Soccer sure is boring, isn't it?
The 2012 edition of Survival Sunday was advertised as the most exciting final day of a Premier League season in recent memory, so much so that seven different television stations in the United States aired live matches all at the same time. Diehard supporters and non-fans tuning in for a pre-Mother's Day activity were treated to an historic morning (ET) of football, arguably the most thrilling two hours of the sports year. When all was said and done, a noisy neighbor had snatched the league title away from their rivals, and done so while being featured on one of the most significant and most-watched sports channels in the US.
Oh yeah, the afternoon Major League Soccer contest that aired on that same channel was also a pretty good game.
Manchester United entered Sunday knowing they needed a win and some help to earn title number 20. They took care of their business thanks to a Wayne Rooney first half goal, a tally that was good enough for a 1-0 victory over Sunderland. Things weren't going as planned over at the Etihad, where City needed only to defeat a QPR side that was facing relegation in order to win the league. Pablo Zabaleta put City up six minutes before the break, but the visitors then stunned the thought-to-be unnamed champs with a goal three minutes after halftime. 11 minutes after Joey Barton got himself sent off for an ugly incident that will likely earn him a significant suspension, QPR shocked the football world by taking the lead on a diving header sent home by Jamie Mackie.
Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli were eventually brought on to find the two goals needed for City to hoist the trophy. Those goals just never came, though, as 10-man QPR did well to settle in front of goal and ride out the win that would guarantee them safety. United ultimately ran out the clock in their match, assuming that the title was once again theirs. The United victory meant that a draw wouldn't be good enough for City, and City scoring twice in five minutes seemed destined to be nothing more than a FIFA '12 challenge gamers would be able to complete later on in the week.
Not so fast. If you're reading this, you probably know how the story goes. Dzeko buried an equalizer in stoppage time, Sergio Agüero scored the winner just seconds later, and the blue moon had risen. How fortunate for all involved that this match aired on ESPN2, the biggest network broadcasting a game on Sunday morning. How fortunate that Ian Darke, the true voice of international soccer for American viewers, was there to call the game. How fortunate for those of us with access to the ESPN3/Watch ESPN service can go back and watch the final five minutes of this match over and over again.
Darke has, since the 2010 World Cup, become the Gus Johnson of soccer for American fans. He didn't disappoint on Sunday, capturing City's glory as only he could. You don't want the B or C Team calling the action when history is unfolding before your eyes. Fans tuning into ESPN2 on Sunday morning didn't have to know everything regarding the league title race or the teams involved to realize they were part of something special merely by watching the game. For what it's worth, you should also go out of your way to watch this Sky Sports reaction to the two City goals. It's five out of five stars.
The FOX family of networks also get an A+ for the day. Sure, the FOX Soccer Tottenham Hotspur vs. Fulham feed had a few glitches in the first half, but those minor miscues were forgettable by halftime of that match. Every station showing a live contest did well to keep you updated on what was happening in all of the important Premier League matches, allowing you to put the remote down and enjoy the game of your choice. FX/FOX Soccer also made sure to show the immediate reactions of Sir Alex and the United players following City's stunning goals. This Survival Sunday was, as it is every year, about both jubilation and heartbreak. We saw numerous examples of both thanks to ESPN2 and FOX.
The MLS contest that aired on ESPN2 immediately following City lifting the EPL trophy was the cherry on top of a delicious sundae. The game eerily mirrored the City vs. QPR match, with underdogs Philadelphia Union finding goals on either side of a red card (this one caused by yellow card accumulation). New York Red Bulls fought back on the road, however, scoring two second half goals and then needing a bit of luck to hold the lead until the final whistle (immediate reaction of that match can be found here).
We currently live in an era where we can, on every January 1, say that football/soccer is more popular in the United States than it was one year ago. That doesn't mean we still don't need days like May 13, 2012. At the start of the RBNY vs. Philly match, over half of the trending topics on Twitter in the US had to do with soccer. The front pages of every significant sports website featured the Manchester City title win as the significant story of the day. For just a few hours, soccer was the most important and most beloved sport in the United States. Sure, it didn't last through the afternoon.
But days like Survival Sunday can be the start of something special.