U.S. Soccer World Cup qualifier to kick off at … 5:30 p.m. locally?

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KANSAS CITY – Tonight’s World Cup qualifier at Sporting Park on the Kansas City outskirts starts at 5:30 p.m. locally – or as I have mockingly referred to it over the last couple of days here, “traditional starting time” for a big soccer match.

Obviously, it isn’t. A “traditional starting time,” that is.

Obviously, it’s all about TV. When it comes to scheduling in big time sports, it’s pretty much always about TV.

When I first saw the start time last week – and let’s just call that time what it is, which is “goofy” – I assumed it was about simultaneous start times for the trio of CONCACAF World Cup qualifers. But that’s only for the final match day.

Without being too specific, U.S. Soccer spokesman Neil Buethe told me his organization and ESPN talked about several different options for tonight’s match. In the end, he said, U.S. Soccer’s target is always to arrange the best possible circumstance to allow the most possible viewers.

(MORE: Low anxiety, but plenty of opportunities for U.S. against Panama)

Perhaps U.S. Soccer cannot say it, but here’s what that probably means:

U.S. Soccer could have had a better start time (say, something really wild and crazy, like 7:30 p.m.) but would have been pushed to an outlet from ESPN’s jayvee roster, ESPN News or ESPNU or whatever.

Tonight’s Mexico-Panama match, a truly meaningful contest for a lot of people in our land, will land on ESPN News, for instance. That one starts at 9:15 p.m. ET.

So why couldn’t U.S. Soccer’s World Cup qualifier get a better start time and land on ESPN? The worldwide leader in sports has a college football package on Friday nights these days.

Soccer may have come a long way in our country – but we all know that football still rules.