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-Redskins scouting report: Secondary must stand up vs. Kirk Cousins

Eagles-Redskins scouting report: Secondary must stand up vs. Kirk Cousins

Eagles (5-7) vs. Redskins (6-5-1)
Sunday, 1 p.m. on Fox
Redskins favored by 2; over/under 47

When the Eagles went into FedEx Field in Week 6, they had an opportunity to leave 4-1 and in great position in the NFC East. Instead, what ensued was a stretch of three divisional losses in four weeks by a combined 18 points.

Two months later, the Eagles are out of the race at 5-7 while the 6-5-1 Redskins are still battling for an NFC wild-card spot. The 'Skins would be out of the playoffs if the season ended today — they currently hold the seventh spot in the NFC, behind the Bucs (7-5) but ahead of the Vikings and Packers (6-6).

This is obviously a crucial game for Washington, but the Eagles are just as desperate after losing by 11, 14 and 18 points the last three weeks. Don't underestimate the role desperation and a few weeks of embarrassment can have on a team's ability to bounce back. It was partly why I cautioned in these scouting reports the last two weeks not to count out either Green Bay or Cincinnati, teams that had more talent and stability than a few weeks of midseason losses indicated.

Cousins and Reed
The next time the Eagles limit Kirk Cousins will be the first time. In four games against them, he's completed 63 percent of his passes, averaged 336 yards, thrown 10 TDs and two interceptions and rushed for another score. Washington has averaged 31 points and won three of the four contests.

The Eagles' margin of error on defense is extremely small in this game. To win, they'll need a better effort against a Redskins' ground game that gashed them for 230 yards last time, they'll need to generate consistent pressure on Cousins and they'll need Jordan Reed to not be himself.

Reed, the NFC's most dangerous tight end, is questionable with a Grade 3 AC joint separation suffered on Thanksgiving. Reed was a warrior on Turkey Day, leaving the game in the second quarter, standing on the sideline in a sling, probably receiving a little (ahem) help at halftime, and then dominating in the second half in Dallas. Reed finished that game with 12 catches for 95 yards and two TDs, but was hurt badly enough to miss last week's game.

The Eagles were fortunate to avoid Reed in the season's earlier matchup. Fortunate because he destroyed them last December, catching nine passes for 129 yards and two TDs in a 14-point win. Washington uses its tight ends more than any offense in the league, and Reed is a mismatch even for an Eagles team that has allowed the fewest catches (31) and receiving yards (327) to tight ends. 

With Reed out in October, backup Vernon Davis burned the Eagles for two catches, 50 yards and a TD. But it sounds like Reed will play Sunday after telling reporters that his range of motion is back.

The issue in stopping Washington is the Eagles just don't have enough defensive backs to defend everything. It's why they need Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham to get consistent pressure and keep Cousins out of a rhythm. They haven't been able to do that. They had no sacks in Washington in Week 6 and have failed to sack Cousins in two of the last three meetings.

Without forcing Cousins to get off his spot and get the ball out quickly, the Eagles' secondary hasn't shown anything to inspire confidence they can stop DeSean Jackson, Jamison Crowder, Pierre Garcon, Reed and Davis at the same time.

To make matters worse, this is the first week Washington's All-Pro left tackle, Trent Williams, is back from a four-game substance abuse suspension. According to Pro Football Focus, Williams has allowed just three sacks in his last eight games against the Eagles.

Which Wentz will show?
Last week was Carson Wentz's worst game as an NFL quarterback. He missed wide-open throws, threw three interceptions and could have thrown more and barely exceeded 300 yards despite throwing the ball 60 times. 

He didn't look like the guy we saw the first four games of the season, and quite frankly he hasn't looked like a top-20 QB since October. 

The lack of weapons and occasionally poor protection are major reasons why, but Wentz isn't void of blame — he's simply missed some makeable throws.

Against Washington back on Oct. 16, Wentz was just 11 of 22 for 179 yards as the Eagles lost the time of possession battle. The best days belonged to Ryan Mathews (9 carries, 60 yards) and Jordan Matthews (three catches, 75 yards). Both are questionable heading into this one. 

Wentz didn't throw a single pass at Josh Norman in the first meeting. At times, Norman has followed the opposing team's top receiver, but don't expect him to do so this Sunday. Norman has lined up on the left side 64 percent of the time this season and in the slot just nine percent. 

Slot matchup
Matthews has run 73 percent of his routes from the slot and should draw third-round pick Kendall Fuller. As long as Matthews is sufficiently recovered from his ankle injury, this should be a good matchup for the Eagles. 

Fuller has been beaten repeatedly this season, allowing 42 catches (on 53 targets) for 542 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterbacks have a 123.9 rating against him, third-worst among all slot corners. (Malcolm Jenkins is actually worst in this category with a 137.9 QB rating allowed in the slot.)

Fuller has also struggled to wrap receivers up after the catch, allowing an NFL-high 213 yards after the catch. Picking up yards after a reception is something the Eagles have struggled to do all year.

Run game
The Eagles were shutting running backs down until they played the Redskins in October. Since-demoted RB Matt Jones rushed for 135 yards, current starter Rob Kelley rushed for 59, and both had a run of 45-plus yards.

