Yes, yes, everyone knows Soccer and the States enjoy a very strained relationship. It has a terrific loyal minority following but in terms of high level media coverage it is dealt with something close to disdain by most US sports journalists.
How do you overcome such a barrier? Knowledge. Knowledge is power. The exciting English Premiership starts this Saturday. You can go to Dave's 'Coffin Corner' for a nice little season preview from the American perspective. The Premiership is probably the most accessible Soccer league for the average US sports fan. It's fast paced compared to Italy and Spain, and the 'flopping' or 'diving' that many US sports fans complain about, is still frowned on by 90% of the players.
Maybe you are a fan in the States tempted to dip your feet into the water as it were, and maybe you are shy about finding out more about English Premiership soccer. Never fear, just for you, a list of each English Premiership team and the corresponding US sports team that they would be if they were, indeed, a US sports team.
Added bonus; like Dave @ the Coffin Corner, I am putting my list in order of how I think they will finish. That's where the similarity ends, we differ wildly on actual final placings.
Chelsea: Jose Mourinho's side of veteran, experience players is largely unchanged since last season bar the addition of the exciting French winger Malouda. Chelsea version 2007 equate nicely to the New York Yankees of 1999. An expensive collection of veteran talent destined to be there or thereabouts at season end. The exciting Didier Drogba is Derek Jeter. Side note: If you have any doubts about Drogba, read about his incredible work as a peace envoy in his own Ivory Coast. I never really liked the guy but am a huge fan after reading about how he basically brought war to an end in the Ivory Coast. Incredible.
Arsenal: Took me a while to think of a good match here but then it hit me hard in the face. Arsenal 2007? The New England Patriots of 2001 - post Bledsoe. Thierry Henry plays the part of Drew Bledsoe. Tom Brady? That's easy, Cesc Fabregas, a fantastic, emerging young talent that Arsenal will now rally around. Like the Patriots of 2001, Arsenal have plenty of exciting young talent mixed with veteran leadership. Kolo Toure and Gilberto Silva? Willie McGinnest and Teddy Bruschi! I love the Toure and McGinnest link, honestly if Willie was a soccer player he would have been Toure and vice versa. Arsenal are unfancied to finish in the title race, however like the 2001 Patriots, they might be about to surprise a few people.
Manchester United: I wish I could place these Chug Monkeys 32nd, but it would be pig headed to do so. Manchester United are a dominant, if disgusting, force in English soccer. For a period in the late nineties they really were the 'Evil Empire'. The thing is, I don't see them winning it this year. They have not made any great strides from last season. Adding Owen Hargraves means they have simply added the single most over rated soccer player in the last decade to their squad. I have watch Hargraves struggle against better midfielders in Europe for the last few years and this guy has truly redefined the phrase 'over rated'. So, Manchester United 2007? Easy, New York Yankees 2007. Hargraves is Roger Clemens, except that United actually paid more for their over rated bust. Perfect match, they even both share players who shouldn't be allowed play for 2007. Carlos Tevez is 'owned' by a completely corrupt agent, while Jason Giambi is about as steroid ridden as it gets. Two big, expensive, bloated, ugly teams.
Liverpool: Strong at the back, full of interesting talent at both ends but a team that refuses to play the kind of flowing, stylish football it is wall capable of. Liverpool 2007? Meet those ugly Detroit Piston teams of the 90's. Liverpool grind out results in the same fashion as their NBA mirror image. They are boring, predictable and, on occasion, almost painful to watch. They are, however, effective. Steven Gerard matches up nicely with Isiah Thomas.
Tottenham: A question. Do you think anyone off Tottenham's squad knows that ESPN journalist Bill Simmons chose them as 'his' team last season? Probably not, right? Let that sink in for a second, all those US readers who, when visiting Europe ask, 'what chanel is ESPN on?'. You would be amazed, probably a grand total of zero of Tottenham's players have even heard of ESPN.
Tottenham, or 'Spurs' as they are known, are a bit of an enigma. Loaded with exciting talent they nevertheless remain always the bridesmaids never the bride. You can probably see where I am going with this. Tottenham version 2007? Meet the 2003 Boston Red Sox. Your end of season heart break will be no less agonising. Robbie Keane is Pedro Martinez, talented and feisty. Manager (coach) Martin Jol makes a really wonderful Grady Little. Dimitri Berbatov is Johnny Damon with the same level of talent but slightly less hair.
Much like the heart broken 2003 Red Sox, fifth place in the Premiership is as good as second place in the 2003 ALCS, about as valuable as a bicycle to a fish.
Blackburn: Solid as the meaty thighs of Mark Hughes, former Manchester United and Wales star and current manager (coach), Blackburn are a team truly built in their managers image. Much like the Louisville sides coached by Rick Pitino, they will be in the reckoning, on the right half of the table (the upper half) come season end. Like those kids in Louisville, Blackburn do what their manager tells them. It isn't going to win the title, but it will definitely win some games.
Added note: American star alert! In 2020 when the Premiership big guns leave the league to play in a new European Super League (just watch, it will happen eventually), Sky Sports (think Fox but even cheesier) will hold a vote on greatest Premiership player ever for each position. Telling you right now, Brad Friedel will be right up there in the voting. Pulls off at least a dozen miraculous saves a season. Top class goalkeeper.
Portsmouth: Who are these guys? Where did the come from? How will they finish so (relatively) high up the table considering their relatively low budget? Ask the current Minnesota Twins. A canny manager, some good hard working professionals (think the Twins 'Piranahs' as Carlos Guillen immortally dubbed them) and a good home field advantage mean Portsmouth will take some big scalps at home and finish just below European placings (finishing in the top four of the EPL means you get to play in the next seasons Champions league).
