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 NHL: Canadiens score 10 goals in rout of Avalanche

Best of NHL: Canadiens score 10 goals in rout of Avalanche

MONTREAL -- Max Pacioretty had four goals, Brian Flynn scored twice during a six-goal first period and the Montreal Canadiens routed the Colorado Avalanche 10-1 on Saturday night.

Flynn, Pacioretty and Artturi Lehkonen each scored against Calvin Pickard in the opening 7:12, and then Pacioretty, Paul Byron and Flynn each had a goal among the first four shots on Semyon Varlamov.

Pacioretty completed his hat trick in the second period and added another in the third to give the captain seven goals in his last four games.

Alexander Radulov and Jeff Petry also scored for Montreal, which has shown no drop-off without injured scoring leader and first-line center Alex Galchenyuk. Montreal outshot the Avs 36-16 (see full recap).

Malkin, Crosby lead Penguins past Lightning 4-3
TAMPA, Fla. -- Sidney Crosby had another eventful night.

The Penguins star returned after passing concussion protocol following a first-period hit to get his 20th goal, and that stoked Pittsburgh's rally for its latest victory.

Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both scored their second goals on third-period power plays, helping the Penguins come back to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 on Saturday.

Crosby was shaken up by Luke Witkowski's check with eight minutes to go in the first but returned for the start of the second period (see full recap).

Late barrage helps Blue Jackets beat Islanders 6-2
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Jack Johnson, Cam Atkinson and Seth Jones each had a goal and an assist as the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the New York Islanders 6-2 on Saturday night for their sixth straight win.

Josh Anderson, Brandon Saad and Lukas Sedlak also scored for Columbus and Sergei Bobrovsky had 25 saves.

Josh Bailey and John Tavares scored for New York, which had earned a point in a season-high five straight games (4-0-1). Jaroslav Halak made 32 saves until he was pulled after the Blue Jackets scored four consecutive goals in the third period.

Anderson put Columbus ahead 3-2 at 2:19 when he picked off a defensive pass and banged it in from the slot seconds after coming onto the ice for his shift (see full recap).

Matthews, Hyman score in 2nd, Maple Leafs beat Bruins 4-1
BOSTON -- The Toronto Maple Leafs found a way to overcome a poor opening period.

Auston Matthews and Zach Hyman scored in the second period, Frederik Andersen made 32 saves and the Maple Leafs beat the Boston Bruins 4-1 on Saturday night.

"The last three games the first period kind of did us in," Toronto coach Mike Babcock said. "We didn't start on time. We were able to hold on. It still wasn't the first period we wanted, but we didn't give up the goals and we were able to execute a little bit."

After managing only two shots on goal in the first, Toronto was happy to get to the dressing room with the game scoreless (see full recap).

Best of NBA: Grizzlies dominate throughout, crush Warriors

Best of NBA: Grizzlies dominate throughout, crush Warriors

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Marc Gasol and Tony Allen scored 19 points each and the Memphis Grizzlies rolled over the Golden State Warriors 110-89 on Saturday night for their sixth straight win.

The Grizzlies led by as many as 30 points in the second half - the biggest advantage by any Warriors opponent this season. Seven Memphis players finished in double figures.

Kevin Durant led Golden State with 21 points, while Stephen Curry added 17 points and Ian Clark finished with 10 points. Curry and backcourt starter Klay Thompson (eight points) were a combined 8 of 28 from the field, including 3 of 14 outside the arc.

Memphis built a double-digit lead early, led 61-38 at halftime and kept building in the third quarter (see full recap).

Butler, Wade lead Bulls to 105-100 win over Heat
CHICAGO -- Jimmy Butler scored 31 points, Dwyane Wade added 28 against his former team and the Chicago Bulls held off the struggling Miami Heat 105-100 on Saturday night.

Butler scored Chicago's final 10 points to help the Bulls come out on top after Miami pulled within one.

Wade keyed a big third-quarter run in his second game against the Heat, and the Bulls hung on after handing San Antonio its first road loss two nights earlier.

Goran Dragic led Miami with 21 points and 11 assists. An energetic Hassan Whiteside added 20 points after being benched for part of Friday's blowout loss in Cleveland. Tyler Johnson scored 15, but the Heat dropped their fifth straight (see full recap).

LeBron scores 44, reaches assist mark as Cavs down Hornets
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James scored 17 of his season-high 44 points in the fourth quarter and reached another career milestone as the Cleveland Cavaliers won their fourth straight, 116-105 over the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday night.

James did it all, adding 10 assists and nine rebounds in 43 minutes. He took over in the fourth quarter, scoring 13 straight during one stretch to help the Cavs hold on.

As the final seconds ticked off, James stood at midcourt and spun the ball on his index finger as the crowd roared.

James, who moved into ninth place on the career scoring list Friday, recorded his 7,000th assist in the first half, becoming the first frontcourt player in NBA history to reach the plateau. James is the only player with 27,000 points and 7,000 assists (see full recap).

George has 37 points to lead Pacers over Blazers 118-111
INDIANAPOLIS -- Paul George scored a season-high 37 points to lead the Indiana Pacers over the Portland Trail Blazers 118-111 on Saturday night.

George made five 3-pointers, and Thaddeus Young hit six 3s while getting 24 points and nine rebounds. Myles Turner added 14 points for the Pacers, who had lost five straight regular season games to Portland.

C.J. McCollum made a career-high seven 3-pointers and had a season-best 34 points for the Trail Blazers. Damian Lillard had 33 points behind five 3s.

George scored 13 straight points in the fourth quarter for Indiana. He was fouled on the go-ahead basket with 4:36 remaining and completed the three-point play to give the Pacers a 108-105 lead (see full recap).