Join in the EPL fun

With another season of English Premier League soccer just over a week away, this is prime time for staking claims of the club you’ll support this season.

Don’t have a reason to like any particular team? Neither do we.

ESPN carries a lot of the games and it’s more fun if you have a team to root for. Most of the games are early in the day, so there’s nothing really good on TV anyway. Why not give soccer a shot?

Nick and Corey have already written good things about the upcoming EPL season. If you don’t know anything about the teams but want to join in the fun, Nick Mendola’s “Get yourself a club” post is definitely worth checking out.

Being a fan isn’t always about having the most rational reasons for following a team. In fact, most of the reasons someone starts liking a team (outside of being from that geographical area) are pretty silly if you think about it.

Drew Neitzel: Which hand will he shoot with? Nobody knows!

I’ve written before how I started following Michigan State because I bought a $10 jacket from Steve & Barry’s when I was in middle school. (You weren’t cool if you didn’t have a Steve & Barry’s jacket.) Since then, I’ve developed slightly better reasons for following MSU. Tom Izzo is one of the best college basketball coaches in the country and I really liked Drew Neitzel. The football team is a little bit harder to root for (because they usually suck), but I get a little excited when alumni, like Drew Stanton, get a few snaps in the NFL. Say something bad about Jeff Smoker and we might have problems.

As for my EPL team, which I formally chose last year, I just kind of picked one. I narrowed it down quickly, being smart enough to know that if you really want to pick a serious club, you pick one of the big four — Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea or Liverpool. They spend the money it takes to win and aren’t afraid of the transfer market, plus they’re usually at the top of the table (standings). Manchester City is becoming a big spender as well but lags behind in the championship category.

I knew I didn’t like Liverpool. Don’t ask me why (because I couldn’t tell you), I just don’t. So the Reds were out. I didn’t dislike Arsenal as much as Liverpool and I kind of liked United, but everybody likes Arsenal and Man U. If you really like them, that’s fine, but there’s too many bandwagon, wishy-washy “supporters” of those two clubs. I love the New York Yankees, but a lot of people who don’t know much baseball just say they like the Yankees too. I didn’t want to be one of those guys.

So I bought a Chelsea jersey.

My brother was looking online and there was a sale, so I picked one up for a good price and he bought an A.C. Milan jersey, the team I also support in the Serie A, but for a slightly more logical reasons.

The Terry Pegula do's and don'ts of Roman Abramovich: DO, win championships like him. DON'T buy 100 acres of land on the moon. I also wouldn't advise him to have a girlfriend like Abramovich, but if he wants to bring women like Darya Zhukova around in Buffalo, I'd don't think I'd mind.

I don’t know the history of the EPL like I know the American leagues but the more I read about Chelsea, it seems their recent success comes mostly from throwing big contracts at great players. But, as any fan of the Mets can tell you, that doesn’t always guarantee victory. There is definitely something to be said for the club’s performance under billionaire owner Roman Abramovich, who took over in 2003. In the years since, the team has never had a finish below third in the EPL: (starting with the most recent) second, first, third, second, second, first, first and second.

The club’s moves don’t always work out (looking at you, Fernando Torres), but if Terry Pegula has half the success of Abramovich, we’re in for a real treat.

Clubs that have somehow won my support in other leagues, usually for just as stupid of reasons:

  • Spain (La Liga): Real Madrid. The jersey hanging next to Chelsea in my closet.
  • France (Ligue 1): Olympique Lyonnais, or just Lyon. Several French championships and extremely efficient use of the transfer market. If they can replace you for an equal or better player at a cheaper price, they will.
  • Germany (Bundesliga): Bayern Munich. They’ve been pretty good and have had big-name players I recognized for as long as I can remember, though most of what I remember probably comes from FIFA video games.
  • USA (MLS): New York Red Bull. Started liking them when they were the New York/New Jersey MetroStars and had Eddie Pope, but probably just because New York City is so close.
  • Portugal (Primeira Liga): F.C. Porto. I own with them in FIFA. Kinda pissed they ditched the sponsorship for thier frog jerseys.
  • Turkey (Süper Lig): Galatasaray. Turkey is a lot more populous than you probably think. They love soccer and their teams, because of their population, are some of the most liked in all of Europe. I like Galatasaray, but mostly for the name.
  • Russia (Premier League): CSKA Moscow, but only because they’re money in ESPN’s Streak for the Cash.
  • Holland (Eredivisie): Ajax Amsterdam, or just Ajax. I don’t know, man. I just do.

