Identity and the Premier League: Connecting England’s top clubs to teams in North America

36 Comments

Identity may be the most important part of a professional team, but only when you stop to think about it. How we view a club is a concept so mundanely accessible — the facet of the team we start to grasp the moment we become aware of them — we never talk about the concept’s significance. We do discuss how the images of the Dallas Cowboys, Los Angeles Lakers, and New York Yankees affect those teams’ perceptions, but we rarely debate the nature of those images. We just know what the Cowboys are, just like we know the nature of the Lakers. Or Yankees. Or Canadiens, Red Sox, Celtics – everybody.

But consider, for a moment, being an NFL fan in London, seeing a Dallas Cowboys and Washington game on your television, and having no clue as to the significance of those two teams. Imagine knowing nothing about their histories, legacies – their context in the broader culture of American football. If all you had to go on were standings and statistics, how could you ever grasp the weight of that game, let alone the unique nature of that matchup.

That’s why exercises like this one can be helpful. If you’re giving the Premier League a try this weekend, parallels between North American sports franchises and Premier League clubs can be a useful baby step, giving you some minimal, accessible context for your first games. When Liverpool host Stoke City to open the season on Saturday (7:45 a.m. Eastern NBCSN), these examples become a short-hand, one that tells you a well-established, historically immense club is facing a team with a smaller, more specific identity.

And if you’re already a Premier League expert, somebody who doesn’t need to have lines drawn across the Atlantic Ocean, consider providing some alternate examples, below. Many Premier League clubs have histories that extend back to the 19th century, making any one-to-one comparison to a North American sports inherently narrow: reductive. Perhaps we focused on history when we could have looked at the present, or looked at perception when a more nuanced story would have created a better parallel? If the goal of this exercise is to provide a bridge for new fans to access the Premier League, your examples (sure to be detailed in the comments, right?) are bound to be as good as mine.

That caveat out of the way, consider this an elaborate decoder ring – a way to translate a sliver of identity from one culture to another. We’ll start with Arsenal and work our way to West Ham United, giving you some idea of how each Premier League club would see seen through the lens of North American sports:

PREMIER LEAGUE CLUB N.A. SPORTS FRANCHISE CONNECTION
Arsenal Atlanta Braves
Arsenal and Atlanta are both considered elite teams that compete near the top of their respective leagues, but their true periods of dominance expired about a decade ago. Still each team, driven by their distinct philosophy, is on the cusp of returning to the top of the game despite not being able to spend with the richest teams in their league. Atlanta has always favored developing young, tools-driven players, while Arsenal’s tendency to buy young and look for bargains has helped them through recent seasons of financial constraint.
Aston Villa Miami Dolphins
While each teams’ recent history has contained both near misses and huge disappointments, both clubs’ glory days lie more than three decades ago. Miami’s 1972 squad remains the only NFL team to complete a perfect season, with Don Shula’s team going on to win two straight Super Bowls. In 1981-82, Aston Villa became one of five English clubs to win the European Cup. While neither organization has ascended to those heights in recent times, both remain historic, well-respected members of their leagues.
Cardiff City New Orleans Pelicans
As you’ll figure while making your way through all 20 teams (and God bless you if you do), we’re trying to zero-in on one, maybe two prominent features of each club. It’s  a very narrow way of doing things, but let’s not take this exercise too seriously.

If we did, we couldn’t justify this parallel between two curiously re-branded teams. Cardiff City, known as the Bluebirds throughout their history, changed their colors to red at the insistence of Vincent Tan, who bought the club last year. Like New Orleans, who discarded Hornets for Pelicans this summer, Cardiff will look for a few players to carry them up the league, with Andreas Cornelius, Gary Medel, and Steven Caulker serving as fuzzy analogs for Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, and Tyreke Evans.

Chelsea Dallas Mavericks
Before Roman Abramovich (Chelsea) and Mark Cuban (Dallas) bought their teams, both organizations were sleeping giants, albeit for different reasons. Chelsea were a London-based club with its own, large venue and a unique history, while Dallas were a fledgling team in a huge sports market playing in a league ripe to leveraged by an ambitious investor (which made a number of NBA teams sleeping giants, but stay with us).

Since Abramovich brought Chelsea in 2003, the club has won three league titles and a European Cup. And since Cuban took over the Mavs, Dallas have claimed their first NBA championship. Along the way, both organizations became one of the most fashionable in their sports.

Crystal Palace New York Islanders
The New York Islanders grabbed the eighth spot in last year’s NHL Eastern Conference playoffs, but for many years they were an underfunded team overshadowed in their own market. That description’s a perfect fit for recently promoted Crystal Palace. And just as the Islanders grabbed their league’s final playoff spot, Palace’s route through last year’s Championship playoffs casts them as team number 20 in this year’s Premier League.

