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Casual American soccer fans need British dynasties

By Chris Puzia / Assistant Sports Editor

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This summer’s FIFA World Cup Brazil inspired some Americans to become more invested in rooting for professional soccer worldwide.

Now, at the beginning of the English 2014-2015 Barclays Premier League season, that newfound fandom comes in at an interesting time: There is no dominant dynastic team, and for Americans looking to get into the sport for the first time, they need one. Newcomers to the league and the sport in general would have little knowledge of a dominant team’s rich history of success, something that would give them perspective on the state of English soccer.

For the past two decades, the English team Manchester United ruled the Premier League, which is England’s top soccer league, considered the most competitive league in Europe. They were a globally-recognized powerhouse and essentially the soccer version of the New York Yankees: Everybody, whether a fan of the sport or not, knew the team.

Manchester United, filled with recognizable names like Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs and Ruud van Nistelrooy, dominated the league. During legendary coach Sir Alex Ferguson’s tenure from 1986 to 2013, the team won the league 13 times, the Football Association Challenge Cup five times and the UEFA Champions League twice.

Then, Ferguson retired in May 2013. After having the same manager for nearly 30 years, United has already fired his successor, David Moyes, and current manager Louis van Gaal is under pressure from fans and the media to improve after a slow start to the new season.

Only three games into the new Premier League season, United has already lost its opener to Swansea City, and it has drawn Sunderland and Burnley, adding up to only two league points thus far — one point for each draw and zero points for the loss.

Even more humiliating, the team suffered a brutal 4-0 defeat on Aug. 26 in the Capital One Cup at the hands of Milton Keynes Dons, a team that plays two divisions below United. Van Gaal himself said after the loss that people need to be patient with the team.

“I hope the fans maintain their confidence in the club and in our philosophy because that philosophy takes time,” quoted the team’s official Twitter account from van Gaal.

Simply put, the old guard of Manchester United is now gone.

For the first time in about 20 years, English soccer does not have a solitary, universally acknowledged face for the league, and for Americans who are looking to break into watching and following the sport, this is bad.

If you ask anyone around the world to name a baseball team, the first team they would probably say is the New York Yankees. The team is more than just a team now — it’s a brand. In every country, you will find someone wearing a trademark Yankees hat or T-shirt.

Manchester United still holds that same aura among current fans. But for people who do not already associate European soccer with Manchester United — like Americans unfamiliar with the history of the league — the team won’t leave the same impression. For them, the storied United will not be synonymous with European soccer.

This would be the first generation in a long time for which that’s the case.

Last year, Manchester City won the Premier League, with Liverpool finishing a close second and Chelsea taking third. Those teams are still favored for the title this season, but it is shaping up to be just what it was last season: a close contest with a few favorites, rather than just one. 

With City retaining its core players like David Silva and Vincent Kompany, Liverpool acquiring Italian striker Mario Balotelli and Chelsea signing Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas, all of these teams are dangerous and likely to contend at the end of the season.

While this is great news for longtime soccer fans and anyone who likes good competition, many new entrants into a sport often look for a starting point — something familiar and recognizable to latch onto.

With all due respect to lesser teams like Hull City, Leicester City and Burnley FC, it is much less likely that brand new American fans will see them as a popular candidate to root for.

This is not to say that everyone will be a bandwagon fan just because one dominant team exists. It is true, however, that it is difficult to follow soccer closely in America because games are rarely broadcast on television stations here. An iconic team like the old Manchester United would help this.

NBC Sports Network and Fox Sports Network occasionally broadcast Premier League games, but ESPN does not. Television viewership without special cable packages in the United States is minimal. 

However, if a team steps up over the course of the next few years and wins several Premier League titles in a row, it could hopefully spark more television exposure for the league overseas and give new fans a name to root for.

For new American fans to have an easier time breaking into the league, a new dynasty emerging would go a long way towards bridging that gap.

 

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Casual American soccer fans need British dynasties