southern California focused as possible, but is there any soccer fan locally not looking forward to the beginning of the knockout rounds of the best club competition in the world?

Thought not. Purists will tell you that this is when the real competition begins anyway.

Today’s draw.

It means Manchester United’s Alex Ferguson and Inter Milan’s Jose Mourinho will resume hostilities.

It means Liverpool’s Spanish Coach Rafael Benitez faces former club Real Madrid, who are now coached, of course, by former Tottenham gaffer Juande Ramos (and yes, I just like writing gaffer).

And former Chelsea Manager Claudio Ranieri returns to his old club as Inter Milan coach.

Landon Donovan may also be interested to know Bayern Munich got Portugal’s Sporting Lisbon.

Who drew the short straw? French club Lyon, which faces Barcelona.

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