Still, whereas the Islanders had a minor, Mike Bossy-fueled mini-dynasty 30 years ago, Crystal Palace have never won anything of note. Apologies for not noting this at the top, but none of these matches are going to be perfect.

Everton Chicago Bears
Both Everton and Chicago are among the oldest and most storied franchises in their leagues, but unfortunately, each team has gone about 25 years since their last title. Chicago’s last championship was in 1985, while Everton claimed England’s top division in 1987. Both teams have, for the most part, been competitive during the last quarter-century, and while it will be easier for the Bears to end their drought, both teams are seen as historic clubs that have rarely been true title contenders since the 1980s.
Fulham Edmonton Oilers
London, which Fulham calls home, is by far the biggest market in the Premier League. Conversely, Edmonton is the third-smallest city by population in North American professional sports.

Despite that obvious difference, the perceptions of the Cottagers and Oilers are remarkably similar. Both clubs are viewed as limited teams who, whenever they win, are punching above their weight, leaving their coaches and players to be patronized when they make runs to Europa League or Stanley Cup finals. Realizing their team will rarely compete for big things, the teams’ fan bases have a different perspective on their teams’ successes.

Hull City Tigers Miami Marlins
Like Cardiff City and New Orleans, both of these teams have undergone recent re-brands, albeit minor ones. Hull recently changed their name from “Hull City AFC” to “Hull City Tigers” (it’s simpler, the owner claims). Miami came up with a new color scheme to mark the end of the Florida Marlins. In both cases, however, the teams aren’t expected to be competitive. Miami’s last in the National League East while Hull City are being picked for relegation.
Liverpool Boston Red Sox
Some of these connections are cumbersome to the point of reaching. Others are obvious. There was a large crossover between Liverpool and Boston Red Sox fans before John W. Henry bought the Merseyside club. Now that both teams fall under the same umbrella, the link is undeniable. Both are historic if slightly hard-luck sides, albeit in different ways. Boston just recently exorcised their Curse of the Bambino (in no way are they a hard-luck team anymore) while Liverpool has yet to claim a title in the Premier League era.
Manchester City Los Angeles Dodgers
Manchester City and the L.A. Dodgers are both iconic in their own ways, but it’s taken new investors to return these teams to prominence. For City, that return is complete, their huge spending allowing them to claim the Premier League two years ago. This year, adding four significant players over the summer, they’re stocked for another run. The Dodgers have Major League Baseball’s second-highest payroll and, thanks to a recent run, find themselves on top of the National League West. Both clubs, embodying so much of their local community’s sporting identity, have changed drastically, yet each have returned to contention.
Manchester United New York Yankees
Like Liverpool’s link, this is a lay-up, even if the New York Yankees have entered a relationship with United’s chief rivals, Manchester City, to own and run Major League Soccer’s next team (New York FC). Commercially, Manchester United is the only English club that can rival Spain’s big two (Barcelona, Real Madrid), a stature that’s allowed them to finish no lower than third in every season since the Premier League’s 1992 debut. While they don’t get linked with the “evil empire” label as often as the Yankees, United are an empire, nonetheless.
Newcastle United Atlanta Hawks
For people who knew (and enjoyed) the Dominique Wilkins-led Hawks teams of the 1980s, this comparison will make sense, as Newcastle always seem to have more talent than their results produce. The Magpies haven’t won a first division title since the 1920s, even though they had their own Wilkins in Alan Shearer from 1996-2006.

Atlanta’s only championship came in 1958, and while recent teams have featured players like Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, and Al Horford, they’ve failed to mount a significant playoff threat. The futility was reminiscent of the under-achieving Toon squad that featured an attack of Micheal Owen, Mark Viduka, and Obafemi Martins. Or last year’s nearly-relegated team.

