- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 16, 2008

The controversial idea to play English Premier League games in the United States, Asia and Australia hasn’t been received well by those region’s soccer bosses, who are concerned that the high-profile games could hinder the development of their domestic leagues.

“We understand it’s a global sport, but it’s about nurturing the home game,” U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati told the BBC.

The 20-team EPL is exploring the idea of expanding its season to 39 games and playing those 10 extra matches overseas starting in January 2011.

The league boasts a big global market. Games are televised in 202 countries, with an estimated weekly audience of 600 million.

The league’s current overseas television deal, which is up for renewal in 2010, pulls in $1.3 billion. One TV network paid $200 million just to secure the rights for games in Hong Kong for three years. And the league said nearly a billion people watched an Arsenal-Manchester United game last November.

Mohamed bin Hammam, Asia’s soccer boss, said the games would be “interfering with the domestic and local competitions.”

While the cash-flushed EPL must avoid looking like a fat-cat intruder, it’s hard to see how holding a weekend of world-class competitive soccer would hinder the growth of soccer in these emerging markets.

MLS does not play games in January, so it’s an opportunity for fans to see top-flight competitive soccer rather than lame exhibition games and a chance for the EPL to make alliances with overseas leagues.

Maybe the fans should have the final say on this.

It comes down to money. If the EPL hands out enough of it, this idea will be welcomed.

Training days — D.C. United has finished the first phase of its preseason training in Bradenton, Fla., and is headed to practice in Camarillo, Calif., where it will play a closed-door scrimmage against Chivas USA on Monday and an exhibition game against the expansion San Jose Earthquakes on Feb. 24.

After California, the team moves to San Antonio for its final preparation period during which it will play in a preseason event against Houston (March 5), Toronto FC (March 7) and Chivas USA (March 9).

World Cup at RFK — RFK Stadium is a long way from the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean, but the District’s aging venue will be home to Anguilla, a British territory, when it takes on El Salvador in a World Cup qualifying match on March 26.

Anguilla has no chance of advancing after losing 12-0 in the game at El Salvador, but the tiny island with a population of 13,000 could take home some needed cash if the large Salvadoran population in the D.C. area attends the game.

The game was moved to the District because of lighting problems at Anguilla’s venue. The winner advances to play Panama.

Must see Beckham — David Beckham will be on television for the first time this year on Wednesday at 11 p.m., when the Los Angeles Galaxy play Japan’s Gamba Osaka in the first 2008 Pan-Pacific Championship.

The will be televised by ESPN Classic.

FA Cup — Arsenal, which leads the EPL, will play second-place Manchester United in the round of 16 of the FA Cup today.

The matchup means one of the two most successful clubs in the history of the EPL and the FA Cup will not be advancing to the quarterfinals of the 1,366-year old tournament.

United has won the trophy a record 11 times to Arsenal’s 10.

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