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

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

At left, former Eagles coach Andy Reid and current Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. At center, Everton's Marouane Fellaini. At right, former 76er Andrew Bynum. (AP Photos)

Part 1 of our English Premier League Preview got a lot of great feedback on Thursday. Even the anti-soccer trolls left their dark basements to enjoy the sunshine, because they were nowhere to be found.

Yesterday, we went through the 10 teams likely to finish in the bottom half of the 20-team league. Today we follow the money and tell you the names you might have heard of before.

Again, we'll go in reverse order. Remember that while these 10 teams are battling for a title (technically), many of them are focused on a top-four finish, which means a spot in next year's Champions League, and the HUGE pay day that comes with it.

10. Newcastle United (Northern England) - Black and White (Alternate: Dark Blue)

Cheer for the Magpies If: You're a Phillies or Eagles fan who takes pride in the fact no one likes you. There may be no EPL team that would partner better with the rabid Phillies or Eagles fan than Newcastle. Its fans are dedicated through and through, support a team with one of the longest histories in England (the club dates back to 1877), live in a blue-collar northeast city far from the posh streets of London and are pretty much universally reviled in the rest of the country. Newcastle fans travel amazingly well and routinely fill 52,000-seat St. James' Park, even when the team was in the second tier. Despite their long and storied history, there is a decided lack of trophies (sound like any teams you know?). Newcastle has four league titles, but three came between 1904 and 1910.

Steer Clear If: You have visions of a validating your fandom with a trip to St. James' Park the next time you're in London on business. With a drive time of nearly five hours, the only cities farther from London are in Scotland.

9. Swansea City (South Wales) - Black and White (Alternate: Blue and Yellow)

Cheer for the Swans If: You're un-ironically looking forward to the Chip Kelly-led Eagles in 2013. The Swans won't win the league, they won't shut out opponents, and they likely won't improve on last year's surprising ninth-place finish in their second year in the Premier League. But man, they are fun to watch. Manager Michael Laudrup plays an attractive attacking style, and doesn't really seem to care if his team gives up goals, as long as they score more. Last year they opened with a 5-0 win at Queens Park Rangers and also beat Arsenal on the road. Spaniard Michu (one name only) was one of the best players in the EPL last season and a blast to watch.

Steer Clear: If you ever hope to speak with a native of Swansea and understand what they're saying. Have you ever listened to someone with a Welsh accent?

8. Stoke City (West-Central England - Red and White (Alternate: Black and Yellow)

Cheer for the Potters If: You REALLY like America. Yesterday we gave you Sunderland and American star Jozy Altidore. But with Stoke City, you'll see plenty of familiar faces. The Potters have FOUR Americans on the roster -- defender/midfielder Geoff Cameron, winger Brek Shea, midfielder/defender Maurice Edu and striker Juan Agudelo. Shea is unlikely to start the season after a nasty tackle by the Union's Matt Kassel in a friendly at PPL Park last month, but Cameron saw some time last season and Edu is trying to work his way into the starting 11. Should all four ever start at once, expect English soccer fans' heads to explode, since they don't think we know how to play soccer in America.

Steer Clear If: You enjoy goals and the "beautiful game." While things might be a little better this year under new manager Mark Hughes, Stoke are known as a bruising, physical, grind-it-out kind of team. They are happy to come away with hard-fought draws and the occasional 1-0 win.

7. Everton (Liverpool, England) - Blue and White (Alternate: Blue and Yellow)

Cheer for the Toffees If: You loved Dr. J's afro and this was your favorite part of the Andrew Bynum Experience. Why? Because (at least until Manchester United splashes the cash later this month) Everton's Marouane Fellaini has the best hair in the EPL. Seriously, just look at that salad. I honestly am not sure how he can accurately head a ball with that hair. Oh, and he's really really good (12 goals and seven assists in 2012-13). Just don't get too attached: Rumors are still out there that Manchester United and former Everton manager David Moyes might make a move for Fellaini before the transfer window closes in September. If he leaves, at least you'd still have No. 1 American goalkeeper Tim Howard, who is an Everton institution at this point.

Steer Clear: If you don't want to risk a major letdown in your first season on the bandwagon. Moyes was widely considered one of the top managers in the game after years of overachieving at Everton without the financial backing of the teams above him in the table. But now he's at Manchester United, and has been replaced by former Wigan manager Roberto Martinez, himself a respected coach who did more with Wigan than anyone could've reasonably expected. I think Everton will be fine, but there's a chance the bottom could fall out if the club starts slowly.