Newcastle: Newcastle finished 14th last season which was not a real gauge of their actual talent. Shay Given, David Martins and David Rozenhal are all class acts and should push Newcastle back in the right direction. The fact that “Big Sam” Allardyce has joined them makes me want to say 'Chicago Cubs' of 2007 with Lou Pinella. Might even sneak into the higher placings.
Reading: Much like Portsmouth, Reading preformed miracles in 2006 with a tiny budget. They constantly turned big sides over at home and caused many shocks on the road. They are massive underdogs, something along the lines of the 2006/2007 Boise State Broncos. They have kept pretty much the same squad and should be able to repeat a similar lofty finish in 2007.
Sunderland: I couldn't wait any longer. I have watched and rooted for Sunderland for twenty seven years now and this 2007 season promises to be the most exciting of the lot. Manager Roy Keane has bought several interesting, relatively low priced and talented players like Paul McShane, Craig Gordon, Michael Chopra and Kieran Richardson. Keane has a will of iron and his young side will play every match as if it is their last. They should be particularly hard to beat in Sunderland in front of some of the most loyal fans in football.
Nevertheless, if they finish high, as I honestly believe they can, they will be the 2006 George Mason Patriots, who famously made it to the 2006 NCAA Final Four. GMU beat perennial powers UNC, Connecticut, and Michigan State, as well as a highly ranked Wichita State team, before losing to eventual National Champion Florida. Sunderland can beat Liverpool, Everton, Blackburn and maybe even a big shot or two at home to finish in the top half of the table.
Everton: Solid but dull, and not going anywhere any time soon. Is that the New York Giants of 2006 or am I imagining things? Everton have a few key parts (Tim Cahill = Eli Manning) and will win more than they lose, but will not be challenging for any titles.
American star alert: Goalkeeper Tim Howard is Brad Friedel lite.
Aston Villa: Oh dear what is going on here? Aston Villa have lost half their team to transfers and added only young talent in Nigel Reo-Coker and Marlon Harewood. They do have a super manager, Martin O'Neill, but the mass exodus of talent pre season could cause serious problems. Not quite the Minnesota Timberwolves of 2007 but close enough. Reo-Coker can be Ricki Davies. Either way, these guys might even be fighting against relegation come end of season.
Bolton: For years Bolton survived by playing a tight knit, compact style beloved by former manager Sam Allardyce. With him gone, the consistency will slowly start to disappear also. Their home form could be all that saves them from a dismal 2007/2008. Their counterpart? The 2007 Florida Marlins. How come no one has said one word as to how the Marlins have comparatively slumped compared to their sparkling first season under Joe Girardi? Bolton will find, like Florida, life is harder without the guy that got you where you were.
Middlesborough: Have lost several players and haven't brought in anyone that's going to help them right away. The 2007 Texas Rangers after they traded away their season at the trading deadline.
West Ham: Stayed up by the skin of their teeth last season and then lost the man who kept them in the Premiership, Carlos Tevez. Long, dark Baltimore Orioles of 2006 like season ahead.
Fulham: Well, at least they have a couple of American players. Three to be exact; Carlos Bocanegra, Clint Dempsey and Brian McBride. McBride is a class act, and a good player too. He has scored 23 goals in 128 games for Fulham and has been a vital part in their annual struggle for survival. After scoring 12 goals in 2006/2007 season which helped Fulham secure premiership status McBride even won the player of the year award.
That's pretty cool, no? An American player winning player of the year at a Premiership side? No? I thought so anyway. Next time someone says 'The USA has no good soccer players' slap them in the face and shout 'Brian McBride' at them.
I digress. Brian McBride = good. Fulham, nonetheless = bad. How bad? 2005 Tampa Bay Devil Rays bad.
Birmingham: My Dad got mugged in Birmingham once. Big, ugly, industrial town, with a kind of colour-less feel to it, matched perfectly by it's colourless, ugly football side. The Oakland Raiders of 2006. Just an ugly situation, plus sometimes manager Steve Bruce puts on the exact same 'lost' face that Art Shell has perfected.
Wigan: I want to say the Detroit Lions but that will only annoy my Dad (big Lions fan) so I am going to go for the 2006 Memphis Grizzlies. Just bad.
Derby: This could get ugly. No big signings, apparently hardly any cash to spend, a pretty weak team with very few Premiership class players. Derby absolutely stink of the 2004 Kansas City Royals, and those guys were B-A-D!
Manchester City: Saving the most entertainingly bad for last. This has nothing to do with the fact that my friend Paul supports these lovable losers and we have a bet on who will finish higher, Sunderland or Manchester City. This is all about politics. You know who recently bought City? No less than the deposed Prime Minister of Thailand. Deposed and, I might add, disgraced. The worst part for City fans is he is taking an active interest in the day to day dealings of the team.
I smell a rat. Any time a teams owner is talking about being optimistic that his funds, frozen by the new Thai regime, will be released eventually, that's not a good thing.
You can just see it coming. The new owner will be caught doing something illegal, City will be docked 15 points and end up selling off their players and bringing in Thai 'stars' to replace them. The season will end in total disaster and my friend Paul will end up turning to cricket as his favourite sport. The 2007/2008 Manchester City side? I give you the 1978-79 Boston College basketball team, which was involved in a infamous point-shaving scandal.
A match made in heaven.
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