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Michael Conniff

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DANGER MAN: Barclay's Premier League Arrives in America, Sort Of

Posted: 01/24/2012 10:31 am

On behalf of clueless soccer fans on this side of the pond, I would like to personally welcome the Barclay's Premier League to the heretofore unexploited world of American fandom.

The reason for my howdy-ing has everything to do with the Fox Broadcasting Company's decision Sunday morning to show the English Premier League (EPL) tilt between Manchester United and Arsenal live and in living color in the hours before the National Football League (NFL) conference championships. A live game in the Premiership on network television? As coming of ages go, the Barclay's Premier League telecast between Man U and the Gunners will have to do until USA Soccer is spelunking the next Pele or a reasonable striker thereof.

Sir Alex Ferguson's Man Utd side won 2-1 in a fine-enough fixture over Arsene Wenger's Gunners: the match displayed baubles from both sides --t he likes of ageless Ryan Giggs (for Man U) and the rocketing Robin van Persie (for Arsenal FC). But the point here goes far beyond the EPL game at hand to the future of soccer (i.e., football) in these here United States.

There is reason to believe the worm has turned. The episodic love affair between Americans and their national teams (men and women) stoke the fire for sure, as does the World Cup in general. More to the point is the quietly phenomenal success of Major League Soccer (MLS) with 12 going on 13 soccer-only stadiums in North America. MLS not only routinely outdraws the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the National Hockey League (NHL), but is also nurturing nutball fan cultures in places like Seattle, Washington, and Portland, Ore. It may just be Double-A ball but it's our Double-A ball.

Beyond that is the success (finally) of a handful of American players in the Barclay's Premier League. After coming up short for Manchester United, U.S. national goalie Tim Howard has been a rock for ages at Everton. One of the best stories in American sports anywhere is the work between the wood by Brad Friedel, now 40, the former U.S. national team goalie who now stands astride a Tottenham Hotspurs team threatening for the English Premier League title. And the play of the Texan Clint Dempsey at Fulham -- a hat trick this weekend -- has established him as the best American footballer in the world by far.

The other great good news for soccer is that ESPN and Fox have both decided they want the spotted ball for domestic programming. ESPN, by going with English announcers "Sir" Ian Darke and Steve McManaman, have allowed the game to come alive with live weekly early-morning broadcasts, and Fox just outbid ESPN for U.S. rights to the next World Cup. The Men in Blazers podcast, on ESPN's Grantland.com, is so good that sometimes I listen to it twice, qualifying me as a great friend of the pod.

The Fox Soccer Channel remains the backbone of soccer watching here in the colonies, but the added inventory and interest can only help. I started watching the Barclay's Premier League on a whim two seasons ago, when I received the channel by accident. Within a month I had become an unyielding supporter of Six Alex Ferguson, now 70, and Manchester United. It doesn't hurt a bit that he is the greatest manager this side of Connie Mack, or that Man U has a habit of winning and winning and winning.

It all comes down to the game. In columns to come, I will be explaining everything I've figured out about football (and soccer) and those who love it. For now let's say Manchester United won again in the EPL live on American network television -- for the very first time.

 

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