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]

Late goal lifts Penguins over Sharks in Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

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Late goal lifts Penguins over Sharks in Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

PITTSBURGH -- To their credit, the Sharks regrouped after a miserable first period at Consol Energy Center in which it looked like they might get run out of the building.

It wasn’t enough, though, as Nick Bonino’s late third period goal pushed the Penguins to a 3-2 win in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

On the game-winner, Brent Burns lost his stick and couldn’t prevent Kris Letang from finding Bonino in front of the net with Paul Martin defending the slot. Bonino flipped it through Martin Jones at 17:27 of the final frame.

The Sharks went to the power play with 2:09 to go, but couldn’t tie it up.

Game 2 is in Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

The Penguins dominated the first period, only to have the Sharks completely turn the tables in the second, resulting in a 2-2 tie after 40 minutes.

The Penguins had the Sharks on their heels for virtually the entire opening frame, outshooting San Jose 15-4 and scoring a pair.

The first came at 12:46 of the first. On a rush, Justin Schultz’s shot from the high slot hit the glove of Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and rookie Bryan Rust was there to smack in the loose puck.

Just one minute and two seconds later, the Penguins upped their cushion. Sidney Crosby tracked down a loose puck in the corner ahead of Justin Braun, calmly played the puck off his backhand and whipped a cross-ice pass to Conor Sheary. Another rookie, Sheary whizzed a wrist shot past Jones’ far shoulder.

It was evident early in the second, though, that San Jose had regrouped, as Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski both had good looks at the net. They broke through on an early power play courtesy of Tomas Hertl, who curled in a pass from down low off of Olli Maatta at 3:02.

Pittsburgh withstood a continual push from the Sharks for much of the period until Marleau’s late score. After Couture outworked Maatta deep in the offensive zone and pushed the puck to the point to Burns, Marleau secured Burns’ rebound and wrapped it around at 18:12.

Burns had two assists, and made a strong defensive play with about three minutes left in the first, backchecking hard and lifting up Carl Hagelin’s stick on a breakaway.

Special teams

The Sharks were 1-for-2 on the power play, on Hertl’s second man advantage goal of the playoffs. They are 18-for-65 in the postseason (27.6 percent).

Pittsburgh went 0-for-3, generating five shots on goal. The Pens are 15-for-67 overall (22.3 percent).

Marleau was whistled for an illegal check to the head of Rust in the third period, sending the 24-year-old to the dressing room for a brief stretch.

In goal

Jones and Murray were each making their first career starts in the Stanley Cup Final. Jones took the loss with 38 saves, while Murray stopped 24 San Jose shots.

Lineup

Sharks forward Matt Nieto remained out with an upper body injury.

Pavelski saw his seven-game point streak (5g, 5a) come to an end. Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz increased his point streak to six games (3g, 4a).

Up next

The Sharks are 5-11 all-time when losing Game 1 of a playoff series, but 1-0 this year as they came back to defeat the Blues in the Western Conference Final.

Teams that win Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final have gone on to win the championship 78 percent of the time (59-18). The last team to win the Cup after losing Game 1 was the 2011 Bruins.

Pete Mackanin on deciding Ryan Howard's playing time: 'I think about it all the time'

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Pete Mackanin on deciding Ryan Howard's playing time: 'I think about it all the time'

A day after he made comments in Chicago that alluded to the trimming of Ryan Howard’s playing time against right-handed pitchers, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin sat at his desk, surrounded by reporters, and was pressed for 10 minutes on the issue of his declining, expensive and struggling first baseman and franchise icon.

Howard, of course, was penciled into the lineup in the cleanup spot against righty Tanner Roark for Monday’s 4-3 loss to the visiting Washington Nationals (see game recap).

A question of was barely out of a reporter’s mouth when Mackanin quickly interjected a “hell yes.”

It’s the hardest decision - what to do with the struggling Howard - he’s had to make in his brief time managing the Philadelphia Phillies.

“I think about it all the time,” Mackanin said.

“That’s the hard part of this job. It’s not just running the game, it’s handling the players.”

For now, Mackanin said, he hasn’t felt the need to talk to Howard about it. Howard, who sat Sunday for the second time in eight days against a righty, said Sunday he was unaware his manager was intending on reducing his playing time against righties (see story).

Once a platoon situation at first base, it appears the Phillies are going to take a longer look at rookie Tommy Joseph against right-handed pitchers in the near future.

“If I was going to sit (Howard) on the bench and he wasn’t going to play anymore, I’d have that conversation,” Mackanin said. “I think what I said was pretty obvious.”

“I didn’t say I was going to bench Howard.”

He didn’t Monday. Howard had good numbers against Roark, something he didn’t have against Sunday’s starter for the Cubs, John Lackey. So it looks like Mackanin’s decision will be based on matchups.