6. Liverpool (Liverpool, England) - Red and White (Alternate: White, Blue, Red & Horrendous)

Cheer for the Reds If: You are still loyal to Ryan Howard. Like Howard, Liverpool is not far removed from its glory days. The club has more European trophies (11) than any English team, to go along with 18 league titles, seven FA Cups and eight league cups. Just eight years ago, the Reds pulled off what is arguably the greatest comeback in history to eventually win the 2005 Champions League final over AC Milan in Istanbul. But, like Howard, the Reds are a shell of their former selves. The team teetered in the lower half of the league early last season before climbing back up, and now seem to be content to hang around the top 5. And if you need one more baseball connection, Liverpool is owned by the same group that owns the Boston Red Sox (LeBron James also owns a small piece of the club).

Steer Clear If: You feel a need to actually like the personalities of your favorite players. Liverpool Luis Suarez is, by all accounts, a certifiable scumbag. A scumbag who, while playing in The Netherlands in 2010, was suspended seven games for biting an opponent; suspended eight games for racial abuse in 2011; and suspended 10 games last year for ... wait for it ... BITING ANOTHER PLAYER. Also, if you pick based on uniforms, steer clear of Liverpool, as their second and third jerseys this season look they were lifted from a bad MC Hammer video.

5. Tottenham Hotspur (London) - White and Navy Blue (Alternate: Powder Blue)

Cheer for Spurs If: You enjoyed watching the Philadelphia Union sell and/or trade all of their best players in 2011 and 2012. American Clint Dempsey had a solid season for Spurs in 2012, but did not seem to be part of the team's plans this year, necessitating Dempsey's surprise move back to Major League Soccer. But that was just the tip of the iceberg for Spurs fans, as all-world star Gareth Bale is likely on his way out the door in the next month, with a move to Real Madrid in the works. Just Thursday, Tottenham admitted that a banged-up Bale won't be ready this weekend. The team is trying to block a move, but like all of these transfers, money talks and Bale seems intent on leaving. So have fun with that, Spurs fans.

Steer Clear If: You don't laugh at this, which was posted by commenter db21 yesterday after I linked to the full version at the bottom of yesterday's post.

4. Arsenal (London) - Red and White (Alternate: Blue and Yellow)

Cheer for the Gunners If: Andy Reid was your favorite coach of all time. The similarities between the current Arsenal situation and the Reid era with the Eagles are eerie. French manager Arsene Wenger has been in charge at Arsenal since 1996. Unlike Reid, he did win trophies early on (including an amazing unbeaten season in 2003-04) but the Gunners have not won a single piece of silverware in more than eight years, and Wenger has remained in charge anyway. In the quick-trigger world of English soccer, where walking with a shoelace untied is reason enough to be fired, Wenger's reign continues in North London. The similarities don't end there, as Wenger's press conferences are notoriously dull (How do you say "Time's Yours" in French?), and the team traded in an intimidating old stadium (Highbury) for a generic, sterile, money-making building with a sponsor name (The Emirates) in 2006. They have not won a trophy since moving there.

Steer Clear If: You aren't happy with fourth place. Last season, Wenger famously said that, "The first trophy is to finish in the top four" and earn a spot in the Champions League. The team has struck out on rumored transfers this season (including a bid for Luis Suarez) and made headlines last year when the cheapest season ticket was revealed to be nearly $1,600.

3. Manchester United (Manchester, England) - Red and White (Alternate: Black and Navy)

Cheer for the Red Devils If: You have a Yankees hat next to your Lakers jersey and a Cowboys sticker on your bumper (and live nowhere near New York, Los Angeles or Dallas). There are a few legitimate Man United fans out there, but most would fit in nicely in the usually empty seats behind the plate at the new Yankee Stadium. The money flies around, the trophies pile up and the bandwagon fills to capacity at Old Trafford, while the team's players, its now-retired legendary manager and its fans seemingly embrace the fact that they are reviled by 90 percent of the world's soccer fans. Manchester United is now publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange and the club sells so many jerseys worldwide that Chevrolet -- yes, the one that the government bailed out because they were poor -- recently paid nearly $600 million just to put its logo on the front starting in 2014. So, by all means, go out and get one of those shirts and wear it to the bar the next time you order a PBR. You'll fit right in.

Steer Clear If: You want to be my friend.

2. Chelsea (London) - Blue and White (Alternate: White or Black)

Cheer for the Blues If: Larry Brown was your favorite Philly coach of all time. Chelsea will be managed for the second time by the nomadic and arrogant Jose Mourinho, who literally gave himself the nickname, "The Special One." Like Brown, Mourinho makes no secret about his inability to sit still for very long. He has coached six teams since the year 2000, and this will be his second time at Chelsea. But, like Brown, Mourinho gets the best out of his players, and is not afraid to tell you about it. In his last stint at Chelsea, he led the Blues to their best point total ever and their first title in 50 years. With some of the world's top talent on the roster again in 2013, expect Chelsea to be right there at the end.

