By J Hutcherson – WASHINGTON, DC (Aug 12, 2014) US Soccer Players – With less than a week before the start of the 2014-15 Premier League season, here are 5 stories to follow from an American perspective. Once again, every Premier League game will be available on NBC Sports and their online channel. This is the second season of the easiest access Americans have ever had to the Premier League.
Geoff Cameron at Stoke City
Geoff Cameron had a breakout season at Stoke City in 2013-14, and now he has to at least match that performance. That’s no small thing, with Cameron establishing himself as a Premier League quality player. That’s made him a potential transfer target over the summer. If Cameron stays healthy and produces the way he did last season, a move to a bigger club certainly makes sense. Even with Stoke City, there’s plenty to prove with this team. Their former manager worked wonders with Crystal Palace, and Stoke City is among a group of teams where mid-table might not be enough anymore. Answering that by trying to become the next Everton might be a bit much, but Stoke City faces pressure and scrutiny as the 2014-15 season begins.
Tim Howard at Everton
Speaking of Everton, Tim Howard and his club face a Europa League campaign where they’re a favorite to advance to the knockout round. Everton bypass the qualifying and playoff rounds of the tournament. It’s not a question of luck of the draw with this team. Instead, it’s meeting expectations in Europe and the Premier League. The last time Everton finished higher than 5th as in the 2004-05 season, and that’s the target for 2014-15. Achieving it will need Everton hitting their potential early and maintaining that form while hoping for other clubs to slip. Even as we approach the full impact of Financial Fair Play, the disparity between 4th and 5th place in the Premier League is still as much monetary as competitive. Romelu Lukaku joining the club shows how serious Everton are, but they’re still competing with clubs where even mammoth transfer fees are common. Nobody at Everton are interested in spending considerably more this season to finish no better than last season.
Part of Everton’s 5th-place finish in 2013-14 was Manchester United falling down the table. Luis van Gaal is now in charge and he’s got to get Manchester United back to Europe. That’s the main goal this season, with plenty of pressure. Unfortunately for preseason prognostication, van Gaal hasn’t shown his hand. There’s been no rush for signatures. Players most expected to make a quick exit are still in the squad. The January transfer window now seems to be the target, but that wasn’t the expectation when van Gaal took the club. Expectations at Manchester United are normally to win everything, and that makes van Gaal’s summer choices interesting. He complained openly about the tour schedule, saying he didn’t have enough time to really work his squad. He’s talked about players leaving, but they’re still there the week the season starts. With at least some United supporters expecting van Gaal to create a Premier League version of the Dutch National Team, some of those players signed with other clubs or stayed where they were. There’s no ‘if’ when it comes to United being competitive this season, yet it certainly seems that way.
All credit to NBC Sports for how they handled their first season broadcasting the Premier League. Like a newly promoted club, this season has to be about consolidation. Some things only really work the first time around. Do we really need to see every club walk down the tunnel this season? Are some of their pundits better suited to limited exposure? Is there really a market for showing every available game and then showing some of them again during the week? Is NBC any better equipped than Fox was to figure out what the American Premier League audience really is and come up with a way to grow it? You can certainly argue soccer stepping into the realm of mainstream sport in the USA, but it’s a tougher argument for the Premier League. 2014-15 is another opportunity to see if a network can push the Premier League fully into the American sports conversation. Right now, that’s a maybe.
The Premier League Itself
It’s not just Financial Fair Play threatening to change things in the Premier League. It’s also the Premier League leadership, the Football Association that sanctions it, and the supporters who would prefer a different designation than customers. A few seasons ago, it was playing Premier League games overseas. Now, it’s talk of a League 3 mixing Conference and Premier League reserve teams at the bottom tier of English professional soccer. Hey, if it works in Spain. The problem is that it doesn’t work from a paying customer perspective. The lower divisions in England aren’t about player development. They’re about individual clubs with their own histories, identities, and support playing for points like any other. Reserve teams competing in those leagues disrupts that model. It’s a fair argument from those clubs and their supporters, and one that highlights the difference between operating as an established Premier League club and existing in the lower divisions of English professional soccer.
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him at email@example.com.
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