Aston Villa v Manchester City - Premier League

And why should I become an Aston Villa supporter? – Part II

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BIRMINGHAM, England — Manchester United swing from strength to strength. Chelsea and Manchester City have the money to bring in marquee signings. Arsenal are classy and almost have a bit of an underdog feel about them. Liverpool have history. Southampton are suddenly the plucky side, Tottenham give you hope but allow you to say you’re not rooting for a certain winner, and Everton have a fun nickname. So if you’re in the United States and looking for a Premier League side to support, why on earth would you choose little Aston Villa?

When I visited Birmingham earlier in the week, the first question asked, upon finding out that I was an American Villa supporter, was, “Why?” Had my dad passed on his love of the Villa? Did I choose the club because owner Randy Lerner is an American? Was my boyfriend an Aston Villa fan?

No, no, and no. My dad imparted in me a love of baseball, my boyfriend at the time didn’t know how soccer worked, and I’d never heard of Randy Lerner. No, my criteria for choosing a Premier League club was this: I didn’t want one of the top four clubs, and I didn’t want a team set to slide into the Championship (mostly due to the difficulty in following such a club from across the Atlantic). I thought “Aston Villa” sounded like a lovely name, the claret-and-blue colors were awfully pretty, and no one I knew seemed to hate the team.

Those reasons seem awfully flimsy now and so, on a recent trip to Birmingham, I asked local Villa fans why an American should throw their support behind the team. Some of the answers were surprising. Some were…not.

source: Getty Images
Being a Villa fan is for life… hence this lovely hat. That’s true support.

A Storied Club

As the pub near Birmingham’s New Street continued to fill up with more Aston Villa fans, I sat down with four who’d managed to claim a table. After explaining my mission, to find out why fans in the U.S. should choose Villa as their club, Yasmin gave me a quick, succinct answer: “We’ve got history.” The others nodded their agreement.

Let’s clear something up straight out of the gate: Aston Villa aren’t “little.” History — and history counts for a lot in English football — dictates that the Villa be called a “big club,” and for fans of the sport to fret if it appears they may be relegated. Aston Villa director William McGregor led 12 clubs in establishing the Football League in 1888, and since that time, Villa have spent 107 of 125 seasons in the top flight. Only Everton has a better record. They’ve captured the top domestic title seven times and lifted the FA Cup seven times as well.

(READ MORE: The recent history of Aston Villa, and why supporters have hope once more – Part I)

But what Villa supporters really love to mention is 1982. Yes, it was over 20 years ago, but lifting the European Cup is still a huge deal — particularly when only four other English clubs have done so. And it’s not so much about the quality of the game. Almost every Villa fan can tell you that an inexperienced goalkeeper performed superbly and that Peter Withe converted Tony Morely’s cross for the only goal to beat Bayern Munich. But that’s not what matters. If you want a club that is a true winner, you need to choose Aston Villa.

And if that’s not enough, Villa even have it embroidered in their shirts: “Proud History. Bright Future.”

Brad Guzan

source: Getty Images
USMNT ‘keeper Brad Guzan is a fans favorite at Villa Park.

Aston Villa’s American goalkeeper was the quickest answer that came to most peoples’ mind in response to my question. James, a Villa fan who’s also a journalist and is so used to giving articulate responses, stated, “Guzan. Guzan is the number one reason.” James went on to explain that, although Tim Howard might be the current #1 for the USMNT, it’s really Brad Guzan who should start in goal for Brazil 2014. The Villa keeper was a saving (literally, with 116) grace for Villa last season and wound up scooping both the Supporters’ Player of the Year and the Players’ Player of the Year awards. Guzan remains immense in goal this year, having started each Premier League game and kept four clean sheets thus far, after achieving just five last season.

Built-in Support

I was lucky enough to hang out with the Kidderminster Lions, a supporters group from a town about 20 miles outside Birmingham, for a couple hours prior to the match against West Bromwich Albion. The Kiddy Lions are a boisterous bunch who love away days, but they also love the chance to take a newcomer under their wing — there’s no exclusion in these Villa supporters groups. At least two of their members, Ben and Paul, took a trip to the States in summer 2012 to watch their beloved Villa on a preseason tour. As both are fans of American sport, and became Washington Huskies fans thanks to their interaction with Chris, a Villa supporter in Washington who helped make their stay in the U.S. a fantastic one, I decided they’d be perfect people to ask about why Americans should become Aston Villa fans.