Steer Clear If: You didn't connect with the free-spending Phillies of the last decade. Chelsea sits in one of the wealthier neighborhoods of London, but actually had a pretty conservative approach for many years. That is until Russian bazillionaire Roman Abramovich bought the team in 2003 and put together the best team(s) money could buy. In the 10 years since, Abramovich has spent an estimated $3.1 BILLION (billion, with a "B") on players, managers, and, I assume, diamond-crusted toilet seats for the owner's box.

1. Manchester City (Manchester, England) - Sky Blue and White (Alternate: Black and Gray)

Cheer for the Sky Blues If: You're awesome, handsome, beautiful, a gentleman and a scholar (can you tell yet which team I support?). Seriously though, as much as it pains me to say it, latching onto Manchester City now is similar to being a Phillies @FanSince09. My love of City began in college over a game of FIFA 02 and continued even when City came dangerously close to relegation in 2005-06. Things changed in 2008 when the club was purchased by Abu Dhabi United Group, meaning I now assure people "I rooted for City before the rich Sheiks came around!" Those of us who were around before the money poured in take great pride in it, much in the same way Phillies fans wear their 10,000-plus losses like a badge of honor.

Steer Clear If: You don't like fun, or a team that wins the most dramatic championship in the history of the English game.

[nbcsports_video src=//www.youtube.com/embed/26Wfs4RG_DM service=youtube width=590 height=332]

Thanks for sticking it out through these two posts, and in all honesty, you should give the game a chance, whether it's Saturday morning on TV or with a seat at PPL Park. Soccer fans can be snobby and intimidating at times, but those of us who love the game don't like those people anyway.

Set that alarm now.

Eagles Film Review: Carson Wentz's improvisation pays off big

Eagles Film Review: Carson Wentz's improvisation pays off big

Carson Wentz takes pride in not letting plays die easily. 

In Sunday’s 34-3 win over the Steelers, one play he didn’t let die ended up being the back-breaker in the blowout. 

We’re, of course, talking about the 73-yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles at the 13:08 mark in the third quarter. Coming into the second half, the Eagles had a 10-point lead, but this touchdown pushed it to a 20-3 advantage and the rout was on. This play was a tone-setter (see story)

“That’s something that we talk about a lot,” Wentz said after the game. “We always say that a play is never dead. I like to make plays when we need to and everyone just does a great job of getting open in those situations.”

This was the first big off-schedule play Wentz has hit during his three weeks as the team’s starter, but the signs were there. In the Chicago game, there were several times where he showed his ability to extend plays. We broke them down in a film review last week (see story).

Throughout the week, Wentz had been compared to Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. One of the reasons was their shared ability to extend plays and make something happen. Big Ben showed his ability in the first quarter and almost connected on a huge touchdown pass to Markus Wheaton in the back of the end zone, but the receiver couldn’t pull it in. 

When Wentz got his shot later in the game, Sproles was able to pull it in, then make something happen with his feet. 

“I saw Carson scrambling this way,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “Darren was literally right in front of me and when I saw him wheel, my first reaction was to find the sideline to see if he stepped out to be quite honest.  He hadn’t, and Carson just — it was like in slow motion — floated that ball up the sideline and Darren did the rest from there. It was a tremendous play from those two individuals. I guess the last thing I did is I always look back to make sure there are no flags on the ground on those long plays.”

There were no flags. Touchdown. Game. 

Let’s take a closer look at the play: 

Wentz is in shotgun with Sproles in the backfield with him. The Eagles come out with three-wide on the far side of the field and a lot of space on the near side. 

Stephon Tuitt, who actually had a pretty good game against the Eagles, takes this route to the quarterback. When he gets to left guard Allen Barbre, Barbre either didn’t see him or didn’t react quickly enough. 

While Sproles is still running his short out, Wentz feels the pressure and is able to step up through the hole created by Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks. As soon as he makes it through, Wentz still has his eyes downfield. 

Now Wentz is through the hole and sees Sproles finishing his out-route. This is when Wentz, on the run, motions to Sproles to take off. This is something we’ve seen Wentz do a few times during his three weeks as Eagles quarterback. 

Wentz was left with a tough decision here. He could have run for 10, maybe even 15 yards. It was wide open, but he decided to try to make a play with his arm instead. 

“I always want to be a thrower first,” he said. “Even when a play breaks down, I’m always looking [to throw] because that’s where the big plays are happening. If I scramble I might get 5, 10, 15, 20 yards, but I’m not that fast. I always want to get it to the guys that can make plays. We always want to make plays when they’re there, and that’s what happened.”

With the line of scrimmage at the 27, Wentz has enough awareness to run horizontally to make sure he didn’t cross. And as soon as Pittsburgh safety Mike Mitchell takes that first step toward him, Wentz sees how much room Sproles has to work with. 

Ryan Shazier, who was covering Sproles on the play, froze and then started to step toward Wentz too. He said he thought the quarterback crossed the line of scrimmage, but Wentz was aware enough to stay behind.  

