Pairing Up Part 2 – The EPL Search Continues

About three months ago, I set out on a quest to find a Premier League soccer team. English soccer was coming on channels that I actually received in the States, and after enough time playing Football Manager to actually adopt a Scottish team (Celtic) and an Italian team (AC Milan), I figured it would be easy enough to adopt an English team.

I was wrong. The main thing that was working against me was that – quite frankly – I didn’t know what kind of team I wanted. I know baseball and football and American sports and I know their histories. If someone asked me what baseball team they should cheer for, I can’t just look at them for a minute and say “Ah yes – judging by your build, you’re a Seattle Mariners fan.” Actual thought has to go into it. Do you like hitting or pitching? Are you impressed with good defense? Do you want a team that may not be good now but has the youth to be good later? Do you have favorite players? There are tons of questions to be asked, so I’m not sure why I thought I could just pick a team (or have someone pick me out a team just by thinking “boy, I’d like to cheer for an EPL team.” Yet, I went and tracked down the one British person I know on Facebook and asked him pretty much that question. He asked me what I liked in a team, and he’d help me pick.

Hell, I don’t know.

Still being relatively new to the game (and a little too far into my FM game to know current players that well), I couldn’t really say a “style” that I preferred. 4-4-2, 4-3-1-2, 4-1-3-2 – they all pretty much look the same to me right now. I figured I wanted some scoring – it’s the American in me – and would be willing to give up having a quality defense if it meant we could score and keep it exciting. I also noted that I wasn’t concerned with “reputation” or whether people felt that the team played “dirty” – I’d be the judge of that. In fact, I have a soft spot for those type of teams.

I looked back at my original post I made three months ago and I knew I still didn’t feel all that strongly between the seven that were remaining. I decided to do what several others had suggested – watch the matches, and let a favorite team come to me. With nearly two weeks in the books, I’ve watched as some teams that I had previously eliminated have made themselves noticed, while others may have eliminated themselves completely.

So as the season goes along, I’ll keep track kind of a “power ranking” of EPL teams that would be in contention. This won’t necessarily be based on how well they’re playing (although it’ll likely help), but it’ll give some insight on where each team is in the race for my fandom. Or something.

So with two weeks into the EPL season, let’s take a look:

1) STOKE CITY

Previous rank: T-1

Matches since last ranking: Lost 1-0 at Liverpool (8/17), Won 2-1 v Crystal Palace (8/24)

I spent Saturday morning flipping back between the Southampton/Sunderland match and the Stoke/Crystal Palace match, and I got to see the quick two goal strike that Stoke put together to put them ahead of Crystal Palace after falling behind early. Admittedly, Stoke was an early favorite just because out of all the EPL teams, I probably knew more people on Stoke than any other. I knew Glenn Whelan & Charlie Adam from FM, having signed them both to play for the Celtic team that I ran when I first started playing. I knew Peter Crouch from stories I had read about him and his play during the last two World Cups and knew he was this seemingly out-of-place awkward looking giant, and I’ll all about awkward players who might potentially get made fun of. They’ve also got three Americans on their roster, though one is hurt and another will struggle to see playing time. Right now they’re holding my interest – the biggest strike against them is that I can’t stand their home kits – red vertical stripes are just ugly – although I am drawn to their away kits.

2) WEST HAM UNITED

Previous rank: T-1

Matches since last ranking: Won 2-0 v Cardiff (8/17), Draw 0-0 at Newcastle (8/24)

When I told my British friend what I thought I was looking for in a team, he shot back a message later the next day recommending that I “become a Hammer”. It took me a little bit to figure that out, but eventually I realized he was talking about West Ham. Looking at them, I can’t see too many negatives with the team – kits aren’t horrible, team isn’t playing horrible, and Joe Cole is playing for them, which is an added bonus. Haven’t actually seen them play this season so far, but I’ll make a point to check them out this coming week when they take on Stoke – the winner likely sitting on top of my rankings next week.

Also – ham.

3) ASTON VILLA

Previous rank: T-1

Matches since last ranking: Won 1-3 at Arsenal (8/17), Lost 2-1 at Chelsea (8/21), Lost 0-1 v Liverpool (8/24)

Villa was one of the teams that I was leaning towards when I first started looking at EPL teams. “Aston Villa” just sounds like a cool name, they had decent looking kits, they had a cool nickname “the Villains”, and hell – one article equated the team to the Miami Dolphins. And hey – they won their opener on the road against one of the Big 4 teams! What could go wrong?