Norwich City St. Louis Blues
Norwich aren’t the most glamorous of entities, but they’re an established, well-respected club with a strong group of supporters. Like the Blues, they’ve never claimed a first division title, but they have won two League Cups. St. Louis has won a Presidents’ Trophy and two Campbell Bowls. Both teams going into their upcoming seasons with modest expectations, and because they’re outside their country’s major media markets, they often tend to be overlooked.
Southampton Minnesota Twins
Two small market teams on the edge of their countries, neither Southampton nor Minnesota are known for winning titles. The Twins have won three World Series, the last 22 years ago, while Southampton’s only major honor is the 1976 FA Cup. What each team’s really known for is developing talent. The Twins have a remarkable knack of getting value from their farm system. But just like the Saints (the team responsible for current stars Gareth Bale and Theo Walcott), the Twins rarely have the resources to hold on to their products.
Stoke City Memphis Grizzlies
Fair or not, the Grizzlies have become know as a physical team whose recent, relative successes are built on their style’s ability to match up well against particular opponents. And fair or not, Stoke is seen the same way. This season at the Brittania, that may change, with Mark Hughes brought in to move the Potters away from the Tony Pulis era. And with Dave Joerger taking over for Lionel Hollins in Memphis, the same might happen at the FedExForum. But until we see these teams actually start playing differently, they’ll carry their physical reputations.
Sunderland Philadelphia Eagles
Both England’s northeast and Philadelphia live with a sporting chip on their shoulder, each regions casting sideways glances toward London and New York. Beyond geography, both the Black Cats and Eagles have renown fan bases and a limited, distant history of success. Despite spending considerably in recent years, Sunderland hasn’t won a title since 1935-36 (though they claimed the FA Cup in 1973). Philadelphia’s own recent expenditures haven’t cured a title drought that extends back to 1960.
Swansea City Golden State Warriors
It’s hard to see a clear connection between Michu, Swansea’s sharp-shooter who led the team to last year’s League Cup, and Stephen Curry, the Warriors’ long-range sniper who’s returned the Oakland-based team to relevance. Yet like Golden State, Swansea’s seen as a new, “fresh,” exciting team on the Premier League landscape, one whose success has been built on an attractive style of play. And like Swans, guided from the sidelines by legendary player Micheal Laudrup, the Warriors are also coached by a prominent ex-player: former Knicks and Pacers point guard Mark Jackson.
Tottenham Hotspur Los Angeles Clippers
Despite their franchise being resurrected after the acquisition of all-star point guard Chris Paul, the Clippers’ brand is so bad that no Spurs fan will be happy with this link, yet if you look at the states of the current teams, the comparison is irresistible. Both are second teams in their regions, living in the shadows of Arsenal and the Lakers. Both are on the verge of overtaking their rivals, and both are fueled by players among the best in their leagues (Bale, Paul). And, if either get a couple of breaks, they could prove unexpected title contenders in 2013-14.
West Bromwich Albion Cincinnati Reds
West Brom were one of the founding members of the Football League in 1888. Though now considered a modest club by the Premier League’s financially-enhanced standards, they’re one of the more prominent in the Midlands. In Major League Baseball, the Reds are also considered a modest (mid-market, if you will), though they have an extensive history. The current version of the team dates back to 1881, with the club’s predecessor was an original member of the National League before being kicked out for selling beer and playing games on Sundays.
West Ham United Kansas City Royals
Unlike the Reds, the Royals don’t have an extensive history to match West Ham, a club that’s 118 years old (the Royals began play in 1969). The commonality here is the role player development plays in the club’s legacy.

The Royals quickly went from expansion fodder to division-winning relevance the only way you could before free agency: scouting and player development. By their third season, they had a winning record, and from 1976 to 1985, the Royals won six AL West titles.

West Ham’s development legacy rests in England 1966, with the Hammers providing Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst, and Martin Peters to England’s only World Cup winner. Today, players like Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand and Michael Carrick carry on that tradition of development, though like the Royals, West Ham are struggling to be more of a factor in the actual standings.

Italy coach Mancini leaves door open for Gianluigi Buffon

Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images
Leave a comment

FLORENCE, Italy (AP) Italy coach Roberto Mancini says former captain Gianluigi Buffon will still be considered if he wants to return to the national team.

Buffon retired from international soccer in November after Italy lost a World Cup playoff to Sweden, but he recently returned for friendlies.

[ MORE: Next USMNT-Mexico date set ]

Mancini says “(Buffon) wants to continue playing football … Everyone who will play and will be among the best can be considered for the national team.”

Buffon is expected to bid the national team goodbye for good in another friendly on June 4 against the Netherlands at Allianz Stadium. However, at a news conference last week to announce his departure from Juventus, Buffon insisted he had made the last of his 176 appearances for his country.

Champions League Final to return to Istanbul

Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Here’s a bit of news which will put smiles on Liverpool supporters’ faces ahead of the weekend’s big UEFA Champions League Final against Real Madrid.

The UEFA Champions League Final is headed back to Istanbul, the city known for boasting perhaps the most celebrated moment in Liverpool history.

[ MORE: Next USMNT-Mexico date set ]

Istanbul’s Ataturk Olympic Stadium will host the 2020 UCL Final, 15 years after the Reds rallied from a 3-0 halftime deficit to defeat AC Milan in penalty kicks.