Bradley’s firing gives hope to U.S. national team

The first post in a multi-part series on how American soccer can improve.
The firing of head coach Bob Bradley from Team USA can only mean there are good things to come American soccer.

A few inches one way or the other may have saved Bob Bradley's job as coach of the U.S. Men's National Team, but such is life in soccer. Onto the next.

The development of our national team and our professional league will happen eventually. Simply based on resources that build winning soccer, namely population and money, America can’t stay down for long. It’s not a question of if, but when.

What’s best for a country’s domestic league may not always be best for its national team, and vice versa. The success of one is not always interrelated with the other. Countries with very poor leagues have had success internationally, such as South Korea (2002 World Cup semifinalist), Russia and Turkey (both semifinalists in Euro 2008). Even Brazil‘s national league isn’t great. Conversely, the country with the best league, England, has had very little success in worldwide competition (last major win: 1966 World Cup).

The best way for Major League Soccer to get better is to have its players get experience with national teams, thereby improving the quality and reputation of the league, yet the best way for the national team to get better is to have its players play where the competition is greatest — anywhere but the MLS.

It’s good for American soccer to have American players playing in the American professional league. But that means country-wide feelings on the sport — TV ratings, youth involvement, general acceptance of game — not the U.S. national team.

We want our players playing in their leagues. It’s as simple as that. The competition is so much better. Is it good for soccer in this country — is it good for kids growing up on the game — to have Landon Donovan to be playing at home for the Los Angeles Galaxy? Of course. But would it be better for the national team if he played solely in one of the big three leagues (the English Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Italy’s Serie A), or even in Germany or France? You bet.

One of the most important features of a national team is the coach, the glue who brings it all together. If we want the best coach, where does it appear he needs to come from?

I liked Bob Bradley as coach of U.S. soccer, but the team would have more success with a foreigner. Bradley is from New Jersey and Bruce Arena before him was from New York. We need to broaden the scope. Western Europeans dominate soccer in all aspects, from players to coaching to tactics. Nowhere else in the world is not only quality soccer, but also ideas and ultimately, knowledge, so readily available across borders than in Western Europe. Not even Brazil can compare in that metric.

The best build off each other and become that much better that much quicker. Even small countries can learn quickly due to the excess of available information; take for example Greece, which won Euro 2004. In America, we only have ourselves to go up against, and we aren’t really that good.

Even the English, who continue to hold the belief they rule international soccer despite going winless in major tournaments in the last half-century, have swallowed their pride and hired an Italian manager for the national team in Fabio Capello. The big four clubs combine for a grand total of zero coaches who were born in England. Two at least are from the U.K., Manchester United’s Alex Ferguson and Liverpool’s Kenny Dalglish (both from Glasgow, Scotland). The others come from abroad: Chelsea’s new head man André Villas-Boas is from Portugal and Arsenal’s Arsène Wenger is French. Even in a local example, the U.S. women’s team, best in the world, is coached by Pia Sundhage, a Swed.

I don’t know if I like the idea from a theoretical standpoint because I think a national team should have to have all of its coaches, trainers, et cetera from that country, but if it helps the USA and it’s within the rules, there’s no reason not to do it. The only coach in the last three World Cup finals not from Europe was Luiz Felipe Scolari, who led his native Brazil to a second-place finish in 2002. A non-European coach hasn’t won the World Cup since 1994.

The Europeans have the experience, the contacts and know-how. They’ve dealt with more talented players than any coach in the American system and might finally be able to whip the Yanks into a winning formation, not Bradley’s midfield mush.

Some players need to be developed as much as they need to be taught. “Mold 21-year-old Jozy Altidore into a star” should be the first bullet on the job description after “play winning soccer.” Here’s hoping the U.S. can get out of its own way and find the right western European coach, a Spaniard, perhaps, for the job. I’d welcome him with open arms.