Getty Images

Why Boxing Day is a sacred day in the Premier League

2 Comments

Boxing Day is one of the most sacred days in the Premier League calendar.

It is my favorite.

[ STREAM: Every Boxing Day game live

There’s a special buzz around the stadiums, towns and in homes across the UK as the entire festive schedule centers around December 26 each year.

When I speak to most Americans about the Premier League, one of the topics which often comes up is “hey, how crazy is Boxing Day?” It is crazy, especially with so many matchdays bunched together around Christmas and New Year’s.

But Brits wouldn’t have it any other way as eight games take place on Dec. 26 and you can sit back and watch them all via NBC Sports by clicking on the link above.

Boxing Day is, of course, a national holiday in the UK and in case you didn’t know the history behind the day, it dates back centuries with the etymology being linked to a day where Christmas boxes were given to trade workers in the week after Christmas to thank them for their work all year.

It is also a day where the sporting calendar thrives as cricket, horse racing and rugby all compete with soccer to be the sport to watch on Dec. 26. When it comes down to it, it’s all about soccer with a full day of games across the professional, semi-professional and often amateur leagues across the UK. Across the rest of Europe, they’re on a break and enjoying the holidays with their families and friends.

In the UK soccer takes center stage on Boxing Day.

With some calling for a winter break in England to give the English national team a better chance of advancing to the latter stages of a World Cup or European Championship, many soccer fans in the UK would rather have the Boxing Day schedule such is the connection to the day. They’d rather have that warm moment around the holidays to connect with their team than see England get to the semifinals of a tournament and then get knocked out on penalty kicks…

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26: Fans wear 'Father Christmas' style hats during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Southampton at Selhurst Park on December 26, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)

Coming the day after Christmas Day, it is also the perfect time to head out of the house after a few days of feasting and sharing gifts with the family. It’s a chance to get some fresh air, catch up with friends over a pint or at the bookies about their holiday stories and then cheer on your team while you wear your new scarf of jacket.

There’s no other day like it.

In the past teams used to play back-to-back games on Christmas Day and Boxing Day (the last time they did this was 1957) and that seems a little too much. Boxing Day has survived the test of time and with stadiums packed due to everyone heading home for the holidays, it’s a special time to watch a game and usually special games spring up with goals galore. Due to squad rotation and some teams adapting to the festive schedule better than others, you never quite know what will happen.

Opposition fans are friendlier (minutely) with their chants, stadium staff and supporters get along and even the players seem to be enjoying themselves a little more despite having a game to play.

The energy and vibe is different and, much like opening day, it is one of the best days in the Premier League season. Plus, you’re approaching the midway point of the campaign so plenty of teams are still optimistic about what lies ahead and even if your team is struggling, there’s still time to turn things around.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 14: General View of a Christmas tree at the front of the stadium prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Liverpool at Old Trafford on December 14, 2014 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Full of festive cheer, crazy games and history, Boxing Day is ingrained in the British soccer psyche.

Like opening day in MLB, Thanksgiving games in the NFL and the Sunday of a Masters week at Augusta, it is a sacred day in the sporting calendar where the action often encapsulates the overall mood.

Sky Blue’s Sam Kerr named NWSL league MVP for 2017

Photo by Tony Feder/Getty Images
Leave a comment

CHICAGO (AP) Sky Blue FC forward Sam Kerr has been named the National Women’s Soccer League’s Most Valuable Player for this season.

Kerr, a standout on the Australian national team, had a league-record 17 goals and became the league’s fifth Golden Boot winner to also be named MVP.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

She became the first NWSL player to score four goals in a game on Aug. 19 against the Seattle Reign. Kerr rallied Sky Blue from a 3-goal deficit to beat the Reign 5-4.

Kerr’s award was announced Friday. The league had earlier announced the season’s other award winners: North Carolina’s Abby Dahlkemper was named Defender of the Year, teammate Ashley Hatch was named Rookie of the Year, Portland’s Adrianna Franch was named Goalkeeper of the Year and the Thorns’ Mark Parsons was named Coach of the Year.

The Mendy Effect: Pep praises injured back

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Full back Benjamin Mendy cost Pep Guardiola and Manchester City $68 million, but perhaps he’ll be just as valuable as a very expensive sports psychologist.

The “Shark Team” member was amusing on social media even before his ACL injury sent him to the sidelines until at least April, but he’s become a must-follow Twitter fixture with his in-game messages (See some of his work below).

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

City faces Burnley at 10 a.m. ET Saturday (Watch live on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com).

It’s fairly clear his act has translated in private, too, as apparently Mendy is just as good in group messages (Let us in, Pep. We won’t tell anyone). From ManCity.com:

“Usually, players who are out for a long time with injury are sad. They sometimes train apart and feel isolated.

“Mendy decided to be present. He is communicating on social media, WhatsApp and he calls his teammates and messages me. He is going to be so important outside the pitch because people like him make the atmosphere much better.”

It’s not surprising for anyone who’s been following the former Le Havre, Marseille and Monaco man.

Keep in mind, these Tweets below are from the last few days alone!

Ozil to Manchester United?!? Wenger reacts to gossip

Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Sometimes, even the biggest Arsene Wenger detractors have to feel for the guy.

