An English Premier League Guide to MLS
I’m one of the few people who enjoy MLS having a summer schedule, largely due to the English Premier League (“EPL”) dominating my Fall to Spring soccer consumption. This way, I’m never without some footy to occupy my weekends.
This year, the Portland Timbers leave the NASL Division 2 and are being “promoted” to MLS, i.e. the EPL. For those of you who follow the Premier League closely and are recently becoming acquainted with the American version, this may be a fun guide to choosing a team to follow.
I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed making it!
Portland Timbers . . . Sunderland AFC
The Pacific Northwest is a unique and faraway region of the country, much like the North of England. It’s even close to a northern neighbor- Scotland, which is England’s Canada but drunker.
Sunderland is the neglected smaller neighbor to metropolitan Newcastle; much like Portland to Seattle.
The Tyne/Wear derby is possibly the most passionate in the EPL; the Northwest Derby IS the most volatile and passionate Derby in American soccer.
Personally, I have an affinity for both Sunderland and Newcastle. When Sunderland visited Portland for a friendly a few years ago, I attended the match and enjoyed myself thoroughly with some Mackems (people of Sunderland). Our supporters clubs share a tremendous friendship. The game was outrageously fun. And I’ve since attended a Sunderland match at the Stadium of Light, where I encountered some truly amazing people who recognized my Timbers gear and took kindly to the fact I was wearing a Timbers scarf to the very, very cold game. And the game was fantastic! It was the “beach ball” game where Sunderland beat Liverpool on a shot infamously deflected into the net off a beach ball thrown onto the pitch by the crowd. On a side note, I also attended a Newcastle match on my trip to England and I found the Newcastle supporters to be similarly friendly and the stadium, like the Stadium of Light, was first-class. Perhaps the Sunderland/Newcastle rivalry is so fierce it is unpopular to have affection for both clubs. It reminds me of how much I hate and relish beating Seattle, but being from a similar part of the country - it ain’t nothin’ but a family thing.
Seattle Sounders . . . Newcastle United
The richer, more cosmopolitan city.
Two clubs and sets of supporters with rich history and an even larger sense of entitlement.
I can’t write any more about Seattle . . . UGH.
Vancouver Whitecaps . . . Manchester United
Both share a tremendous youth academy, fine stadium, and a long tradition of trophies.
I don’t like Vancouver. But I respect them, and even envy them. They have an amazing youth academy with a residency, and partnerships with international clubs to allow their youth products to train, play, and sign overseas in Europe.
Vancouver & ManU both have strong commercial front offices.
Both are major port cities with lots of crime (too general?).
I believe Vancouver will be a winner in MLS quickly, but I will relish the big games when 1,000 ‘Caps fans come to Portland.
San Jose Earthquakes . . . Bolton Wanderers
The two teams nobody cares to watch when they’re on TV.
Both feature young American midfielders: Stuart Holden & Steve Cronin.
Both struggle to fill their stadiums to capacity and have financial concerns.
You wouldn’t notice if either weren’t in the league anymore.
L.A. Galaxy . . . Chelsea FC
The two teams who, until recently, bought their success using superstar Hollywood signings with big contracts and even larger personalities. Beckham & Donovan vs. Lampard & Terry & Drogba & everyone else.
The two teams coincidentally share a formal commercial partnership.
Nobody in America likes the Galaxy and nobody in England like Chelsea.
Great stadiums (Stamford Bridge: been there and, though on the quiet side, was a nice stadium).
I can’t STAND obnoxious Galaxy fans, and I can’t say I’ve ever met too many Chelsea fans I get along with either. (Side note: I supported QPR growing up, so it’s only natural for me to dislike Chelsea)
Both consistently compete for domestic and international trophies.
Chivas USA . . . West Ham United
The ugly, poor siblings to rich brothers (Chivas & Galaxy; West Ham & Chelsea).
They share successful and productive youth academies. Chivas is prolific in producing players from their Academy for the 1st team, and West Ham consistently promotes youth teamers to the 1st team. Some names you might recognize: Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, Jermaine Defoe, Rio Ferdinand, Mark Noble, and MORE.
Both need a new stadium.
Both traditionally play a very attractive style of football with quick passing, which their vocal supporters demand.
Houston Dynamo . . . Everton FC
A Scot for a coach, and a stable reign of power. Solid defensively and mentally tough, stable squads.
Both are seeking or building a new stadium.
History of winning, though recently without a trophy.
Each has a fierce local rival: Liverpool/Dallas
Good youth academies that produce players for the first team. Houston has signed 3 players in the past 2 years, and Everton’s produced Jack Rodwell, Dan Gosling, James Vaughn recently- along with a player you may have heard of - Wayne Rooney!
Colorado Rapids . . . Blackburn Rovers
Each team has won a single major trophy in the past couple of decades.
Each has a long-time hero at the center of midfield: Pablo Mastroeni & David Dunn.