Once Sproles catches the ball in open space, he begins to do Sproles things. Defensive back Sean Davis took a bad angle on him and once he gets close, the veteran turns it inside. Davis said he was trying to buy time for the rest of his defense to get there and stop Sproles. It didn’t work. 

“Man, it’s Sproles!” receiver Nelson Agholor said. “Did you think he was going to get tackled?”

While he’s blocking downfield, Dorial Green-Beckham actually trips himself up and does a somersault. But it didn’t matter — Sproles didn’t need a great block. He pretty much did it himself. 

“Anytime that you can put it in the hands of [Sproles] something special can happen on any play, and he did the rest of it,” Wentz said. 

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Travis Konecny leaves impression with vets in Flyers' preseason win

Travis Konecny leaves impression with vets in Flyers' preseason win

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Michael Raffl had just finished playing alongside Travis Konecny, the 19-year-old kid that has Flyers fans abuzz about the now and future.

Yet for Raffl, he wasn’t thinking forward. Instead, he was looking back.

“Yeah, well, I couldn’t do that when I was 19, that’s for sure,” the 27-year-old said smiling, eyes wide open. “No, it’s impressive, he’s a really, really good hockey player.”

Konecny had that resounding affect Wednesday night at the PPL Center, recording a goal and an assist while leading the Flyers to a 2-0 preseason win over the Devils (see 10 observations).

He dazzled with speed and shiftiness.

He showed off vision and smarts.

When he touched the puck, he had everyone’s attention.

Paired with Raffl and Brayden Schenn in a game featuring mostly prospects, the 2015 first-round pick made the molding of Ron Hextall’s roster that much more difficult. With the general manager looking on, the highly touted winger started fast before making his imprint during a span of just four minutes and 34 seconds in the second period.

First, he redirected a blast by Andrew MacDonald to hand the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Not long after, the 5-foot-10, 184-pounder deceived the defense to find Raffl right in front off a backdoor pass for a 2-0 advantage.

“We had a cycle play going and he had a nice fake up top there and I was just going to the net,” Raffl said. “Somehow I was all by myself and he saw me, put a perfect pass on my tape and I just went around the goalie and put it in.”

Following his first goal, Konecny nearly tacked on another less than a minute later when he appeared to hit the crossbar on a shot. He also flirted with a few more assists.

“I think I just played relaxed,” Konecny said. “I came into the game tonight trying not to do too much and just keep things simple. The main thing for me was getting pucks out of the zone, so I think I did that well tonight and hopefully I can keep building on it.”

Relieving pucks from the zone isn’t a real problem when you possess the speed and skill of Konecny, who racked up 101 points last season at the junior level.

At just 19, that’s where he’ll have to return if he doesn’t crack the Flyers’ roster.

With cuts already made and more coming, that sometimes is on Konecny’s mind.

“It weighs on you a little bit. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about it and it’s definitely the time I need to step up and make sure I’m playing good hockey,” Konecny said. “And just earning another day — that’s just the way I’m looking at it. Every day I wake up and just work hard and move forward from there.

“I think everyone comes into camp and tries to give them (management) a reason not to send you back and make it hard on them.”

Wednesday night didn’t hurt his chances.

“He played a good hockey game,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. “Had an impact offensively. He did a pretty good job. There’s some youthful mistakes in there, but overall, he had a real good night tonight playing with Raf and Schenner.”

Placing Konecny with two capable NHL forwards offered the Canadian an opportunity to prove what he could do if he was in fact on the big club.

“We played well together,” Konecny said. “I think from the start we just had a lot of communication, we talked in the room, in warmups, we all knew what we were going to do throughout the game and in certain scenarios.”

If anything, Konecny left an impression on Raffl.

“He’s a very smart player,” Raffl said. “Once he has the puck, he makes smart decisions with it. It was very easy to play with him out there. He plays a mature game and I really enjoyed it.”

Time will tell if more enjoyment is in store come Oct. 14.

Loose pucks
Anthony Stolarz and Alex Lyon combined for the shutout. Stolarz started and made 11 saves over 29:23, while Lyon played 30:37 and stopped seven shots. “I like both of our guys tonight,” Hakstol said. “Stolie did a good job, he made a difference in this game in the first 10 minutes, those two or three really good saves there. Then Alex came in halfway through, which isn’t an easy thing to do and was ready to go and did his job.” … Schenn, MacDonald and defensive prospect Robert Hagg finished with an assist apiece. … With the roster currently standing at 49, the Flyers expect to make 15 cuts on Thursday. … Defenseman Nick Schultz is out four to seven days with a lower-body injury suffered in Tuesday night’s preseason game. ... The Flyers are off Thursday before likely practicing Friday ahead of Saturday's preseason game at 7 p.m. against the Bruins at the Wells Fargo Center.