Soccer on TV: Portland hosts Real Salt Lake in MLS’ Western Conference final
Plus big games in England, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Mexico — and the UEFA men’s Champions League trophy is coming to Philly on Saturday.
West Ham United vs. Chelsea
Saturday, 7:30 a.m. (NBCSN, Universo)
Christian Pulisic made his first start for first-place Chelsea since August in Wednesday’s 2-1 win at Watford. Next up for the Blues is the rekindling of a famous old English rivalry. West Ham, featuring Jamaican forward Michail Antonio, enters the weekend in fourth place.
By the way, Chelsea is bringing the men’s Champions League trophy to LOVE Park on Saturday for fans to check out. It’ll be there from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and you can get your picture taken with it.
Buxton vs. Morecambe
Saturday, 7:45 a.m. (ESPN+)
The second round of England’s men’s FA Cup is this weekend, with ESPN+ carrying eight of the round’s 20 games. As usual, we spotlight the best underdog story. This time, it’s seventh-tier Buxton — from northwest England, and the only seventh-tier team left in the field — hosting third-tier Morecambe at the 4,000-capacity Tarmac Silverlands Stadium.
» READ MORE: More FA Cup games to watch this weekend
AC Milan vs. Salernitana
Saturday, 9 a.m. (CBS Sports Network, Paramount+)
There’s a tripleheader of big games in Italy on Saturday, starting with Zlatan Ibrahimović's Milan hosting Serie A’s last-place team.
Barcelona vs. Real Betis
Saturday, 10:15 a.m. (ESPN+)
Mexican winger Diego Lainez has played frustratingly little for fifth-place Betis. Let’s hope he gets on the field in this game, because he could duel with seventh-place Barcelona’s American winger/outside back Sergiño Dest.
Then again, as ESPN’s Derek Rae pointed out in an interview with The Inquirer, Betis is playing some stylish soccer with Nabil Fekir in Lainez’s place.
“For me, they’re one of the better footballing sides in La Liga,” said Rae, who calls Spanish and German games for the network. “Fekir in particular, who’s somebody who you sort of have to build around — it’s a question of can you also have Lainez in that same team?”
Roma vs. Inter Milan
Saturday, noon (CBS Sports Network, Paramount+)
Inter’s Edin Džeko returns to Rome for the first time since swapping the Stadio Olimpico for the San Siro in August.
Borussia Dortmund vs. Bayern Munich
Saturday, 12:30 p.m. (ESPN+)
It’s a shame that what’s traditionally the biggest clash of the Bundesliga season will be played before just 15,000 fans because of a new COVID-19 wave in Germany. It was to be played before 67,000, but Dortmund announced Wednesday that it canceled all tickets sold in advance before starting a new sale.
And this game is especially big. Though Bayern is still expected to cruise to the Bundesliga title, it has stumbled lately. Now its lead in first place is down to just one point on second-place Dortmund. And while Dortmund’s defense has just one shutout in league play this season, star striker Erling Haaland is back after missing seven games due to a hip flexor. Can the eight-time reigning champs raise their game this weekend, as they always seem to do for Der Klassiker?
“When Dortmund lost to Leipzig on Nov. 6, a lot of people thought this could be a Bayern runaway, but it hasn’t been,” said Rae, who will call the game. “I think Dortmund will feel that in many respects, they’re getting Bayern at a good time.”
» READ MORE: The rest of this weekend's Bundesliga schedule
Napoli vs. Atalanta
Saturday, 2:45 p.m. (Paramount+)
If you’re a soccer tactics wonk, you’ll love this game. Napoli’s defense is still Serie A’s stingiest, with just nine goals allowed this season. Atalanta is tied for the third-most goals scored with 32. And both teams have great characters in their squads, starting with Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne and Atalanta’s Duván Zapata.
» READ MORE: The rest of this weekend's Serie A schedule
Real Sociedad vs. Real Madrid
Saturday, 3 p.m. (ESPN+)
Led by outstanding forwards Mikel Oyarzabal and Alexander Isak, Real Sociedad is really, really good. But Real Madrid is, well, Real Madrid — which is why the latter has overtaken the former atop the La Liga standings, and now has a seven-point lead. This might be a must-win for Sociedad if it’s to stop the Madrid freight train. But the home team could be helped by Madrid’s regulars putting in a lot of miles in a packed schedule lately.
Rae called Madrid’s 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday, and told The Inquirer that Madrid’s players looked “out on their feet by the end of that game. He wondered “if there will be a price to pay, because the games have been coming thick and fast.”
» READ MORE: The rest of this weekend's La Liga schedule
Portland Timbers vs. Real Salt Lake
Saturday, 6:30 p.m. (FS1, Fox Deportes)
If you think the Union’s playoff run is a Cinderella story, Real Salt Lake’s run is even more of one. The Western Conference’s No. 7 seed — the lowest team in the playoff field — took out the No. 2 seed Sounders in Seattle in a penalty shootout, then won at No. 3 seed Kansas City. Goalkeeper David Ochoa has become the postseason’s top villain, shushing the big crowds in both stadiums.
The No. 4 seed Timbers upset the West’s regular-season champion Colorado Rapids in the first round on Thanksgiving, and now come home to what should be an electric atmosphere at Providence Park. If the home team wins, Portland will host a professional men’s soccer championship game for the first time in the history of a club that dates back to the 1970s in the NASL.
If RSL can pull off yet another upset, the door will open for the winner of Sunday’s Union-NYCFC game to host the final. And while the Timbers will be favored, they’ll also be shorthanded. Forward Dairon Asprilla is suspended due to a red card, and star playmaker Sebastián Blanco has a back injury. But Blanco was upgraded from questionable to probable on Friday, so it looks like he’ll make it.
León vs. Tigres
Saturday, 10 p.m. (Univision 65, TUDN)
Tigres staged a stunning late comeback in the first game of this series, with goals in the 90th and 95th minute to win 2-1 at home. Now the scene shifts to León’s home field, where Victor Dávila will try to lead a comeback for his club.
Arsenal vs. Chelsea
Sunday, 9 a.m. (ESPN+)
Two powerhouse teams led by powerhouse strikers meet in what’s officially last season’s FA Cup final, delayed because of the pandemic. Vivianne Miedema leads Arsenal, currently atop the FA Women’s Super League, against a Blues squad that Sam Kerr led to last season’s FAWSL title and Champions League final.
Forge FC vs. Pacific FC
Sunday, 4:30 p.m. (FS2)
After the Union’s playoff game ends, change the channel to catch the Canadian Premier League’s championship game. You’ll see a lot of familiar names who used to play for Canadian MLS teams, and one who used to play for Bethlehem Steel: Forge winger Chris Nanco.
Atlas vs. Pumas UNAM
Sunday, 8 p.m. (Univision 65, TUDN)
Atlas won the first game of the series in Mexico City, 1-0, with an early goal and a lot of defense. Now Julio Furch and company come home to Guadalajara to try to close it out.
» Join The Inquirer’s soccer staff for live coverage of the Union’s Eastern Conference final showdown with New York City FC on Sunday in Union Gameday Central. Kickoff is set for just after 3 p.m.