Soccer: World Cup fever
World Cup fever might have budding soccer fans curious about the vast network of teams, tournaments and transfer fees that comprise global club soccer. Allow me to be your guide.
Like Olympic basketball and hockey teams, a country's international team is made up of players who spend most of the year plying their trade in professional leagues around the world. While there are plenty of international competitions - besides the World Cup, nations compete in regional championships, exhibitions ("friendlies") and various invitational tournaments - things really get busy on the club level.
Consider England. The 20 teams in the Premier League (perhaps you've heard of Chelsea, Arsenal or Manchester United?) compete in a grueling 38-match regular season schedule from August to May, with a short winter break to account for cold weather.
The best record wins the league - no playoffs. Meanwhile, the teams compete against their peers and clubs from lower divisions in tournaments like the FA Cup and the Carling Cup.
Then there's the UEFA Champions League. Top teams from across Europe face off in a tournament for continental dominance, fitting in matches around their already-cluttered domestic schedule. It's a real test of depth for these global soccer powers.
North America has its own parallels to Europe's busy, glamorous system. In Major League Soccer's March-to-November marathon, the Crew plays 30 matches a year followed by the MLS Cup playoffs.
Throughout the summer, Columbus competes in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, a nearly century-old domestic tournament open to amateurs and professionals alike.
Our region has its own Champions League, too. The United States is part of CONCACAF, the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football. CONCACAF's Champions League begins with a group stage in the fall followed by a knockout round the following spring.
Though Mexican champions Toluca toppled the Crew last spring, Columbus already qualified for a new round of Champions League action beginning in August.
The point is: After the World Cup's final whistle blows Sunday, there's plenty of soccer left to watch.
Columbus Crew at Houston Dynamo
8:30 p.m. Saturday, July 10
World Cup final
2 p.m. Sunday, July 11
Columbus Crew vs. Kansas City Wizards
7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 14
Crew Stadium, North Side