Ben’s answer surprised me. “The amount of Americans that support Villa already is unreal,” he said, and went on to describe the number of die-hard fans he’d encountered in his time in Chicago, for the Villa match against the Fire. Ben said he’d thought the crowd for the friendly would mostly consist of ex-pats, along with some Fire fans. Instead, Villa fans came from across the country, with supporters’ groups from New York, Philadelphia (who had their own friendly to attend) and Washington, DC all joining Chicago, which itself has a large and active group, to cheer on their club.

But even if you live on the West Coast, that’s no reason not to adopt Aston Villa as your club. California has a network of supporters clubs with various meeting locations throughout the state. The aforementioned Chris has established a relatively new club in Seattle to help promote the Villa in a city that loves soccer. But it’s Seattle’s rivals that have had the honor of hosting Aston Villa, with the Timbers playing a friendly against them that same summer. As Neil , founder of the Aston Villa Former Players Association, pointed out to me, Portland has quite a few connections with the Villa. Neil Rioch himself played for the Timbers from 1975-1976, and noted that there are still many with links to both Villa and the Timbers that are still living in Portland. In fact, he and Peter Brennan, editor of the Villa Times magazine, are both keen to bring the Aston Villa All-Stars to play in the city, and perhaps visit a few other places around the country.

Bromsgrove Lions, too, were all set to take care of a fan heading to her first derby match. After hearing about the wonder of supporters groups from the Kiddy Lions, Phil, the chairman, and Duncan, secretary for the Bromsgrove club, were able to fill me in on more of the details surrounding supporters’ groups. The Bromsgrove Lions started eight years ago with just 15 members, but now they’re the largest Villa supporters club in the world, with 560. These clubs are regionally based and, in addition with providing an almost instantaneous group of friends, are on hand to help members obtain tickets, sort out coach arrangements to and from games, and host special events to bring their members together.

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The author with a few members of the Bromsgrove Villa Lions

And just in case you’re yet to be convinced that it’s possible to truly support a club while living outside the country, Andy, one of the gentlemen who kindly escorted me safely to The Hawthorns, is currently living in Berlin and heads to England for about two-thirds of the Villa matches. He meets up with the Bromsgrove Lions for away dates and, at one point, flew into London in the morning, watched Villa lose to Spurs, and flew back to Berlin that night. Sure, it’s a bit longer of a flight between Birmingham and the USA, but if Andy can make 25 games a year, you could probably get over for a couple matches every now and then.

Family

But becoming a Villa fan is more than just joining up with a supporters group. Once you don the claret-and-blue, that’s it. You’re family now. Sometimes quite literally: on my last visit to the Midlands, I was taken in by my friend Jamie’s family, given a room and shuttled around, and became an adopted member of their clan!

As I continued on with my discussion with Ben, he made it clear that there’s a difference between fans of English football and fans of other sports. In addition to being a fan of the Huskies, Ben also follows the NFL, and has attended games both Stateside and at Wembley. While he has fun following American football and met many fans on his trip to the U.S., Ben insists the NFL doesn’t give same camaraderie. With English football, he says, once you support a club, that’s your “family for life.”

Sometimes even to the extent of separating blood relatives.

Ben was full of great stories, and my favorite was his tale of how he became a Villa supporter. You see, his family are actually fans of Wolverhampton Wanderers, yet another Midlands club. His dad took him to see Wolves play when he was six years old, and he hated it. He told his father that he didn’t like his football, and his dad said no son of his could hate the sport. So they tried an Aston Villa match. At six years old, Ben was picked up and passed from the back of the Holte End to the front, and that was it. At the end of the game, he said, “Dad, I’m Villa now.”

At the time, Ben’s dad was fine with his son’s choice, but the family may be a bit more put out these days. Now, when a Villa-Wolves game comes about (which doesn’t happen often), Ben doesn’t speak to his family for the week before, or in the week following. This was a sentiment I heard quite a bit, actually. With so many teams in such a small space, most Villa fans are likely to be friends with, work with, or even be related to Wolves, West Brom or Birmingham supporters. For the majority of the time it’s fine, but in the run-up prior to a derby, it can get intense.

But the conflicts are of little importance compared to what being a Villa fan means. Over and over again, I heard about the camaraderie amongst Villa supporters. As James explained, going to a Villa match is not simply about giving up a couple of hours to watch the game. It often can be a day long event, from the coach rides into town to time spent in the pub to singing on the metro (and yes, there was definitely singing on the way to the West Brom game).

source: Getty Images
Andi Weimann scores the winning goal against Manchester City and celebrates in front of the Holte End.

And if you meet someone new, they’re not a stranger for long. You’ve got football in common, so, as James said, you can sit and talk for hours with no problem.

