SportsProf

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Saturday, August 17, 2013

English Premier League on NBC

A few thoughts:

1.  Will Americans get up at 7:30 a.m. on the East Coast on a weekend to watch soccer?  I would venture to say that they will not do so in the other time zones.  It's just too early.

2.  I wonder if English soccer is going through what American baseball is going through.  The latter seems to favor -- when it comes to winning a championship -- teams that grow their talent at home versus teams that acquire great talent.  Compare and contrast, in baseball, the New York Yankees with, say, the St. Louis Cardinals, among others.  The former have bought players galore, and most recently that strategy hasn't worked for them.  The latter tend to be more patient, tend to have less money, and they've won the second most number of World Series save the mighty Yankees.   In the Premier League, Manchester City and Chelsea represent oil and oligarch money, while Manchester United (albeit with American ownership) has tended to grow its players at home more.  The latter has won more than half of the titles in the Premiership.  Man City did win its first title in 45 or so years a few years ago, but its great assemblage of talent fell short last season.  Put differently, Arsenal's coach, Arsene Wenger, has feared an "arms race" among some of the world's wealthiest people and has suggested a salary cap.

The same way we've wondered what's in it for perennial also rans in baseball such as Kansas City and Pittsburgh (both of whom are on the rise now, but who have suffered long droughts), you have to wonder what's in it for the likes of Fulham, West Ham, Sunderland and teams like that.  They don't really have a chance to qualify for the Champions League or win the Premiership.  Sure, their fans keep coming back the way you keep on celebrating holidays with family, but ultimately will they keep on doing so?

3.  While Aston Villa did outplay Arsenal and upset them, the referee in that game was abysmal.  It's hard to have a comparable discussion in U.S. sports, except, perhaps, for basketball referees.  Umpires rarely decide a game in baseball, and instant replay should help them solve for close calls other than balls and strikes.  Sure, a big play can alter an American football game, but both baseball and football are high scoring enough that calls usually don't determine the outcome.  Compare those games with soccer, where games frequently are decided by a goal.  Well, today, (the relatively young) referee Anthony Taylor lost control of the game, and made an awful call in the second half calling a penalty on Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny that gave Aston Villa  a penalty shot and, as a result, a 2-1 lead.  Koscielny also was issued a yellow card, which figured prominently about 10 minutes later when he was given a second yellow, which automatically results in a red card and an ejection.  While Aston Villa won 3-1, you could argue that Arsenal's aggressive play in the last third of the game resulted from its being down 2-1 and trying to salvage a tie.  That aggressiveness caused Arsenal to bring its defenders way up, and for the third goal Aston Villa took advantage of both having a man advantage and that strategy to score its third goal.  Absent the bad call by Taylor, you could argue the game ends at 1-1.

Atop that, Taylor didn't set a no-nonsense tone early, and particularly the Aston Villa players preyed upon his permissiveness.  Taylor seemed to have handed out an even number of cards, but it's hard to argue that Arsenal (despite Jack Wilshere's temper) was as physically aggressive as Aston Villa.  Put differently, you would have thought from watching the game that Taylor would have red carded a Villa player before an Arsenal player.

Aston Villa did get some outstanding play, particularly from its strikers and its goalie, the American, Brad Guzan.  Yet, the official's call was so crucial. . . well, it had a fundamental effect on the outcome. It's hard to see right now how that will play in the U.S., but, then again, unless there are hundreds of thousands of Arsenal partisans in the U.S., I doubt that the average viewer watched the match with the same eye it would for his favorite team in another sport.

4.  Was this game really a coming of age for Aston Villa, or was Arsenal just bad?  The latter had questionable play from its goaltender, two lunky defenders, suffered a bunch of injuries and had lackluster striker play.  While Aston Villa had a hand in that play, I am not sure how much the game said about Aston Villa as it did about Arsenal.

5.  The announcers were not all that memorable.  That's both good -- they are Brits and didn't say anything culturally stupid -- and bad, as they showed up more as "standard issue" broadcasters than say the pair of Ian Darke and Steve McMenamin, who led ESPN's team when ESPN had the rights.  This, of course, will change.  We don't require our broadcasters to be memorable; they worked well enough.

6.  The studio commentary needs some work.  The trio provided okay analysis, but none of the pizzazz that American football studio crews provide.  We also need to know the significance, historically, of those who are providing information.

It's great to see the English Premier League live on television in the U.S.

So far, so good.

Even if my Arsenal team got off to a disastrous start.

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