Games to Watch: MLS Cup final, Bundesliga, USWNT, UEFA Champions League
As I warned about last week, this is the final edition of Games to Watch. It's being discontinued because my work duties are changing at Philly.com, and at least for the forseeable future I am not going to have enough time to keep the column going. Thanks to all of you for reading it over the years. Hopefully it will come back some day.
Bayern Munich at Borussia Mönchengladbach
9:30 a.m. Saturday (Fox Sports 1 and GolTV Español)
Mönchengladbach and U.S. national team winger Fabian Johnson is in the form of his life right now. He has scored five goals in his last seven games across all competitions: one for the national team, two for his club in the Champions League, and two in one Bundesliga game last weekend. Now comes another big spotlight, as he goes up against Germany's perennial superpower.
Bayern is in first place by a whopping eight points, and has a dazzlingly creative midfield led by Thomas Müller, Kingsley Coman and Douglas Costa.
Portland Timbers at Columbus Crew
4:00 p.m. Sunday
ESPN and TSN1/4: Adrian Healey and Taylor Twellman call the game; Mónica González reports from the sideline; Max Bretos hosts on-site studio coverage with Alejandro Moreno and Kasey Keller
UniMás: Jorge Pérez-Navarro calls the game with Diego Balado and Marcelo Balboa; Iván Kasanzew reports from the sideline; the same crew assembles for the pregame show, with Kasanzew hosting and Landon Donovan as a guest analyst
RDS2: Claudine Douville and Jean Gounelle call the game; François-Étienne Corbin hosts studio coverage with Patrick Leduc, Olivier Brett and guest analyst Patrice Bernier
It's impossible to avoid the fact that the MLS Cup final isn't a sexy matchup. Portland and Columbus are two of the league's smallest markets, and don't have huge stars. But the Timbers have one in the making in electrifying playmaker Darlington Nagbe, who coincidentally was raised in Ohio after emigrating from Liberia with his parents at age 11.
Columbus' marquee name is striker Kei Kamara, who tied for top scoring honors in the regular season with 23 goals. The story to watch, though, may be impressive manager Gregg Berhalter. Born in New Jersey, he enjoyed a distinguished playing career in Europe and MLS, then in 2011 became the first American to ever get a head coaching job in Europe. He came back to America in 2013, and has quietly built a team that plays attractive and winning soccer.
There's a particularly important reason why Union fans should watch this game: Neither of these teams is a big-time spender. As MLS concludes its 20th season, it remains the case that the most successful teams are the smartest ones, not just the wealthiest ones.
Columbus in particular is a model for what the Union can do under new sporting director Earnie Stewart. A former national team colleague of Berhalter, he brings a similar mix of American and European experience to Chester.
Trinidad & Tobago women vs. United States
8:00 p.m. Sunday (Fox Sports 1)
The U.S. women begin the final four games of their World Cup victory tour - and Abby Wambach's professional career - with a glamorous trip to Honolulu's Aloha Stadium.
It's the first ever U.S. national team game of any kind in Hawai'i, but it won't be just a vacation. Head coach Jill Ellis has once again brought in prospects to judge for the future, led by National Women's Soccer League rookie of the year Danielle Colaprico (Chicago Red Stars) and 20-year-old University of Wisconsin midfielder Rose Lavelle.
Also keep an eye on versatile attacker Lindsay Horan, who's reportedly soon to leave Paris Saint-Germain to join the NWSL's Portland Thorns.
The two teams will meet again on Thursday at San Antonio's Alamodome (9:30 p.m., ESPN2)
Manchester United at VfL Wolfsburg
2:30 p.m. Tuesday (Fox Sports 1, Fox Deportes)
As the Champions League hits its final round of group stage games, both of these teams still have a lot to play for. Wolfsburg is in first place with nine points and United is in second with eight. The winner will qualify, but the loser could be trumped by third-place PSV Eindhoven, which has seven points and hosts CSKA Moscow at the same time.
Arsenal at Olympiakos
2:30 p.m. Wednesday (Fox Sports 2)
Arsenal needs to win by at least three goals to snatch second place in its Champions League group from Olympiakos. The Gunners have the big names, led by Mesut Ozil. But Olympiakos won when these teams met in London in September. Greek crowds are notoriously rowdy, which will make Arsenal's challenge even greater.
If you're wondering why this game is on Fox Sports 2 and not Fox Sports 1, the bigger network will have Bayer Leverkusen vs. Barcelona? Why? Because it'll be Mexican superstar Javier "Chicharito" Hernández facing Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suárez. That's a pretty big ratings draw.