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.

MLS Weekend Preview: New York City, Colorado rumble in the Bronx

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 13: David Villa #7 of New York City FC celebrates his first half goal with teamate Andrea Pirlo #21 againd the Toronto FC at Yankee Stadium on March 13, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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Two weeks ago, we delved into the absurd home field advantage that comes with hosting matches in Major League Soccer.

Since then, it’s gotten nuttier.

The home side was taking 1.85 points per game as of July 10 — full article here — and snaring a point or better in more than 82 percent of home fixtures this year.

[ MORE: Ten best transfers so far ]

Since then, road teams have won a total of two matches in 26 tries moving, making the home team record for the season 107W-67D-34L. That’s now 1.88 points per game and points in close to 84 percent of games.

So, of course, this week’s marquee match-up could defy the trend.

Game of the Week

instagram.com/jermainejunior/
instagram.com/jermainejunior/

With apologies to FC Dallas and its three point advantage on Colorado, each conference’s top team will face off Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.

The Rapids bring their MLS-best 1.9 points-per-game into the match, while NYC currently sits atop the East despite its second humbling at the hands of the Red Bulls.

Colorado has done a masterful job at finding points on the road, with two wins and five draws in nine tries. That should bode well for them despite the cross-country flight, especially when you toss in NYC’s meager 3W-3L-5T mark at home this season.

Elsewhere

Really, it’s a case of studs and duds. The first three matches of Sunday are living in high-five country, while the majority of the 6:30 p.m. ET kickoffs don’t inspire much outside of the Trillium Cup showdown in Toronto and a “Dominic Kinnear Derby” in Texas.

Full schedule
Colorado at NYCFC — 3 p.m. ET Saturday
Portland at Sporting KC — 2 p.m. ET Sunday
L.A. Galaxy at Seattle — 4 p.m. ET Sunday
Vancouver at FC Dallas — 6 p.m. ET Sunday
Montreal at DC United — 6:30 p.m. ET Sunday
New York Red Bulls at Chicago — 7 p.m. ET Sunday
Real Salt Lake at Philadelphia — 7 p.m. ET Sunday
Columbus at Toronto — 7:30 p.m. ET Sunday
New England at Orlando City — 7:30 p.m. ET Sunday
San Jose at Houston — 9 p.m. ET Sunday

Klopp frowns at Pogba fee: “I am trying to build a team, a real team”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - MAY 13:  Jurgen Klopp the manager of Liverpool faces the media during the Liverpool UEFA Europa League Cup Final Media Day at Melwood Training Ground on May 13, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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Jurgen Klopp isn’t pleased with the mega money transfer fees being used to “collect” players from around world football.

The Liverpool boss says he doesn’t know how much he’s allowed to spend on one player, as no move he’s made has really required that sort of question.

[ MORE: Ten best transfers so far ]

He sees club football as a means of assembling a team with critical pieces, not buying and then building around a player.

And Klopp said he would do it differently even if he had the green light to spend absurd amounts of dough.

From The Daily Mail:

“If you bring one player in for £100m and he gets injured, then it all goes through the chimney,’ he said.

“The day that this is football, I’m not in a job anymore, because the game is about playing together.”

“If I spend money, it is because I am trying to build a team, a real team. Barcelona did it. You can win championships, you can win titles, but there is a manner in which you want it.”

Klopp has spent a lot of money, but he’s spaced it out in picking up six players for around 2/3 of the Pogba fee this summer (Granted two were on free transfers).

That said, he didn’t exactly take over a club lacking star power that required loads and loads of buys. Klopp is at a different standard in answering to the media and public right now. While that’s pretty well-deserved, the way he’s getting credit for the price tags on assets he’s sold is kind of hilarious.

Either way, we are loving Klopp in the Premier League. Bring on the season.

Ten most noteworthy transfers of the summer (so far)

BORDEAUX, FRANCE - JULY 02:  Mats Hummels of Germany runs with the ball during the UEFA EURO 2016 quarter final match between Germany and Italy at Stade Matmut Atlantique on July 2, 2016 in Bordeaux, France.  (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)
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As Paul Pogba’s return to Manchester United moves closer, where will it rank on the list of the most promising moves of the summer?

Putting cost aside given the giant budgets of world football, Pogba’s move will probably top the proverbial pops once completed.

[ MORE: Guzan finds new PL home ]

Yet this summer has been an incredible one for transfers, with so many Premier League teams leading the way in business, that names like Sadio Mane, Michy Batshuayi, Nico Gaitan, and Nolito miss out list (and they are just the tip of the iceberg).

Here’s our Top Ten so far

10. Mario Gotze, Bayern Munich –> Borussia Dortmund

Will a return “home” do the trick for the World Cup clinching attacker?

9. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Borussia Dortmund –> Manchester United

The Armenian attacker was somewhat unheralded. No more.

8. Andre Schurrle, Wolfsburg –> Borussia Dortmund

BVB reaps the rewards from a still questionable Chelsea decision.

7. Granit Xhaka, Borussia Monchengladbach –> Arsenal

The big money man is a perfect fit for how Arsene Wenger likes to play.

6. Gonzalo Higuain, Napoli –> Juventus

Whether his big season was an aberration or not, that’s a lot of dough.

(AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
(AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

5. Ilkay Gundogan, Borussia Dortmund –> Manchester City

His possession game should be a jewel in Pep Guardiola’s crown.

4. Miralem Pjanic, Roma –> Juventus

One of the best in the world could even be an improvement over Pogba.

3. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paris Saint-Germain –> Manchester United

Let’s hope he doesn’t read this and see he’s not No. 1 (and soon to be No. 4)

2. Mats Hummels, Borussia Dortmund –> Bayern Munich

Technically announced a while ago, but Bayern is almost unfair. Enjoy, Carlo.

  1. N'Golo Kante, Leicester City –> Chelsea

An absolute beast, and a player that will seamlessly slide into Antonio Conte’s plans as a center piece.

PHOTO: Drogba enjoyed scoring on Arsenal, Cech in MLS All Star Game

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 01:  Didier Drogba and Petr Cech of Chelsea pose with the trophy after the Capital One Cup Final match between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley Stadium on March 1, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images
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Didier Drogba got to score against an old rival and a former teammate, and this pleases him greatly.

The Ivorian legend and Montreal Impact striker scored the lone MLS goal as the All Stars fell to Arsenal 2-1 on Thursday at Avaya Stadium in San Jose.

But that goal went behind former Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech, who was Drogba’s goalkeeper from 2004-2012 and 2014-15 at Stamford Bridge.

[ MORE: Man City plays tennis on Great Wall ]

Both players joined Chelsea in July 2004, and Cech used Twitter to post this photo from a post-match meet-up.

Drogba looks happy.