In his second at-bat Monday, a second straight strikeout on the night and 12th in his last 22 at-bats, Howard was way late on a 93-mph fastball on the outer half of the plate.

But he looked much better in his final two at-bats of the night.

In the bottom of the sixth, he drove a Roark changeup to the warning track deep in right-center, but Ben Revere closed quickly and made the catch.

In his last at-bat, after Maikel Franco led off the ninth inning with a double, Howard jumped on a first-pitch fastball from Jonathan Papelbon and drove a double to the gap in left-centerfield, scoring Franco and putting the tying run in scoring position with no outs.

Those two swings were the ones Mackanin said Monday afternoon he “knew” were there. He later corrected himself and said it was more of a situation of “hope.”

Howard went 1 for 4 on the night. His May average is now .106.

“He needed to come through with a big hit and that was a huge hit, put the tying run at second base,” Mackanin said. “It was good to see.”

The Phillies are slated to face a righty in their next six games before facing Jon Lester and the Cubs at home next Monday. Joseph, who is hitting .278 with three home runs in his first 36 Major League at-bats, figures to get the start in the majority of those.

It’s a decision Mackanin says he’s going to make on a day-by-day basis.

He was asked if the front office, which is also in a tough spot and may have to do something soon, gave him any input on what to do.

“They don’t tell me who to play and when to play them,” Mackanin said. “I know that they want me to mix in Joseph against right-handers so that he doesn’t stagnate. That’s pretty much all I go by right now.”

A suggestion from upstairs isn’t unprecedented. It has already happened before during the young 2016 season.

“They asked me to - as bad as (Tyler) Goeddel looked early in the season - they asked me if I could try to mix him in a little more,” Mackanin said. “I said sure. I did, and he started hitting better. So now he’s playing more. Here we go, if you want to play more than you gotta hit.

“There’s nothing set in stone.”

NL East Wrap: Matt Harvey gets back on track in Mets' win over White Sox

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NL East Wrap: Matt Harvey gets back on track in Mets' win over White Sox

NEW YORK -- On the mound in the seventh inning for the first time this season, Matt Harvey gave up his first walk of the game and his second hit, leading to a sacrifice bunt and a second-and-third jam.

"You kind of think about the worst at that point," he said. "You start getting some negative thoughts that creep in your head."

But 11 days after disappointed fans at Citi Field booed him like a villain, the Dark Knight was back - at least for one afternoon.

Harvey retired Todd Frazier on a foulout and J.B. Shuck on a grounder to escape trouble, Neil Walker homered off Jose Quintana on the second pitch of the bottom half and the New York Mets beat Chicago 1-0 Monday to send the reeling White Sox to their seventh straight loss.

"Today's a big first step," Mets manager Terry Collins said.

Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia got six straight outs to complete the two-hitter, preserving Harvey's first win since May 8. Harvey struck out six, walked two and threw four pitches of 98-98.5 mph after not topping 97.5 mph previously this season. He threw 61 of 87 pitches for strikes (see full recap).

Mallex Smith's 3-run triple powers Braves past Giants
ATLANTA -- Mike Foltynewicz is showing he can be more than just a fastball pitcher - and that he can be part of the Braves' long-term rotation.

Foltynewicz continued his recent upswing by allowing only three hits and one run in six-plus innings, Mallex Smith hit a three-run triple and Atlanta beat Jeff Samardzija and the San Francisco Giants 5-3 on Monday.

The Braves survived San Francisco's two-run, ninth-inning rally. They have won three of four and are 5-21 at home, still easily the worst in the majors.

Foltynewicz (2-2) gave up a leadoff homer to Brandon Belt in the second inning, but allowed only one other runner to advance to second.

Foltynewicz, 24, has had other recent strong starts, including eight scoreless innings in a 5-0 win at Kansas City on May 14. His start on Monday may have been his most impressive demonstration of altering the speeds of his fastball while mixing in a curveball and slider (see full recap).

Locke tosses three-hit shutout against Marlins
MIAMI -- Jeff Locke tossed a three-hitter and the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Miami Marlins 10-0 on Monday night.

Gregory Polanco's grand slam, Sean Rodriguez's two-run homer, and David Freese's four hits helped power the offense for the Pirates, who won the first of a four-game series in Miami. The first two games were originally scheduled to be played in Puerto Rico, but were moved due to concerns of the Zika virus.

Locke (4-3) struck out one and did not walk a batter while throwing 67 of 105 pitches for strikes. It was his first complete game in 101 career starts. Locke retired 19 straight at one point and needed just six pitches to get through the seventh inning.

The announced crowd of 10,856 was a season-low for the Marlins, who entered the day averaging just under 20,000 (see full recap).