The 2019 final will be held in Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano Stadium, home of Atletico Madrid.

U.S. Open Cup fourth round draw: New York Derby, Minnesota-Cincinnati

Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Major League Soccer enters the fray as the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup reaches its fourth round.

There are four all-MLS matches in the bunch, including another round of the Hudson River Derby between NYCFC and the New York Red Bulls.

[ MORE: Next USMNT-Mexico date set ]

Elsewhere, Portland hosts San Jose, Chicago visits Columbus, and Real Salt Lake entertains Sporting KC.

Open qualifier NTX Rayados earn a date at Houston Dynamo, while PDL side FC Golden State Force will visit the LA Galaxy.

NPSL side Miami United hosts Orlando City as an MLS side travels to visit a fourth-tier side.

The rest of the match-ups feature USL sides vs. MLS teams.

[ REPORT: FC Cincinnati to join MLS in 2019 ]

The winner of the U.S. Open Cup gets a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League.

Full schedule (June 5-6)
New York Red Bulls vs. NYCFC
Louisville City (USL) vs. New England Revolution
DC United vs. North Carolina FC (USL)
Philadelphia Union vs. Richmond Kickers (USL)
Miami United (NPSL) vs. Orlando City SC
Atlanta United vs. Charleston Battery (USL)
Minnesota United vs. FC Cincinnati (USL)
Columbus Crew vs. Chicago Fire
Nashville SC (USL) vs. Colorado Rapids
Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting KC
Houston Dynamo vs. NTX Rayados (LQ)
San Antonio FC (USL) vs. FC Dallas
LA Galaxy vs. FC Golden State Force (PDL)
LAFC vs. Fresno FC (USL)
Portland Timbers vs. San Jose Earthquakes
Sacramento Republic (USL) vs. Seattle Sounders

Pulisic on USMNT dream; Premier League rumors

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Christian Pulisic hasn’t played for the U.S. men’s national team since last October but next Monday he will step out onto the pitch for the Stars and Stripes once again, and he will be less than a few hours away from his hometown of Hershey, Pa.

It will be quite the homecoming for Pulisic, still just 19 years old, as the Borussia Dortmund star plays for the USMNT in a friendly against Bolivia at Talen Energy Stadium, close to Philadelphia.

[ MORE: Latest USMNT news ]

In an exclusive chat with Pro Soccer Talk, Pulisic revealed that he is ready to be a leader, if that’s what is asked of him, as the USMNT continue rebuilding after their World Cup qualification nightmare eight months ago.

“We definitely have a younger roster this time around and I’m really looking forward to going in there and obviously I am young as well but I have a few caps to my name and I’m looking forward to being kind of a role model to these guys and helping shape our new team for the future. If it takes me being more of a leader out there that’s what I’ll have to do and I’m happy to be in that role,” Pulisic said.

Pulisic was speaking to PST about his new partnership with the Hershey Company and the playmaker was delighted to be linking up with his hometown brand as he received a Reese’s Outrageous Bar inspired cleats.

“I am super excited to be Stateside, always, so being able to spend a lot of time here recently has been awesome,” Pulisic said. “And I am super excited with everything with Hershey.”


Getty Images

As he returns to the state of Pennsylvania to play for the USMNT, Pulisic also played for Dortmund at LAFC in midweek before he links up with the national team in Philly on Thursday. Dortmund will also take on Benfica in Pittsburgh this summer in the International Champions Cup, as ‘the kid’ will be spending plenty of time with family in the Keystone State as he recharges his batteries from a tough season in the Bundesliga.

With 42 games under his belt for Dortmund this season in Germany’s top-flight (they finished in the top four but struggled throughout), Pulisic isn’t concerned with playing too many games in just his second full season as a pro. And with four goals and five assists in the Bundesliga, he set a goal and assist record for himself in league play.

He believes the best is yet to come as he gets set to work under a new coach, Lucien Favre, at Dortmund.

“There were definitely a lot of ups and downs this season but I’ve learned so much this year and obviously I feel that I have improved in the last season and I still feel that I have a long way to go,” Pulisic said. “Looking back at the season, finding things I can improve on and I will continue to work on those and hopefully we can do even better personally and as a team next season.”

“I just want to work hard every day in training and earn my spot every weekend. That’s always been the goal for me. Obviously I want to continue to build. Personally I have so much to build on, to be more clinical and get stronger, even trying to get my numbers up higher next season. That’s what I’m going to try and do and I’m going to work very hard to achieve that. Every player wants to score goals and get assists. I think I can do much more than that on the field, which doesn’t show on the stats, but of course that’s a very important part of the game.”

