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.
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Method to the Madness: My 60 second bracket

So here’s my bracket:

Last year I filled out probably close to eight brackets, all with different methods behind picking teams. The first time I went through, I filled in the teams just based on gut feeling. The next time I made almost the same picks, but reversed the games I had a hard time deciding on. Another bracket was all upset picks.

ESPN has a computer ranking that gives each team’s projected odds of winning, and I even went through with a graphing calculator and picked each game based on the random spinner feature. I thought I was pretty sweet doing that, until my calculator picked a 16 over a 1.

The bracket I was the most proud of was the went I spent two hours on analyzing every matchup, looking at certain statistical percentages, common opponents, you name it. Last year was my first year covering college basketball, and somehow I figured it was my duty to know everything there was to know.

Everyone was picking the favorites last year. I remember hearing Jim Rome talking about his bracket, and you’d think the man had stock in Crayola with the number of times he referred to “chalk” — the favorites. If I recall, he only had a handful of underdogs winning games in the opening round (p.s. how stupid is this new first round, second round garbage? You’re telling me 60 teams had byes?).

Well, if we learned anything last year, it’s that there will be upsets. Guaranteed. Twelves will beat 5s and 13s will beat 4s. At least one of them will make it through to the Sweet 16, and it could get crazier than that.

With that knowledge in hand, I was excited for Selection Sunday this year. I don’t really care about bubble teams or anything like that (honestly anyone could guess at least 64 of the 68 teams, and anything less than that is pathetic), but I love having a blank bracket to ponder.

That possibilities are endless. As soon as you complete your bracket, you feel like the smartest person in the world. Of course you have the prefect bracket. Every game makes sense to you; if it didn’t, you would change it to be so.

It’s a good feeling. I am right and everyone else is wrong… at last, the world is back in order. So you are on your high horse for a couple days, and then as soon as the games start, you are back to feeling like an idiot. You watched Cornell play last year, and somewhere during the first half it clicked that maybe you should have had them winning a game or two. I was big on Richmond last year. They were my sleeper. What a bust that turned out to be (and taking last year’s anger out on them this year didn’t pay off either).

When it was all said and done, you know which bracket of mine was the best? I’ll be honest with you, I don’t remember, but I do recall the two-hour bracket did pretty poorly.

My strategy was different this year. I only planned on doing one bracket, and I didn’t put a whole lot of thought into it. Before I looked at it, I thought of all the teams that could really do damage in the tournament. My short list came down to Ohio State, Duke, UConn, BYU, Kansas and San Diego St.

What’s that? I’m missing some really good teams? I know, and I don’t particularly care. No matter how good a team may actually be, if I think they suck, I’m not going to have them advancing very far. Yeah, Notre Dame and Florida are 2s, but I haven’t heard that much about them this year. A lot of that is my fault, but you have to be a big-time team to make it far (shut up, Butler). I consider myself to be pretty active in gathering sports news, and if I haven’t heard about you, that’s a problem.

I made the bracket process a very simple one this year. I did one bracket online. As soon as I opened it, I had one rule: Don’t think, just click. I finished the whole thing in a minute or two. And I have to say, it worked wonders.

As far as picking games, I have no idea how my bracket will do. Thirteen for 16 on day one was pretty good, but I have no idea about the rest of them. Those aren’t the kind of wonders I’m talking about.

The wonders I have — that few others do — are confidence and conviction. I’m calm going into every game. When you spend less than ten seconds on every game, it’s hard to second-guess yourself. Basketball games are so back and forth that most people end up kicking themselves for making such a dumb pick for the first 35 minutes, only to see their team pull out the win anyway, or vice versa.

Is my way of picking teams wrong? Maybe, but show me a better way. “Experts” on TV and websites will have horrible brackets. How many games come down to one final play? It’s a 50-50 shot, and you can only win so many of those without being insanely lucky.

Guard play, 3-point shooting and turnover margin are great things to consider. But at that final moment, are they any better of reasons than “I have their t-shirt” or “my friend goes there”? Probably not.

Everyone wants to claim that they have all the answers and know everything, but it’s usually more luck in March Madness pools. I went with my gut and there is nothing wrong with that. My Final Four ended up being three 1-seeds and a 4. Okay, fine with me.

The laid back, hands-off approach is clearly new to me, but I’m enjoying it so far. There is no agony watching games (except when my Spartans got blown out, and then still found a way to lose painfully), and watching them at school or during work is a lot more fun when you aren’t uptight about your picks.

You can be the guy who labored over every game, has the bracket memorized by region and treats each pick like a child, but maybe it’s more fun to just be one of the guys enjoying a few days full of college basketball.

I’ve been the former for long enough. Maybe it’s time for a change. If that change involves less work and more fun, you can count me in.