We’re a couple weeks into 2018, and the quest to consume as much soccer as possible is at an all-time high. With most of us waiting for D.C. United preseason to begin, most are watching games in Europe: the Premier League, La Liga the Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1 are usually fan favorites on Saturday and Sunday mornings. However, those aren’t the only leagues that contain great soccer. What are some of the other leagues that we should be paying attention to or wish we could watch with increased regularity? The world is full of soccer and we here in America may only get legal access to a fraction of it.
So, let’s take a look at some of the leagues that either you should be watching more or that we should be hoping gains more access here in America:
It’s the best league in CONCACAF and it’s not even close. It’s the league that MLS always attempt to use as a measuring stick, and so does the rest of the continent. Many Americans call Mexico’s Liga MX home, including the recent signing of Landon Donovan. Current Black-and-Red and USMNT midfielder Paul Arriola called Club Tijuana home before moving to DC last August. They have matches every week with Liga MX and Copa MX, their Cup competition, and they have a unique setup where each team has a kickoff time they use for every home match. This way, if you follow a team in Liga MX, you know exactly when each game will be. Currently, the league is available in Spanish on Univision, Galavision and ESPN Deportes, but recently the league crafted a deal to show matches on Facebook in English. Honestly, I watch Liga MX matches in Spanish to practice, but with more English-language availability? This league would become one of the most watched among fans of the USMNT very quickly.
The passion exhibited in the J.League and the K League at times outweighs the play, but there is some decent soccer being played in Japan and South Korea. Both leagues are the gold standard for Asia, and they are the reason why the Blue Samurai and The Reds consistently qualify for the World Cup out of the AFC. Neither league is readily available on TV here in the United States, and that’s a shame. With the time difference and most matches kicking off in the middle of the night, it would be easy for a sports channel to put games from either league on TV for those early risers.
On the low, Colombia’s Liga Aguila has grown into one of the world’s best leagues. Atletico Nacional has been the best club team in South America for the past few years, winning Copa Libertadores, finishing as runner up in the Copa Sudamericana, and winning the Recopa Sudamericana, in addition to their domestic trophies. Still, this league has other incredible teams like Millonarios, Deportivo Cali, America de Cali, Santa Fe, Independent Medellin, and Junior. It would be terrific to have access to view these matches in the United States, as we are starting to see more and more South American players make their way to MLS and abroad out of these leagues.
Scottish Premier League
The Scottish Premier League has one of the greatest rivalries in the world when Rangers takes the field against Celtic for the Old Firm derby. But, there are other teams that have some stature behind their name: Heart of Midlothian (who had former D.C. United player Perry Kitchen), Motherwell, Aberdeen, Hibernian. The SPL is located on Fox Soccer Plus, which is a channel that most in America need to pay extra for. Still, if Fox could extend that coverage, you will find more people tuning in each week.
The Campeonato Brasileiro Serie A is one of the best leagues in the world, no doubt. The players that come out of that league are stars no matter where they land in the world, and the history of many of the teams is unquestioned. It’s a shame that the rights to view the league here in America are owned by GolTV, which is basically on 12 TV sets nationwide. When GolTV was at its peak, it was common to find Brasileiro matches on TV after La Liga matches in the afternoon on weekends. It would be terrific if another outlet could pick up the Brasileiro and give soccer fans reason to continue watching soccer well into the afternoon after Europe is done in the morning.
Chinese Super League
The Chinese Super League is the league that is pumping in billions of dollars to attempt to lure some of the world’s best players in their prime to bolster their profile. Because of that, players like Gervinho, Ramires, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Alex, Papiss Cisse, Demba Ba, Fredy Guarin, Obafemi Martins, Alexandre Pato, Alex Witsel, John Obi Mikel, Oscar, and Hulk ply their trade in the CSL, and they routinely have teams who compete well in AFC Champions League. Could this league move up the ranks of prestige with the influx of money? It remains to be seen. The league is not readily available in the U.S., but with the heightened interest, it would be good to pick up a way for the games to be streamed in English.
AFC Champions League/CAF Champions League/Copa Libertadores
Of course, everyone watches the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League with incredible interest, and here we have interest in the CONCACAF Champions League. But, not many know much about the club teams in Asia, Africa and South America. That’s where the AFC Champions League, the CAF Champions League, and Copa Libertadores come in. The cool thing is that these competitions all have some media outlets to allow viewing, though the options may not be good. For Copa Libertadores (now officially the CONMEBOL Libertadores), you can view the occasional match on FS1, FS2 and Fox Deportes. For the CAF Champions League, beIN Sports normally carries those games via their beIN Sports Connect streaming service. AFC Champions League viewing is admittedly more tricky. Those games can be viewed on a new TV channel called Eleven Sports Network, which absorbed the recently defunct One World Sports. Fans want to see the best teams in the world play each other, and more access to these competitions will allow for some cool soccer at all times of the day and night.
Arguably the best 2nd division in the world, the English Championship is one of the most popular leagues in the world. With the drama of the English Premier League and many American soccer fans calling an English team their favorite, interest in this league is always very high. But, the quality of the action is no surprise, as teams in the Championship fight for the chance to earn promotion to England’s top flight. Middlesbrough, Sunderland (who had a partnership a few years ago with D.C. United), Aston Villa, Norwich City, Queens Park Rangers, Fulham, Hull City and Cardiff City are all teams that have had a taste of the top flight in recent seasons and all seek to go back. Currently, matches can be viewed on ESPN3, but the Worldwide Leader wanted to put more games on TV Saturday mornings, people will absolutely tune in.
Argentine Primera Division
There are some fantastic teams in this league, one of the best in the world. Everyone knows about Boca Juniors (where Luciano Acosta began his career) and River Plate, one of the best rivalries in the world. People need to also learn about Racing, Independent, San Lorenzo, Newell’s Old Boys (where Lionel Messi started as a young boy), Estudiantes and the other teams that make this league so special. Many of Argentina’s brightest stars started here, and it’s a league that constantly has young talent that fans should watch.
With heightened interest in the Bundesliga, many fans are starting to demand more access to Germany’s second division of soccer. This is a league that contains several American players, and it’s where United obtained Russell Canouse last summer (he played at VfL Bochum on loan from Hoffenheim). With teams that are fighting to climb into the Bundesliga and lots of history, there is no shortage of drama. Darmstadt 98, FC Ingolstadt, FC St. Pauli, 1. FC Kaiserslautern, and Fortuna Dusseldorf are teams that either have huge followings or have recently been in the Bundesliga. It would be real cool to see how some of these up-and-coming American players improve while playing in this league, and with no current TV outlet, the market is there for more fans to get to know these German teams.
Other leagues: Liga FPD (Costa Rica), Eredivisie (The Netherlands), UEFA Women’s Champions League (Europe), Absa Premiership (South Africa), Super Lig (Turkey), Allsvenskan (Sweden), Danish Superliga (Denmark), Jupiler Pro League (Belgium), A-League (Australia), Russian Premier League (Russia)
Now that you have some options, it’s off to the internet or your cable provider to find some of these matches. And hopefully, this will help keep you warm on those weekends before MLS starts back up in March.