His mate Phil added, “That’s what football does though: it brings people together.”

So why become an Aston Villa fan? Perhaps the best answer is: Be sucked in by Brad Guzan’s performances. Be lured by the history. And then, you’ll find it’s too late — you’ve gained more than a club, you’ve gained a family, one you’ll never be prepared to abandon.

Champions League: Bayern Munich promise “fireworks” vs. Atletico Madrid

Atletico's Gimenez, left, and Bayern's Robert Lewandowski challenge for the ball during the Champions League 1st leg semifinal soccer match between Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid, Spain, Wednesday, April 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul White)
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BERLIN (AP) Thomas Mueller has promised “fireworks” as Bayern Munich seeks to overturn a 1-0 defeat to Atletico Madrid and reach the Champions League final, where Real Madrid or Manchester City await.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]

Five-time champion Bayern could go out to Spanish opposition at the semifinal stage for the third straight season, after defeats to Real Madrid and Barcelona in 2014 and 2015.

Saul Niguez’ brilliant strike in the first leg in Spain is the difference between the sides. Another Bayern fightback in front of 70,000 fans is expected Tuesday, with Pep Guardiola’s side counting on the spirit that helped it recover from 2-0 down against Juventus to win 4-2 after extra time earlier in the campaign.

Guardiola still hopes to lead Bayern to the treble and match the feat of his predecessor Jupp Heynckes in his last season before he leaves for City.

City could yet meet its future coach in the final if it completes the job against Madrid on Wednesday. After a scoreless first leg in Manchester, Manuel Pellegrini‘s side knows a score-draw will be enough to reach the final for the first time.

[ MORE: Man City, Real Madrid draw | Atleti top Bayern at home ]

Here is a closer look at this week’s Champions League matches:

Bayern missed the chance to clinch its fourth successive Bundesliga title on Saturday, when it was clear that thoughts were already on Atletico’s visit.

With the league title all but certain to arrive sooner or later, Guardiola decided to rest Xabi Alonso, Javi Martinez, Philipp Lahm, David Alaba, Arturo Vidal, Thiago Alcantara, Douglas Costa and Robert Lewandowski in the 1-1 draw against Borussia Moenchengladbach.

“Tuesday’s match is going to be different, we have to play better then,” Guardiola said.

Since losing the 2014 semifinal to Madrid, Bayern has won all 11 Champions League games at home.

[ MORE: Ronaldo back in training three days before decider vs. Man City ]

However, Bayern has been made to sweat in the Champions League this season, leaving it very late against Juventus and scraping past Benfica 3-2 on aggregate.

“The assurance has suffered a bit the last few weeks,” Mueller said. “We stand together well as a team but it’s no longer as easy as it was.”

Most fans were surprised to see Mueller starting the first leg in Madrid on the bench. The 26-year-old scored his 20th league goal of the season Saturday, bringing his tally across all competitions to 32, and it was his injury-time goal that forced extra time against Juventus.

If Bayern had trouble breaking through Atletico’s defense in Madrid, it will now have to deal with the addition of Diego Godin to the Spanish team’s backline. Godin, a key player for Atletico, and winger Yannick Carrasco were both cleared to play on Sunday after recovering from injuries.

Coach Diego Simeone also rested most of his first-choice players over the weekend, starting only four players from his lineup that beat Bayern. Atletico won 1-0 against Rayo Vallecano to stay level on points with league leader Barcelona.

MLS Snapshot: Sporting KC 1-1 LA Galaxy (video)

Sporting Kansas City forward Dom Dwyer, front, works in front of the net while covered by Los Angeles Galaxy defender Jelle Van Damme, back, during the first half of an MLS soccer match in Kansas City, Kan., Sunday, May 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
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The game in 100 words (or less): In theory, playing with a man advantage is supposed to provide just that — an advantage. In practice, it’s been a largely fruitless exercise for Sporting Kansas City in 2016. Following Sunday’s 1-1 draw with the LA Galaxy, Sporting KC have played 153 minutes with a man advantage (four red cards shown to opponents on the season), and scored all of one goal on the season, all the way back on the opening day of the season. Ashley Cole was the latest to see red against Sporting (video below – if you’re anything other than a Chelsea fan, you’ll enjoy this one), and once again Peter Vermes’ side failed to hit pay dirt in the game’s final 20 minutes. The draw sees the two sides pick up a point each, with the Galaxy climbing one spot in the Western Conference standings, up to fourth, while Sporting hold steady in sixth.

