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Monday, August 19, 2013

English Premier League: the other American soccer league

This past weekend saw a new Premier League season begin. Plenty of intrigue, talent and fandom. Mourinho returns to Chelsea, Manchester United have no Ferguson at the helm, transfer rumors persist, and new American signings bring it home for the fans Stateside. Oh, and throw in the newly-minted coverage by NBC networks and you can see this is a league growing in attention in this country.

Scarcely a few months ago we all got the news that Fox Soccer would no longer hold Premier League matches and would be transitioned into Fox Sports 1 coverage. The NBC networks acquired an expensive, yet lucrative deal, to broadcast the entire Premier League season. This included games on NBS Sports and also on network NBC on the lower end of the dial for the Manchester United opening game. 

There have been few major "splash" signings this summer the like of Fernando Torres or Luis Suarez, although Soldado to Tottenham was impressive. Indeed, it seems like more players are leaving the league these days. Some of these include our own Clint Dempsey and targets like Gareth Bale and Chicharito Hernandez. Internally, Arsenal has tried to capture Suarez from Liverpool, Manchester United has posted bids for Fellaini and Chelsea has looked to sign Rooney. United remains interested in Cristiano Ronaldo and Chelsea is looking at acquiring Eto'o.

Unlike major player transfers, this season is full of significant changes in coaching. From David Moyes taking over Manchester United to the return of Jose Mourinho at Chelsea, much of the attention this season will be focused on the sidelines. For Everton, the departure of Moyes will be particularly crucial for US goalkeeper Tim Howard as Roberto Martinez begins his tenure as manager.

But why does America care so much about this league? To start, there are several Americans playing: goalkeepers Howard (Everton) and Guzan (Aston Villa), attacking ace Jozy Altidore (Sunderland) and Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Brek Shea (Stoke City), Agudelo (starting January with Stoke City), Edu (on loan from Stoke City). Past players include Claudio Reyna (Sunderland, Manchester City), Brian McBride (Fulham), Bobby Convey (Reading), Stuart Holden (Bolton), Tim Ream (Bolton), Jermaine Jones (Blackburn Rovers), Eric Lichaj (Aston Villa), Michael Bradley (Aston Villa), Landon Donovan (Everton) and Clint Dempsey (Tottenham Hotspur).

Beyond the American presence is an innate allure of most things England and the cross-Atlantic reach of teams like Manchester United and Arsenal, as well as others with slightly lower following (i.e. Chelsea, Liverpool). Many soccer followers with ties to other countries tend to follow the league to keep pace with compatriots (Hernandez for Mexico, for example). There is also the appeal of other sports like American football (NFL) games in London that cross-pollinate with soccer. Other risky broadcasting moves include airing major EPL matches including Manchester United before the Superbowl, a major undertaking by Fox.

There is also the inevitable presence of so-called "soccer purists." These are folks that view American soccer with a certain degree of disdain and prefer a faster-paced, star-laden league such as the Premier League. This factor, along with coverage of all matches this season through NBC networks, including Telemundo and online access, make the Premier league the other American soccer league.

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