As Pulisic’s star has risen, rumors regarding his future have intensified and he continues to be linked with moves to Premier League giants Liverpool and Manchester United.

Do the reports frustrate him? Or is it flattering to be linked with some of the biggest clubs on the planet consistently?

“I really don’t look or read into it very much,” Pulisic said. “People know more about it than I do! Of course, the Premier League is a great league. It was a dream to play there when I was younger but I’m under contract with Dortmund and I’m just working hard there at the moment.”

So often American soccer fans say Pulisic shouldn’t move now to the rough and tumble of the Premier League and should instead spend the next few years improving his game at Dortmund and in the UEFA Champions League. When asked, the teenager didn’t set a timeframe on when would be the best time for a potential move to the PL.

“I’m very focused on the here and the now. Of course, you never know what can happen with professional sports but I am just focused on what I am doing right now,” Pulisic said.


Getty Images

Focusing on the past, Pulisic’s tears became the lasting image of the USMNT’s loss at Trinidad & Tobago back in October 2017 as he broke down on the field after the defeat which sealed their failure to qualify for the World Cup this summer.

USMNT fans won’t need reminding that the U.S. won’t be at the World Cup for the first time since 1986.

And Pulisic believes the USMNT not being at the big dance will have a big impact on the nation from a soccer perspective.

“When I was just a kid watching the U.S. at the World Cup, that gave me so much inspiration, seeing my country and seeing people playing with the U.S. crest,” Pulisic said. “Seeing them compete at a World Cup inspired me so much. Missing out on that is going to be a big thing but that doesn’t mean it’s over for U.S. Soccer. We are still growing a lot and we will do everything we can to be at the next one.”

As we edge towards the 2018 World Cup with excitement building across the globe, has time helped ease the pain for Pulisic?

“I’ve had a lot of time to think about it and it definitely hurt more right after the shock and that it had happened,” Pulisic said. “Now, leading into the World Cup, I am just going to watch the games, I have some time off now to rest, which my body could use. Watching the World Cup is going to get me even more excited and I’ll want to be in the next World Cup even more… I’m just looking forward to some good games, now that the U.S. isn’t there, I just want to see some good football.”

Pulisic admitted that he “hadn’t really looked into” the intense fallout from the USMNT’s failure as outgoing head coach Bruce Arena and several senior players had their say.

Wise beyond his years, Pulisic summed it up simply. But it’s clear that the pain still remains.

“I just think we had a great chance to qualify with one game and we had a little slip up there… a big slip up, actually, and that’s what happened,” Pulisic said. “I don’t look at the tiny little details as to what could’ve gone wrong. Because that would just drive me crazy.”


AP

With interim head coach Dave Sarachan in charge for three friendlies since the World Cup qualification debacle, plus the friendly against Bolivia and then outings at the Republic of Ireland and France next month, the USMNT are in a strange place.

They have no permanent head coach. No General Manager has been appointed in the newly-created role. And there’s a real lack of direction as U.S. Soccer seemingly waits for coaches to be out of work following the World Cup this summer so they can then plan for the future.

“Not being in the World Cup has put us in a whole different situation but we still have good coaches and new players that they’re bringing in and trying to develop, so I don’t think it’s a real problem at the moment. We are going to put our heads down and continue to work,” Pulisic said.

Those given the chance to work hard include plenty of youngsters, with the average age of the squad to face Bolivia just 22 years of age. With Sarachan expected to ring the changes and go with a more experienced lineup for the games against Ireland and France, now is a big chance for the youth to shine as the road to the 2022 World Cup has well and truly begun.

There’s no doubt that Pulisic will be the leader of a new era in American soccer and with the likes of Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Matt Miazga and Tim Weah building their professional careers successfully at big clubs home and abroad, the future is bright.

“The next step is just the Bolivia game and continuing to develop all of our players and getting them minutes,” Pulisic said. “Hopefully all of the young players, and I see a lot of American names in Europe, which is great, hopefully we will continue to develop and continue to make time for the national team and play some games together and create some chemistry and hopefully build a strong team going into the next World Cup.”

Still just a teenager, could it be a case of ‘Captain Pulisic’ blazing the trail towards the tournament in Qatar?

“I always dreamed of just playing for the U.S. men’s national team, not necessarily being the captain, but I’m happy to take on whatever leadership role it is, be it leading by example or whatever,” Pulisic said.

This is now his team. The kid from Hershey has the reins. And let’s be real, he’s had them for the past two years since he burst onto the scene.


Getty Images