[ MORE: Monday’s MLS Rewind column  ]

Three moments that mattered

30′ — Davis curls a left-footed beauty for 1-0 — Attention, defenders of MLS; Brad Davis’s left foot — it’s still good.

42′ — Dos Santos finishes off a devastating counter — In the blink of an eye, from one end of the field to the other, and the Galaxy were back on level terms through Giovani dos Santos. Cheeky, cheeky.

70′ — Cole sees two yellows in the span of 13 seconds — Cole has mostly flown under the radar while in MLS. That is no longer the case.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Roger Espinoza

Goalscorers: Davis (30′), Dos Santos (42′)

Pochettino “very happy” to stay; Spurs “ready to compete” in transfer market

Mauricio Pochettino, Tottenham Hotspur FC
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Mauricio Pochettino isn’t going anywhere (for one more season, at least) and will remain Tottenham Hotspur manager upon verbally agreeing a two-year contract extension, the 44-year-old Argentine announced earlier this week.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

According to Pochettino, the extension, which will keep him at White Hart Lane (and the club’s new stadium, set to open at the start of the 2018-19 season), is to serve as a proclamation of intent by the north London club. No longer (for a season, at least) will Spurs be forced to sell their best players, because UEFA Champions League football is coming back to the Lane next season.

Furthermore, Pochettino believes his successes and reputation as a world-class developer of young talent will see the club compete in the upper echelons of the transfer market this summer, if he can find an area to improve — quotes from Ham & High:

“I think it is important for the players and the potential players that will come that they don’t hear rumors about whether Pochettino will be here or not.

“We are ready to compete in the market and to try to add the players that can help us in the future — not that we need much because we have a good squad already.

“Of course we are responsible to show we believe in the club, and then we show we want to keep all the big, important players. They are important to our future.”

Asked what assurances he sought from Levy before agreeing his new contract, Pochettino said: “I don’t need assurances, I didn’t ask for anything.

“In the moment that the president wanted to extend my contract he showed his ambition. The players are very happy here. I want to be involved in the future of the club.

“I had a big respect for this club when Tottenham offered me the job, when I came from Southampton, and I feel the responsibility to stay here and try to help the club in this period – a very important period. To arrive to the new stadium with a very good team but to be competitive is a very good challenge in the next few seasons.

The attraction of Champions League football, coupled with Pochettino’s magnificent development of Spurs’ young English contingent — Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Danny Rose and Kyle Walker, to name a few — will have plenty of current and future stars lining up to sign for Spurs this summer. Now that the club have their main man locked up, they’ll now begin to have their choice in the transfer market.

Klinsmann names USMNT preliminary roster for 2016 Copa America

United States Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann instructs his team against Guatemala during the first half of a World Cup qualifying soccer match Tuesday, March 29, 2016, in Columbus, Ohio. The United States beat Guatemala 4-0. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
AP Photo/Jay LaPrete
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Youth is well served as Jurgen Klinsmann has named the U.S. national team’s 40-man preliminary roster ahead of next month’s 2016 Copa America Centenario.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

Youngsters Christian Pulisic, Darlington Nagbe, Matt Miazga and Jordan Morris, along with 36 others, will take part in the USMNT’s pre-tournament training camp, beginning May 16 in Miami, Fla., as Klinsmann makes his final decisions in order to trim the squad from 40 to 23 before the May 20 roster deadline.

Along with the aforementioned newcomers (relative so) is most of the regular cast of characters from Klinsmann’s nearly six years in charge — Jermaine Jones, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Fabian Johnson, Kyle Beckerman and Mix Diskerud, among others.

[ MORE: Dortmund’s Pulisic scores in second consecutive Bundesliga game ]

The USMNT will play three warm-up games ahead of their group-stage opener (June 3, vs. Colombia in Santa Clara, Calif.): at Puerto Rico (May 22), vs. Ecuador (May 25 in Frisco, Tex.) and vs. Bolivia (May 28 in Kansas City, Kan.).

The full preliminary roster is as follows…

Goalkeepers: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Ethan Horvath (Molde) Tim Howard (Everton), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Ventura Alvarado (Club America), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Edgar Castillo (Monterrey), Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest), Matt Miazga (Chelsea), Michael Orozco (Tijuana), Tim Ream (Fulham), DeAndre Yedlin (Sunderland)

Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Mix Diskerud (New York City FC), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach), Jermaine Jones (Colorado Rapids), Perry Kitchen (Hearts), Alfredo Morales (Ingolstadt), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution), Danny Williams (Reading), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Ethan Finlay (Columbus Crew SC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund),Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Bobby Wood (Union Berlin), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)