Coming off a thrilling late win in Serbia, one that saw Olivier Giroud cap off a team goal straight out of the creative Wenger playbook, the manager should’ve been discussing how to stretch those good vibes into this weekend’s visit to Goodison Park.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

Yet no. Instead of talking about how the Gunners would respect the struggling Toffees, Wenger had to address speculation from several outlets claiming Mesut Ozil would move to Manchester United, perhaps as soon as January.

Feeling it? No, no Wenger was not feeling it. From Arsenal.com:

“We have to deal with all kinds of speculation when the players are at the end of their contracts. On the other hand, to be professional is to give 100 per cent as long as you are somewhere. For the rest, we came out many times and said that’s the situation. It [the media] can come out tomorrow and say that he extends his contract here. It will be exactly the same, it will not change anything. When you play the next game, commit 100 per cent. … When a player plays for Arsenal Football Club, his commitment cannot be linked with the length of his contract, it has just to be linked with the responsibility and the ambition he has to win the football game.”
Of course most big clubs have to deal with such drama on a year-to-year basis and, yes, having Ozil and Alexis Sanchez still in town was completely avoidable. But the idea that Ozil could leave, for free, to Manchester United? We’re sure Gooners the world over will be thrilled with the gossip.

MLS Decision Day preview: Much at stake

Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP
Leave a comment

Four teams can claim a Western Conference second round berth, while four more can earn a valuable first-round bye in the East.

Yep, there’s plenty to play for beyond the West’s final playoff spot Sunday during Major League Soccer’s Decision Day, when every team will take the pitch for 4 p.m. ET kickoffs.

[ MORE: Conte feels pressure ]

Here’s what we do know regarding the playoffs:

  1. Supporters’ Shield winning Toronto FC gets a first round bye, while No. 6 seed New York Red Bulls are headed to the road for a first round playoff
  2. New England, Montreal, Philadelphia, Orlando, DC, Minnesota, Colorado, and LA will not make the playoffs
  3. Full stop.

So, yes, this will be fun.

First, let’s look at the Eastern Conference Standings ahead of Sunday’s extravaganza:

Eastern Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Toronto FC 33 20 8 5 72 35 37 13-3-1 7-5-4 68
x – New York City FC 33 16 8 9 54 41 13 10-4-2 6-4-7 56
x – Chicago 33 16 7 10 61 44 17 12-3-2 4-4-8 55
x – Atlanta 33 15 9 9 68 38 30 11-2-3 4-7-6 54
x – Columbus 33 16 5 12 51 47 4 12-2-3 4-3-9 53
x – New York 33 13 8 12 51 46 5 9-6-2 4-2-10 47

— New York City FC controls its bye destiny, though Columbus could join them on 56 points and would pass them on tiebreakers (wins).

— If that happens, Chicago could claim the second bye with a win or draw in Houston (The Fire owns the goal differential tiebreaker).

— If New York City and Chicago lose or draw, Atlanta could finish second with a home win over TFC.

— Columbus can finish second with a win and non-wins for Chicago and Atlanta.

Western Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
x – Vancouver 33 15 7 11 49 47 2 9-5-3 6-2-8 52
x – Portland 33 14 8 11 58 49 9 10-4-2 4-4-9 50
x – Seattle 33 13 11 9 49 39 10 10-5-1 3-6-8 50
x – Sporting KC 33 12 13 8 39 27 12 10-6-1 2-7-7 49
x – Houston 33 12 11 10 54 45 9 11-4-1 1-7-9 47
San Jose 33 12 7 14 36 58 -22 9-5-2 3-2-12 43
FC Dallas 33 10 13 10 43 47 -4 7-7-2 3-6-8 43
Real Salt Lake 33 12 6 15 47 54 -7 8-4-4 4-2-11 42

Byes

— Vancouver finishes first with a win or draw at Portland. The ‘Caps could finish as low as third with a loss to Portland and a Seattle win versus Colorado.

— Portland finishes first — and wins the Cascadia Cup — with a win over visiting Vancouver.

— Seattle can claim a first round bye with a win over visiting Colorado and a Vancouver win over Portland.

— Sporting KC can finish second with a win at Real Salt Lake and non-wins for Portland and Seattle.

Final playoff spot

— San Jose claims the sixth seed with a home win over Minnesota. They can also finish sixth with a draw joined by non-wins for FC Dallas at home to LA and Real Salt Lake at home versus SKC.

— FC Dallas claims the sixth seed with a win over LA and a San Jose draw or loss versus Minnesota. FCD gets sixth with a draw, and a San Jose loss coupled with a RSL loss or draw versus SKC.

—  Real Salt Lake gets sixth with a win over SKC, and non-wins from San Jose and Dallas. RSL could also get sixth with a draw and losses for San Jose and Dallas.

(Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)

Schedule
FC Dallas vs. LA Galaxy
DC United vs. New York Red Bulls
San Jose vs. Minnesota United
Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting KC
Houston vs. Chicago
Seattle vs. Colorado
Philadelphia vs. Orlando City
Portland vs. Vancouver
Montreal vs. New England
New York City vs. Columbus
Atlanta vs. Toronto

Predictions

— NYCFC hangs on for a draw against Columbus, earning a bye, leaving Chicago to host New York Red Bulls and Atlanta off to Columbus for the first round of the playoffs (We have Toronto beating Atlanta on Sunday).

— Vancouver and Portland draw, while Seattle beats Colorado. The ‘Caps and Sounders get byes, while Seattle takes back the Cascadia Cup.

— San Jose beats Minnesota, gaining the West’s sixth seed. The Quakes head to Portland for the first round, while SKC hosts Houston.