Both teams struggle to fill their stadium, which is located in the middle of nowhere.
Neither team is fun to watch; they play a lot of “route 1” long ball and bring bags of rough play to every game.
Incidentally, I like both their jerseys.
Sporting KC (Kansas City) . . . West Bromwich Albion
Teams that are fun to watch and attacking sides, but rarely spend time at the top of the table.
When Sporting moves into their stadium, it will be an intimate atmosphere, much like Albion’s homey venue.
You wouldn’t notice if they were gone, but you enjoy watching them when they’re on TV.
New England Revolution . . . Wolverhampton
Cheap clubs when it comes to finances, with a long-ago history of winning any trophy.
Yet, you can’t help but cheer for MLS originals, the Revs, or Wolves when they’re playing bigger teams.
Philadelphia Union . . . Birmingham FC
Both share tough-minded, defensive coaches who enjoyed long and successful playing careers: Nowak with Poland & Chicago Fire; McLeish with Scotland and Aberdeen, under Sir Alex Ferguson - just Fergie, then.
Both can be considered the lesser lights of their areas. Philadelphia will always be in New York’s shadow, as has Birmingham in relation to Aston Villa FC.
Both are great, mid-sized stadiums with tremendous atmosphere.
Columbus Crew . . . Fulham FC
Two clubs who shared an icon: Brian McBride. The pub in Fulham is the “McBride Pub” and McBride is an MLS original and icon of Columbus Crew.
Two unique stadiums with tremendous history and individual character. Craven Cottage has an actual cottage! overlooking the stadium, with a tree-lined walk to the venue. Crew Stadium was the 1st soccer-specific stadium in the U.S. (though Charleston Battery fans will disagree). It’s a significant part of making soccer a stable and permanent part of the American sporting landscape, and is a “must” for American soccer fans.
You can’t help but cheer for their teams, which always seem to be trying to punch above their weight. And each has (until recently, had) a player who could take your breath away with a moment of imagination and inspiration which reminds you why football captures a lifetime of special moments: Clint Dempsey (the chip to beat Juventus!) and Guillerme Barros Schelleto (delivered Columbus’ first MLS Cup trophy and is a legend among the supporters who never failed to bow to him in a “Wayne’s World” homage when he ambled over to take a corner kick).
Chicago Fire . . . Aston Villa FC
Rich tradition of winning trophies, but haven’t done so lately.
Great state-of-the-art stadiums, with knowledgable fans. (Gotta love the Section 8 Supporters, who have a great relationship with the Timbers Army) I’ve been to several Fire games over the years and have always enjoyed my time with the fans and a team that plays with passion and commitment to the jersey.
Both have impressive youth academies. 5!!! Villa players have emerged from the Academy this season, while the Fire has its own residency and a youth team that consistently competes for national championships.
D.C. United . . . Liverpool FC
Iconic stadiums (RFK & Anfield) in disrepair: check. Looking for an alternative but can’t find sufficient financing/land: check.
Rich history of domestic and international trophies: check.
Teams in utter freefall: check.
Also, consider Jaime Moreno and Ben Olsen to be what Gerrard & Carragher will look like in 4 years. See what happened to DC without Olsen & Moreno...?
Two of the most vocal, passionate, and loyal supporters groups in each country. Iconic players are to DC (Etcheverry, Moreno, Olsen) what managers are to Liverpool (Shankly, Paisley, Dalglish).
Toronto FC . . . Stoke City FC
Packed, cold, and windy stadiums.
Poor style of play; lots of “route 1” direct football.
Did I mention cold and windy stadiums with loud, intimidating fans?
FC Dallas . . . Arsenal FC
Coaches with a total belief in their philosophy. OK, let’s just say it: they’re both arrogant as hell and believe they’re always right!
A certain unshakeable style of play.
Both clubs believe in promoting youth players to the first team. 5!!! FC Dallas players have been promoted to the first team in the past two seasons - most in MLS.
Both have a state-of-the-art stadium, with “fudged” attendance numbers judging from the stands on TV.
Neither club has won anything in 5 years.
Real Salt Lake . . . Tottenham Hotspur FC
They play attractive, passing and attacking football.
Iconic players: Van der Vaart & Bale vs. Beckerman & Johnson
Fantastic, packed stadiums.
Loud, loyal, and knowledgable supporters.
Recent success for both clubs in the league and cup competitions. Both clubs are enjoying international success this year in the Champions League (CONCACAF & EUFA).
New York Red Bulls . . . Manchester City
They buy success and pay bigger salaries than everyone.
Poor history of winning until recent financial investment.
It’s impossible to like either club, and yet you can’t help but respect their two talismanic forwards: Carlos Tevez (ManCity) and Thierry Henry (RB NY). Henry is one of the most thoughtful people in the game and remains a class act to enjoy watching on the pitch.
So, Who Ya Got? Does your EPL team match up with your MLS team? Suggestions for what you’d change?
Let’s hear it!