Pick a Club: How Your Philly Fandom Determines Your English Premier League Soccer Allegiance (Bottom 10)

Pick a Club: How Your Philly Fandom Determines Your English Premier League Soccer Allegiance (Bottom 10)

Let's face it, Philly sports are in a bad place right now (except for the Union!). And things will only get worse in a few weeks when the Eagles' season kicks off (just admit it already).

But I'm here to help.

The English Premier League season begins Saturday at the bright-and-early time of 7:45 a.m. For the first time, EVERY single game will be available on NBC Sports Network, big-boy NBC, the NBC Sports Live Extra app or NBC Premier League Extra, a tier of channels that was provided to cable providers at no cost and SHOULD be available on most cable packages (I'm looking at you, FIOS!)

Games are played mostly on Saturday and Sunday mornings with one game saved for Monday afternoon (night in England -- yup, Monday Night Football). Amazingly, fans in the United States will have FAR more access to the English Premier League than fans who actually live in England. For soccer nerds like me, it's a wonderful thing.

"But I don't have a team to root for," you might be saying. No worries, I'm here to fix that, based solely on what type of Philly fan you are.

It's best to pick one club and stick with it. There's no reason too stupid to choose your favorite team (mine began with FIFA 02 on PlayStation). But if you choose a top team, it's perfectly fine to adopt a bottom-feeder to cheer on through the relegation fight. And if you choose a more obscure club (more power to you), it's fine to have a rooting interest in the title race.

Quick notes to remember:

  • The 20 teams all play each other twice -- once home and once away (38 games). The season runs into next May. Teams get three points for a win and one for a draw.
  • There are no playoffs. The top three teams earn a spot in the 2014-15 Champions League, a separate competition between Europe's best teams. The fourth-place team gets a chance at the Champions League, but must play an extra round to get there. The fifth-place team (and possibly more) will go to the Europa League, a similar competition you can think of as Europe's NIT.
  • The bottom three teams at the end of the season are "relegated" and spend next year in the second tier (think AAA). They will be replaced by the top three teams from this year's second tier.
  • EPL teams will play some games that are not part of league play (confusing, I know). Four will be in this year's Champions League, two in the Europa League, and all 20 will be part of two bracket-style competitions,: the FA Cup (all teams, including amateurs, are invited), and the Football League Cup (the top 92 teams in English soccer).

We'll start with the teams most likely to finish in the bottom half this season, beginning with the teams I think will be relegated. Tomorrow we'll discuss the favorites, again in reverse order to the top. Each includes the club's home jersey, in case you pick teams like my sister used to bet on football:

20. Hull City (Northeast England) - Orange and Black (Alternate: Red and Blue)

Cheer for the Tigers If: You're a self-loathing Flyers fan who wants an excuse to wear that Petr Svoboda jersey in the back of your closet.

Steer Clear If: You enjoy cheering for goals, winning, or not having people laugh at you.

 

19. Crystal Palace (London) - Red and Blue (Alternate: Black or Yellow) 

Cheer for the Eagles If: You're a Wings or Soul season ticket-holder, since clearly you enjoy going against the grain with the least-popular teams in town. Palace is one of a half-dozen London-based teams in the EPL this season, and is the least-popular of the six.

Steer Clear: Unless you as a fan enjoy getting kicked by the other team's best player.

18. Southampton (South coast) - Red and White (Alternate: Black and White)

Cheer for the Saints If: You're a Villanova fan who spends summers by the coast. Much like the Wildcats, Southampton has always been respectable at worst and above average at best. The Saints spent 27 straight seasons in England's top division before relegation in 2005. They've never won the top-division title, but finished second in 1984 and won the FA Cup in 1976. Like 'Nova, they also have religious ties, and are called the "Saints" due to their history as a church team (thanks, Wikipedia!). Like the Wildcats, they also have a bitter nearby rival who they don't consider worthy of their leftovers (St. Joe's = Portsmouth).

Steer Clear: If you'd rather not wear that weird sponsor logo on your shirt (which is apparently a global IT services provider).

17. Cardiff City (Cardiff, Wales) - Red and Black (Alternate: Yellow or Blue) 

Cheer for the Bluebirds If: You're an Adam Aron fan. Not only does one of their players share the name (Aron Gunnarsson) of the Sixers' Twitter-happy executive, but the Bluebirds' ownership seems to think style is more important than substance (much like Aron). New Malaysian owner Vincent Tan came in last year and took the blue out of the Bluebirds, completely changing their crest from a peaceful bluebird to a fire-breathing dragon, and switching the team colors from blue and white to red and black. Needless to say, many Cardiff fans were not happy.

Steer Clear: If you actually want to visit England to watch your new team play. Yes, in the English Premier League, there are now two teams not located in England: Cardiff and Swansea City, who are rivals in neighboring Wales, a country (I think it's a country?) that  somehow has its own league that neither team plays in.