Cox, Barwin and LB Nigel Bradham had awful games that afternoon against the run. It also didn't help that the Eagles were credited with 12 missed tackles. 

Run-stuffer Bennie Logan left that game early with a groin injury and missed the next three weeks. Since returning, however, Logan hasn't been himself, struggling to rush the passer and stop the run.

The Kerrigan factor
The Eagles always have trouble containing Redskins pass rusher Ryan Kerrigan, who had three sacks in the first meeting. 

Kerrigan has been a force in 2016 with 44 QB hurries, which is three more than Kahlil Mack and second-most among outside linebackers to Von Miller.

Kerrigan has nine sacks in 11 career games against the Eagles, and Washington is 5-1 when he has at least one against them.

Prediction
Close game, better performance from Wentz and an awakening in the run game, but not enough defensive talent to shut down what Washington will try to do deep with Jackson and Crowder, over the middle with Reed and short with Garcon.

Redskins 31, Eagles 27

Nearly back from injury, Mathews hopes to rejuvenate Eagles' running game

Nearly back from injury, Mathews hopes to rejuvenate Eagles' running game

It’s been a fairly rocky season for Ryan Mathews, who cost the Eagles the Lions game with a late fumble, was demoted by head coach Doug Pederson for a spell, hurt his knee against the Seahawks and missed two games and is on pace for a third straight season under 600 rushing yards.

Mathews, who missed the double-digit losses to the Packers and Bengals, is expected to return on Sunday, when the fading Eagles face the Redskins.

Mathews is an interesting case. When he’s gotten at least nine carries this year, the Eagles are 4-2. When he’s gotten fewer or hasn’t played, the Eagles are 1-5.

Here’s the Mathews conundrum: He’s averaging a healthy 4.2 yards per carry and ranks eighth in the entire NFL with seven rushing touchdowns. Yet he’s gotten more than 11 carries only three times – in wins against the Browns, Vikings and Falcons.

Without him the last two weeks, the Eagles ran 37 times for a total of 134 yards, just 3.6 a pop. And lost.

He’s no Shady, Westbrook or Duce, but he does move the chains.

“I think Ryan brings definitely a different dimension,” center Jason Kelce said. “He’s an extremely powerful, explosive back. He hits the hole hard. There’s been some games he’s been absolutely dominant when he’s gotten the opportunities. 

“He’s done a great job for us. Good to have him back, glad he’s healthy and back out there and hopefully we can get something going for him up front.”

Mathews actually ranks 11th in the NFL since 2010 with 36 rushing touchdowns.

He said he feels 100 percent three weeks after injuring his knee in Seattle.

“I feel good,” he said at his locker after practice Thursday. “Tried to get back out there with my teammates and get back in the groove of things. 

“I’m good enough to practice and go. It’s just getting back in the rhythm, getting the timing down. I missed two weeks and it’s kind of hard. Just trying to get back in the groove of things.”

The Eagles take a 5-7 record and three-game losing streak into their 1 p.m. kickoff Sunday against the 6-5-1 Redskins at the Linc.

The Redskins have won four straight over the Eagles. A win would give them their first five-game winning streak over their NFC East rival since a six-game stretch from 1981 through 1984.

“It’s hard,” Mathews said. “We just have to learn from the mistakes and push forward. We can’t change anything in the past, we can’t undo the games. We get another chance Sunday to go out there and play our best.”

Rookie Wendell Smallwood has been the Eagles’ leading rusher the last three weeks, but the Eagles haven’t had anybody run for as many as 50 yards since the Atlanta game – the last time they won.

The Eagles have only some very faint playoff hopes at this point. But it won’t hurt to get Mathews back.

“Well, he's definitely a bigger back,” Pederson said. “He's a little bit more between-the-tackles and has that veteran experience that you see out of him. 

“It will be good to get him back out on the field Sunday and get him some more work.”

This has been a weird year for the Eagles’ running game, which has generally been fairly effective when Pederson commits to it. 

But that rarely happens. 

Either the Eagles find themselves too far behind to stick with it or Pederson just decides to have Carson Wentz throw the ball 50 times and the running backs whither on the bench.

“It’s tough,” Mathews said. “We as a group have to do our job and when our number is called we have to make plays. We’ll get it going.”

The Eagles haven’t had anybody get 20 carries in a game since opening day. Nobody’s gotten more than 13 carries since Mathews against the Falcons.

Mathews, twice a 1,000-yard rusher, could well be playing his final few games as an Eagle.

Curiously, his 4.64 average in an Eagles uniform is fifth-best ever by players with a minimum of 200 carries behind three quarterbacks – Michael Vick (6.70), Randall Cunningham (6.62) and Donovan McNabb (5.67) – and LeSean McCoy (4.65).

So with a strong final few games, he could actually own the highest rushing average in franchise history by a running back.

Mathews, who’s only gotten nine or more carries in back-to-back games twice in two years with the Eagles, said his only remaining goal is to finish strong.

“It would be awesome,” he said. “That’s the main thing you want to do. Take it one game at a time and just try to get better and finish off strong.”