Millions of viewers around the world tuned into the final moments of the Premier League season last Sunday, resulting in ecstasy for some, agony for others and astonishment from all. But whether you’re a lifelong supporter or newly hooked to the game, that awestruck feeling swiftly gave way to the existentially terrifying question, “now what?”
The season provides a comforting rhythm for a fan’s life. Come what may, there’s always a match to look forward to at the weekend. The season’s end is the cold turkey comedown, and it can get as ugly as Renton’s experience in Trainspotting.
In America, many NFL fans greet the Super Bowl with a sense of melancholy, for they know that the game will be their last hit of action for many a moon. Thankfully, there is no yawning chasm of an offseason for soccer supporters to cross; for like on the pitch, the action never stops.
So while the schedule may slacken slightly ahead of Euro 2012, here are some upcoming matches sure to sate the appetite.
Football League Promotion Play-Off Finals
1. Saturday, May 19th, 10AM EST. Blackpool v. West Ham United
Start your Champions League Final day with this cracker of a contest from Wembley to decide the last promotion spot to the Premier League. Both clubs sunk down together following the 2010-11 season. West Ham, under Big Sam Allardyce, is desperate to rejoin the Premier League, especially since their ambitious gambit to move into the Olympic Stadium still hangs in the balance. Should the move happen, it’s hard to imagine Championship fixtures against the likes of Barnsley and Burnley filling the joint up. The Championship is like a freshmen dorm, it’s a total blast but no one wants to stay for more than a year, which is why the do-or-die play-off final is usually a must-watch. The winner will join Reading and Southampton at the big boys’ table this fall. No word yet on whether reputed Hammer supporter President Obama has asked White House staff to hold his calls so that he may blow bubbles in peace during the match.
2. Saturday, May 26th, 10AM EST, Sheffield United v. Huddersfield Town
A week later, Wembley hosts the League One play-off final. The Blades will be looking to join rivals Sheffield Wednesday in promotion and bring the Steel City Derby, one of England’s fiercest, to the Championship next season. Huddersfield Town eliminated perennially unpopular MK Dons in the semi-final, and in a wonderful gesture, its chairman will bicycle the 180 miles to Wembley before the match to raise money so that 1,000 children can get tickets.
3. Scottish FA Cup Final, Saturday May 19th, 10 AM EST, Hearts v. Hibs.
Break out the bovril, a major Scottish match not involving Celtic or ‘Gers! The Edinburgh derby gets the limelight for a change and with silverware on the line to boot, in this case, the oldest awarded football trophy in the world.
4. Coppa Italia Final, Sunday May 20th, 2:45 EST, Juventus v. Napoli.
Juventus, unbeaten in Serie A this season with departing legend Alessandro Del Piero, goes for the domestic double against Napoli, who provided an entertaining run in the Champions League with their star Edinson Cavani.
5. Copa del Rey, Friday, May 25th, 4PM EST, Athletic Bilbao v. Barcelona.
Barca’s endured one bummer after another this season. Lapped by Real Madrid in La Liga. Chopped down by Chelsea in the Champions League. And finally, mastermind Pep Guardiola’s resignation. They’ll try to scrape some solace from the season in the Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao. Bilbao, vanquishers of Manchester United back in March, will be equally hungry for glory after their 3-0 loss to Atletico Madrid in the Europa League final.
6. Saturday, May 26th, 2:45 EST, Norway v. England.
Roy Hodgson’s first test comes away against Scandinavian competition in advance of their Euro 2012 group stage match against Sweden. For better or worse, England may be turning away from a generation of players who will look back on Sven-Goran Eriksson’s reign as a golden age. Veterans such as John Terry, Wayne Rooney, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard, Jermain Defoe and captain Steven Gerrard remain from the squad that played in the 4-1 loss to Germany at the 2010 World Cup. But plenty of opportunity should exist for Andy Carroll, Danny Welbeck, Theo Walcott, Phil Jones, Joe Hart, and Ashley Young to make the squad their own. After Norway, England next face a tough Belgium side featuring Eden Hazard, Vincent Kompany and Marouane Felliani. Should England come out flat in the first half in Oslo, Hodgson can look to Mike Bassett for half-time speech inspiration.
7. Saturday, May 26th, 12PM EST, Spain v. Serbia.
Tiki-Taka Mark III? Euro and World Cup defending champion Spain begin their summer charge against 2010 World Cup participants Serbia in always neutral Switzerland. Looking ahead to the Euros, will Juan Mata and David Silva be able to replicate their Premier League performances? Will Fernando Torres’ recent good run cause a twitch in Vincente Del Bosque’s mustache as he prepares his final squad list?
8. Saturday, May 26th 8PM EST, USA v. Scotland and Wednesday, May 30th 8PM EST, USA v. Brazil.
Jurgen Klinsmann’s evolving squad takes on Scotland and Brazil at the massive homes of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Washington Redskins, respectively. The U.S. needs the stiff competition that the two football heritage rich nations will provide as CONCACAF matches aren’t enough. The U.S.’ World Cup qualifying matches later in the year come against the likes of Guatemala and Antigua.
Bonus: Big games abound over the next few weeks. Seattle and Vancouver renew their Cascadia Cup rivalry this Saturday night at the gorgeously redone BC Place. That same night, Montreal, off to a surprisingly decent start in its first season, welcomes New York to the Big O, evoking memories of old Mets-Expos games. Next Saturday, Houston hosts struggling L.A. Galaxy at their fantastic new downtown ground. With the big European leagues done, the abundance of great stadiums across the land, and growing rivalries, there’s no excuse to not attend an MLS match this summer if you live near a club.
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