16. Norwich City (Eastern England) - Yellow and Green (Alternate: Black and White)

Cheer for the Canaries If: You enjoy oddball historical traditions, like the throwing of the toast at the University of Pennsylvania. According to my extensive Internet research, Norwich fans sing a song -- "On the Ball, City" -- that is considered the oldest football song in the world.

Steer Clear If: You could barely watch when the Eagles wore those horrendous yellow and blue alternates a few years ago. Norwich's yellow and green combo looks especially garish in HD.

15. West Bromwich Albion (Central England) - Blue and White (Alternate: Red and Black)

Cheer for the Baggies If: You live in Philly but root for a college alma mater that no one has ever heard of. That's how nondescript and "blah" West Brom is.

Steer Clear If: You feel like you need to call them by their full name (think "THE Ohio State University). EPL-snobs get all annoyed if you say anything other than "West Brom."

14. West Ham United (London) - Claret and Blue (Alternate: Claret and White)

Cheer for the Hammers If: You are a St. Joseph's fan or enjoy having an inferiority complex (same thing). Much like the Hawks, the Hammers are the forgotten team in London, despite having a history that should help them stand out. They are one of eight English teams to never play below the second tier, but have never won a title. Manager Sam Allardyce is big, loud and not afraid to speak his mind. Much like this guy.

Steer Clear If: You hate the tourists who take pictures with the Rocky statue. West Ham is best known in the United States as the club Frodo (Elijah Wood) supported in the movie Green Street Hooligans. Also, the fans blow bubbles before most games. What's that about?

13. Sunderland (Northern England) - Red, White and Black (Alternate: Blue and Yellow)

Cheer for the Black Cats If: You love living in the cradle of liberty. Sunderland is the first team on our list with an American on the roster: New signing Jozy Altidore, who should feature prominently in his return to England (he played briefly for Hull a few years ago). Altidore, who had a hat trick on Wednesday against Bosnia and Herzegovina, He scored 24 goals last year for AZ Alkmaar in The Netherlands, the most ever by an American in Europe.

Steer Clear If: You enjoy being entertained. Sunderland are not always the most exciting team to watch, scoring  just 41 goals last season and barely avoiding relegation.

12. Aston Villa (Birmingham) - Claret and Blue (Alternate: Maroon and White or Green and Black)

Cheer for the Villains If: You're a Flyers fan living in the past. Aston Villa has history. It is one of just five clubs  to win the European championship and has more major trophies than any English team other than Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal. One major problem: The Villains' last trophy came in 2005 and they have been yo-yoing between respectability and mediocrity in recent seasons. Oh, they also have an American goalkeeper: Brad Guzan.

Steer Clear If: You don't want your replica jersey to be confused with another team. I'm always getting West Ham and Aston Villa confused when they appear on my TV.

11. Fulham (London) - Black and White (Alternate: Red and White)

Cheer for the Cottagers If: You're a Penn fan. If you're a Quaker supporter, your biggest claim to fame isn't really your team, it's the stadium/arena it plays in. Franklin Field and the Palestra are two of my favorite sports venues on Earth, and I have no connection at all to Penn. Fulham is much the same. The team is known as the Cottagers after its home of Craven Cottage, a tiny bandbox of a stadium that sits crammed into a London neighborhood. It was opened in 1896 and has a history going back hundreds of years before that, when it was the site of a royal hunting lodge.

Steer Clear If: You want to root for Americans. After years of being known as "Fulham-erica" with the likes of Brian McBride, Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson and others on the roster, the Cottagers are American-free in 2013.

Coming tomorrow: The top 10. In the meantime, enjoy this hilarious NBC Sports promo with SNL's Jason Sudekis.

[nbcsports_video src=//www.youtube.com/embed/6KeG_i8CWE8 service=youtube width=590 height=332]

Best of MLB: Nelson Cruz drives in 7 as Mariners pummel Blue Jays

Best of MLB: Nelson Cruz drives in 7 as Mariners pummel Blue Jays

TORONTO -- Nelson Cruz hit his ninth career grand slam and added a three-run shot, and Hisashi Iwakuma pitched six innings to win his fifth straight start in Seattle's victory over Toronto.

Cruz hit his slam off R.A. Dickey (7-11) in the third, then added a three-run drive off Drew Storen in the eighth for his 20th career multi-homer game. He has 25 home runs this season.

It was the 13th time in team history a Mariners player has recorded seven RBIs. The team record is eight by Mike Blowers, Mike Cameron and Alvin Davis.

Kyle Seager hit a two-run homer and Nori Aoki had two RBIs and scored twice as the Mariners used a season-high 19 hits to win their third straight. Iwakuma (11-6) allowed two runs and four hits.

Wade LeBlanc pitched the final three innings for his first save (see full recap).

Stanton leads Marlins past Mets
MIAMI -- Giancarlo Stanton homered and had his first four-hit game since 2012, driving in three runs to give Jose Fernandez all the support he needed, and Miami beat New York.

Miami rocked Jacob deGrom (6-5), who allowed 10 hits and five runs, both season highs, and lasted just 3 2/3 innings in his shortest outing since August.

