It’s just over the horizon.
We’re almost to that magic time of year when almost all sports seasons converge.
Baseball pennant races are beginning to heat up. They’ll soon be banging heads in high school, college and pro football. Basketball and hockey training camps light up some parts of the country. And soccer...
Well, our new glamor sport is reaching both the climax and the beginning, believe it or not.
MLS teams are jockeying for playoff spots, which means the Sounders must try finding a hot streak to keep the league title in Seattle.
And across the Atlantic, soccer’s true superstars are getting loose for a season that starts officially next week in England.
That interest is nothing to be sniffed at, either. English Premier League telecasts are such a hot ticket that NBC outbid a host of outlets to carry all 10 EPL games in this country each week.
ABOUT SOCCER, which of course is called football in the rest of the world...
You know how American sports fans gripe endlessly about teams trying to buy championships (see: Yu Darvish)?
Yes, there’s an obscene amount of money floating around, making it tough for baseball — which has no salary cap — to maintain competitive balance with a few mega-rich clubs willing and able to reach the stratosphere in free-agent bidding.
The current spending champs, of course, would be the Los Angeles Dodgers, who just grabbed Darvish as insurance in case star Clayton Kershaw misses more starts than expected.
OK, so let’s put this in perspective.
The Dodgers are rightfully considered wild spenders. Their payroll this season is right around a quarter-billion dollars.
Now let’s consider soccer on the global stage: Paris St. Germain, which didn’t even win the second-tier French league last year, just paid $260 million to Barcelona for a Brazilian striker called Neymar.
That’s a quarter-billion for one player and, no, that does NOT include Neymar’s salary – which will likely hit another $150 million.
Paris St. Germain is owned by a Qatari investment company backed by that company’s government, and the sheikhs have announced they intend to spend whatever it takes to create “a super club for the digital age.”
Of course, there will be fierce competition from teams like Manchester City, which just spent $75 million on a fast-but-fumbling defender named Kyle Walker – considered so far as the most insane purchase in the sport.
City is owned by the government of Abu Dhabi, which is part of the United Arab Emirates – a country currently in a long neighborhood feud with Qatar.
War via penalty kicks?
Around Europe’s elite leagues, you’ll find Russian oligarchs, Chinese billionaires and dozens of shaky actors with piles of money – plenty of it from dubious origins.
IT’S HARD to say how the idiotic money being thrown around the top echelons of soccer will affect the game itself.
These check-writing contests, which we’ve seen for a few years in the States, are relatively new to the rest of the world. But it’s not hard to imagine unthinkable wealth being thrown at the globe’s most popular sport.
There’s no way to control it, either, with countries governing their own leagues and making up regulations on a whim.
Soccer fans, who soon should be picking up some of the tab on telecasts and ticket prices, ultimately will learn the genius of Pete Rozelle.
The late commissioner of the NFL was the first to spot the benefits of parity – both for fans and owners.
Thus came the draft (in reverse order of the previous year’s record) and then the salary cap.
Only baseball, with its series of befuddled owners and executives, has missed out.
I’m guessing those Qataris, with their buckets of oil and natural gas, don’t give a hoot about parity – only that they’ve landed Neymar in Paris.
Oh, and by the way, Neymar was third on his club with 20 goals for Barcelona last year.
So how much would it cost for teammates Lionel Messi (54 goals) or Luis Suarez (36)?
Steve Cameron is a special assignment reporter for The Press. Reach Steve: firstname.lastname@example.org.