Lots of reasons to care about soccer outside of the World Cup today -- although the Germany-Uruguay consolation tie was entertaining. Charlton opened up their preseason friendly schedule with a two goal loss to AFC Wimbledon. DC United takes on the Red Bulls tonight in Harrison, as we get ready for the introduction of some new blood while the club continues to improve its play.
Watching Diego Forlan put in another great performance today was a nice reminder that European cup competition has begun. Most of the world isn't going to care about the initial stages -- none of it will come close to Forlan's exquisite showing against Fulham in the Europa League final. Still, Champions League play officially kicked off at the end of June (with the ridiculous storyline of Andorra's champions -- FC Santa Coloma -- being decreed to be 3-0 losers to Malta's Birkirkara FC for failing to be able to offer a playable pitch) and the second qualifying round kicks off this week. Bohemians FC drew the Welsh champions, The New Saints, and will host the first leg at Dalymount Tuesday.
Northern Ireland's champions, Linfield, did not enjoy a favorable draw and will have to take on Norway's Rosenborg BK. They will be decided underdogs in the matchup, but all things are possible and Rosenborg exited the Europa League competition last year in the second round to Azerbaijan's FK Qarabag Agdam. Qarabag went on an incredible run in the Europa League last year, knocking out Rosenborg, then beating Finland's FC Honka in the third qualifying round before losing to Steve McClaren's FC Twente Dutch side in the fourth round.
This year, we will be paying particular attention to Qarabag's Europa League exploits as they have drawn Northern Ireland's Portadown FC in the second round. Portadown qualified for the Europa League by making the domestic cup final, although the club lost to Linfield. The club has had a miserable record in European play; prior to this season they had lost 21 matches, drew another five, and won only two. Portadown had not won a game in European competition since 1974, when the club beat Iceland's Valur Reykjavik two to one. That woeful record has been improved, however, this season, with a 1-1 home draw against Latvia's Skonto FC and a glorious 1-0 away win over Skonto in Riga. Both of Portadown's goals were scored by Richard Lecky, one of three Portadown players we sponsored last season. Portadown will host Qarabag at Shamrock park on Thursday and then will travel to Baku to take on the non-Baku situated Azerbaijani side a week later.
A small contingent of folks in College Park, Maryland will be paying attention to developments at Shamrock on Thursday. Best of luck and here's hoping that everyone associated with the club enjoys the experience for as long as it lasts.