The Chelsea roster for this week’s exhibition match against AC Milan at U.S. Bank Stadium is filled with recognizable names for soccer fans. You might not know much about Chelsea goalkeeper Asmir Begovic, though, or about his roots on the North American side of the Atlantic. Here are a few things to know:
• He was born in Bosnia, but his family fled the war there and went to Germany when he was 4, then moved to Edmonton when he was 10. This means that Begovic, a huge fan of American sports, might be the only player in the Premier League who has a detailed knowledge of the Edmonton Oilers’ personnel moves, to the point he can sarcastically refer to the team’s rebuilding process as “drawn out,” while also complimenting the Wild’s success over the past few years.
• He’s taking this tour very seriously, given that he’s competing with Thibaut Courtois to be new manager Antonio Conte’s first choice in goal. “The American tours are very popular with the players,” he said. “These games do mean something. No matter if it’s preseason or not, you want to win the game and start the season off on a positive note, so it’s definitely important to go into these games with the right mentality and the right attitude.”
• His wife, Nicolle, is an American who moved to England as a child. Even better: They met in a bar fight. It was during his time playing for Portsmouth, where she was in college. The goalkeeper, eyeing up a woman across the bar, found himself protecting her during a sudden scuffle, and the rest is history.
• He saw some success last year but was caught up in Chelsea’s disastrous season as the 2014-15 champions plummeted to 10th place. Begovic found himself in and out of the starting lineup, as Jose Mourinho fell from grace as manager, then as interim manager Guus Hiddink tried to right the ship. Begovic said last season doesn’t weigh on him, but the fresh start of a new season is a bit of a relief. “I think what last season does is it gives us motivation to try to not let that happen again,” he said.
• He is likely the only player in either squad who would exclaim, “The Twin Cities! Everyone loves Minneapolis!” when I mention the city.
Begovic played all 90 minutes in Chelsea’s first game of the International Champions Cup and appears to be rounding into form, after holding Liverpool scoreless in a 1-0 Chelsea win. There are rumors he might want to go to another club, to be guaranteed of being in the starting lineup, but for now he’s focused on his current club. And he’s upbeat about Chelsea’s chances to improve from 10th place. “We have a very good squad and the quality to be in the title race, and I don’t think that should change this year,” he said.
• Chelsea finished 10th last season, but it’s first in the annual “Hate Table,” compiled by the Daily Mirror, which surveys Premier League fans in the U.K. Chelsea took the top spot away from Manchester United this year, with Liverpool and Manchester City rounding out the top four.
• Last Saturday in Minnesota might be a microcosm of why busy American viewers seem to be turning away from baseball, while increasingly watching soccer on TV. The Twins and Red Sox started at 6:10 p.m. but had only progressed to the bottom of the second inning before Minnesota United kicked off against Fort Lauderdale at 7 p.m. The Loons played out the entirety of a 3-1 win — and when they finished, the Twins were still only batting in the top of the seventh.
• Juventus won its fifth consecutive Italian title last year but still chose to strengthen its team this summer, paying a near-record $100 million to Napoli for Gonzalo Higuain. Even if the Italian champions complete the rumored sale of midfielder Paul Pogba, they will win Serie A with ease again this year.
WEEKEND WATCH guide
ICC: Chelsea vs. Real Madrid, 2 p.m. Saturday, ESPN. Chelsea won’t be part of the Champions League this season, so this is Blues fans’ only chance to see them take on the giants of Europe this year. For Real, Zinedine Zidane’s first full season as manager begins with sky-high expectations. Last year Madrid started poorly and couldn’t recover; it can’t happen again this year.
Liga MX: Tigres at Club America, 9 p.m. Saturday, Univision. Club America has made a perfect start to the fall season, winning both games and attacking with abandon. Tigres, meanwhile, has played out two scoreless draws. France striker Andre-Pierre Gignac is still recovering from the Euros, hurting Tigres’ offensive form. Can America continue its freewheeling start to the year?
MLS: Portland at Sporting KC, 1 p.m. Sunday, Ch. 9. Portland’s had a wobbly season, and now the Timbers will be without both starting center backs; Nat Borchers is out for the season with an injury, and Liam Ridgewell is suspended after missing the MLS All-Star game with an injury of his own. Kansas City will hope to take advantage down the center of the field.
MLS: Los Angeles at Seattle, 3 p.m. Sunday, ESPN. As predicted last weekend in this space, Seattle’s loss cost long-tenured coach Sigi Schmid his job, as the Sounders look for anything that will reverse the team’s season-long malaise. Interim coach Brian Schmetzer won’t have an easy first game, as the Galaxy’s star-studded lineup comes to town with the intent of putting Seattle further in a hole.