Fernandez (12-4) gave up two runs in seven innings to match his career high for victories, achieved in his 2013 rookie season. He also had two hits, hiking his average to .265, and drove in the first run.

Home Run Derby winner Stanton put Miami ahead to stay in the third inning when he hit a majestic two-run homer off the left-field scoreboard above the 401-foot sign. He added an RBI single in the fourth, and singled in the first and sixth, hiking his average to .241 after a prolonged slump (see full recap).  

Dodgers snap Cardinals' 5-game win streak
ST. LOUIS -- Adrian Gonzalez hit his eighth homer, red-hot Justin Turner got two more RBIs and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat St. Louis 7-2 on Saturday night to end the Cardinals' five-game winning streak.

Turner's two-run double capped a four-run third. He has 14 RBIs since the All-Star break.

Gonzalez's 429-foot solo blast to center sparked a three-run sixth.

Kenta Maeda (9-7) rebounded from a poor outing against Arizona on July 17, giving up two runs over 5 2/3 innings. Only one of the Cardinals' first 15 batters was able to hit the ball out of the infield against the Japanese right-hander.

Andrew Toles went 3 for 4 and scored once for the Dodgers. He has reached safely in nine of 10 games since being called up from the minors.

Mike Leake (7-8) allowed seven runs -- six earned -- in six innings.

Matt Adams homered for the second consecutive game. His blast to left in the fourth extended the Cardinals' streak of home runs to 14 straight games.

Aledmys Diaz reached safely for the 26th straight game with a first-inning single. Diaz's streak is the second-longest by a Cardinals rookie since Albert Pujols had streaks of 30 and 48 games in 2001 (see full recap).

Drew's walk-off triple lifts Nats past Padres
WASHINGTON -- Pinch-hitter Stephen Drew hit a game-ending RBI triple in the ninth inning to lift Washington past San Diego,

Anthony Rendon opened the bottom off the ninth with a single off reliever Kevin Quackenbush (6-4). Drew entered with one out and drove a pitch off the center-field scoreboard, and Rendon raced around the bases for the winning run.

Jonathan Papelbon (2-2) allowed a leadoff double in the ninth before retiring three straight batters. San Diego left runners in scoring position in each of the last two innings.

Washington starter Max Scherzer struck out 10 over seven innings (see full recap).

Giants top Yanks in extras to snap losing skid
NEW YORK -- Mac Williamson homered in the fifth inning and hit a tiebreaking single in the 12th, lifting San Francisco past New York for the Giants' first victory since the All-Star break.

NL West-leading San Francisco had lost a season-high six straight games and had held just one lead since the break -- when Buster Posey hit a go-ahead home run leading off the 10th inning at San Diego on July 16 only to have the Padres rally for a pair of runs in the bottom half against Santiago Casilla.

Williamson, whose fourth-inning error allowed the Yankees' run, began the comeback when he connected off Ivan Nova leading off the fifth.

Trevor Brown hit an opposite-field double to right off Anthony Swarzak (1-1) leading off the 12th, and Williamson singled up the middle with one out, just past the glove of diving shortstop Didi Gregorius. San Francisco was 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position, dropping to 7 for 64 (.111) since the All-Star break, before Williamson's single.

Cheered on by hundreds of orange-clad fans in the Giants' old hometown, San Francisco escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the 10th when Casilla (2-3) retired Brian McCann on a shallow flyout and Starlin Castro on a foulout. Hunter Strickland pitched a perfect 12th for his second save (see full recap).

Joel Embiid posts amazing tribute to Sam Hinkie on Instagram

Joel Embiid posts amazing tribute to Sam Hinkie on Instagram

The treasure trove that is Joel Embiid's social media presence unearthed another jewel on Saturday evening.

The Sixers' big man took to Instagram to post a picture of himself chatting with local folk legend Sam Hinkie. As if that wasn't enough, check out the captions he wrote at the bottom.

THE GOAT #HeDiedForOurSins #TrustTheProcess

A photo posted by Joel Hans Embiid (@joelembiid) on

Let us break this down.

"THE GOAT" - As in Greatest Of All Time, not an actual goat you would find at your local petting zoo.

"#HeDiedForOurSins" - St. Sam, patron saint of analytical basketball martyrdom.

"#TrustTheProcess" - The rallying cry of the masses.

Sure, they may have taken away Sam, but they'll never take away JoJo's social media platforms. Never!

Union have no answer for Didier Drogba, Impact in 5-1 loss

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Associated Press

Union have no answer for Didier Drogba, Impact in 5-1 loss

MONTREAL  -- Didier Drogba broke out with a hat trick to lead the Montreal Impact to a 5-1 victory over the Union on Saturday night.

The 38-year-old Ivorian striker hadn't scored since May 28. He returned last week after missing three games with a thigh injury.

Ignacio Piatti returned after sitting out a one-game suspension to score a goal and add two assists. Recent signing Matteo Mancuso, who went in for Drogba in the 79th minute, got his first MLS goal in added time.

Montreal improved to 7-5-8.

Chris Pontius scored for Philadelphia (8-7-6).