Those kits. Those damned away kits.

When I went to turn on the Villa/Arsenal match and saw that bizarre checkerboard mishmash that Villa were wearing, I was embarrassed to think that I would have considered supporting that team. Wearing a uniform that’s left-side one color and right-side the other is just so “80s preliminary wrestler”. Wearing shorts that reverses the pattern of the shirt just makes it worse.

Well, at least it’s just their away kits. The home ones look fine. But you’re on notice, Villa.

4) SOUTHAMPTON

Previous rank: NR

Matches since last ranking: Won 0-1 at West Brom (8/17), Draw 1-1 v Sunderland (8/24)

I had originally eliminated Southampton in my “in danger to be relegated each season” wave, but I have a soft spot for them since I’m from eastern Long Island and I grew up neighboring a Southampton, and some small part of me thinks that’s neat. Plus, they signed Victor Wanyama from Celtic in July, so I already have a rooting interest in one of their players.

5) CARDIFF CITY

Previous rank: NR

Matches since last ranking: Lost 2-0 at West Ham (8/17), Won 3-2 v Manchester City (8/25)

Unranked in the previous post because I hadn’t bothered to considered any of the three newly promoted teams to the Premier League (probably because I assumed they wouldn’t stay long), Cardiff is where Doctor Who is filmed and w…

Wait – wait a second. Cardiff BEAT Man City? I mean, I know it’s at home, but – really?

I’m assuming that won’t last, but hell – they probably deserve to be at #1 this week for that alone.

6) NORWICH CITY

Previous rank: NR

Matches since last ranking: Draw 2-2 v Everton (8/17), Lost 1-0 at Hull City (8/24)

The NBC Sports website has a “Premier League Team Picker” that checks your Twitter or Facebook account and picks a team for you using random information from those accounts. When I first used it, it gave me Arsenal. So when I said no and answered a few random questions, it gave me Norwich, which I assume it did because I told it green was my favorite color. And yeah, those are some cool looking kits.

Plus, my wife noticed during the Everton match that no one seemed to get grass stains on their kits despite sliding everywhere, so it’s possible that Norwich plays with magic grass. EDIT: Norwich, like many other Premier League teams, plays with a 97% natural grass/3% turf mixture called Desso GrassMaster that uses the turf to support the grass and keep it more stable. Maybe that’s what keeps it from staining?

7) EVERTON

Previous rank: T-1

Matches since last ranking: Draw 2-2 at Norwich (8/17), Draw 0-0 v West Brom (8/24)

Everton never got eliminated previously because they didn’t have anything particularly wrong with them – their kits were simple, they had a long history though not an overly successful one, they’re not a threat to be relegated (they have the second longest run in the top English league, behind only Arsenal), and they have an American goalie in Tim Howard. But while they’ve got that – they don’t have much else to push them to the top. They’ve done nothing wrong to get “eliminated”, per ce, but they’ve fallen behind early.

8) WEST BROMWICH ALBION

Previous rank: T-1

Matches since last ranking: Lost 0-1 v Southampton (8/17), Draw 0-0 at Everton (8/24)

Like Everton, West Brom didn’t have enough outstandingly wrong with them, so they passed the initial stages, but unlike Everton, they don’t have anything to keep them around for long. They rock the vertical stripes like Stoke that I hate, they’ve been relegated three times in the last 11 seasons, and I don’t know a single player on their roster. But they have a bird on their crest, and we like birds in our house, so they get to stick around – for now.

ELIMINATED: Chelsea & Newcastle

Newcastle and West Brom could have easily swapped positions, but Brom ended up sticking around (probably because of the bird thing). Nothing was drawing me to them, so they were easy to drop.

Chelsea was tough, mainly because I know a lot of Chelsea supporters, including my best friend. But Chelsea doesn’t fit in with the rest of the teams I’ve been looking at; they’re a big money team – one of the “Big 4” – and to be honest after being a Yankee fan forever and having to hear all the endless bitching about “buying championships”, I really don’t need to defend another team. I wish them the best of luck, and I’ll pull for them when whatever team I pick isn’t in contention, but that’s it.

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