Michelle Kaufman: English Premier League’s popularity grows in U.S.

08/16/2014 6:50 PM

08/16/2014 6:50 PM

The English Premier League kicked off this weekend, and more Americans than ever are expected to spend their weekend mornings glued to their TV sets.

Last season, a total of 115.5 million Americans watched live EPL matches, an increase of 114 percent from the previous season. More and more, soccer fans in the United States are becoming deeply devoted to English clubs, and the teams hope to capitalize. Nine Premier League clubs toured the United States during the summer, including Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal.

The Man United game against Real Madrid in Ann Arbor’s Michigan Stadium drew a U.S.-record crowd of 109,000. And Sun Life Stadium had 51,000 for the International Champions Cup final between Man U and Liverpool, even though it was a rainy night and the teams weren’t known until 48 hours before game time.

There are seven American players in the Premier League, including World Cup goalkeeper Tim Howard, so that also has helped drive viewership. Here’s a quick EPL season preview to get everyone caught up after a busy summer:

Top story lines

1. How will Liverpool make up for Luis Suarez’s 31 goals? The Uruguayan star was shipped off to Barcelona for $109 million after his World Cup biting incident, so the Reds have to figure out how to replace his scoring. It is safe to say nobody will come in and score 31 goals this season, but the combination of Daniel Sturridge, Rickie Lambert, Lazar Markovic, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana offers plenty of firepower.

2. Will Manchester City defend its title? Why not? It certainly has the roster to do it, and the addition of French defender Eliaquim Mangala should help.

3. Can Manchester United, under new coach Louis Van Gaal, find glory again after last season’s disaster? The Dutch World Cup coach faces a huge challenge after the Red Devils finished in seventh place last season, their worst finish in more than 20 years.

4. How will Chelsea do in the second season under Jose Mourinho? The signings of Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas were huge, and there’s plenty of reason for fans to expect better than last year’s third-place finish.

Top EPL transfers

• Suarez, Liverpool to Barcelona ($109 million): The controversial Uruguayan star is serving a four-month ban for biting an Italian player during the World Cup, so he can’t play for Barca until late October. But he is practicing with the team, and the Spanish club hopes a fresh start will help him get over his troubles.
• Costa, Atletico Madrid to Chelsea ($53 million): The Brazilian-born Costa scored 27 goals in the Spanish league last season and decided to become a Spanish citizen, but he will be making a living in England now.
•  Alexis Sanchez, Barcelona to Arsenal ($50 million): The Chilean World Cup star, nicknamed “Ardilla’’ (squirrel) for his speed, is hoping to lead the Gunners to the title.
•  Cesc Fabregas, Barcelona to Chelsea ($50 million): The former Arsenal captain is back in the Premier League, and Chelsea fans are delighted.
• Mangala, Porto to Manchester City ($50 million): The French defender was a star in Portugal and eager to develop his game in a better league.
•  Romelu Lukaku ($47 million), Chelsea to Everton: U.S. fans know how good Lukaku is because the 21-year-old Belgian forward had a goal and an assist when he came off the bench late in the World Cup Round of 16 match between the United States and Belgium. Howard, the U.S. and Everton goalkeeper, will be much happier with Lukaku on his side. Lukaku was on loan to Everton last season, and the club clearly felt he was worth a major investment.
•  Luke Shaw, Southampton to Manchester United ($45 million): He’s only 19 and already is one of the best defenders in the league.
• Lallana, Southampton to Liverpool ($42 million): The midfielder was looking forward to playing against his former team in Sunday’s season opener, but he is still nursing a knee injury from a summer U.S. tour so his status in uncertain.
• Frank Lampard, New York City FC loan to Manchester City: The Chelsea legend, 36, will now suit up for rival Man City until the new MLS team in New York gets going next spring.
•  Didier Drogba, Galatassaray to Chelsea (free transfer): The 36-year-old Ivory Coast star won 10 titles with Chelsea from 2004 to 2012, and when he became a free transfer, Chelsea scooped him up. Welcome home, Didier.
•  Other players to watch: Eden Hazard (Chelsea); Yaya Toure (Man City); Sturridge (Liverpool); Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie (Man United); and Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal).
•  Americans in EPL: Howard (Everton); Jozy Altidore (Sunderland); Geoff Cameron (Stoke City); Brad Friedel (Tottenham); Brad Guzan (Aston Villa); Brek Shea (Stoke City); Cody Cropper (Southampton); DeAndre Yedlin (Tottenham but on loan back to Seattle Sounders).

Teams likeliest to be fighting relegation: Burnley, Hull City, Leicester, West Brom and West Ham.

•  Closer to home: Three teams from the World Cup are playing exhibition matches in South Florida in early September. Brazil plays Colombia on Sept. 5 at Sun Life Stadium, and Chile plays Haiti on Sept. 9 at Lockhart Stadium. Despite Brazil’s embarrassing exit from its World Cup, the matchup against the Colombians should make for a festive (and yellow!) atmosphere. Same goes for Chile and Haiti, who have passionate fan bases in this area.

Who’s leading

MLS: Eastern Conference — Kansas City (39), DC (37), Toronto (32). Western Conference — Seattle (41), Salt Lake (39), Dallas (36).

NASL: San Antonio (15), Minnesota (13), Tampa Bay (9), NY and Fort Lauderdale (8).

On the tube

Sunday: Liverpool vs. Southampton (8:30 a.m., NBCSN), Newcastle vs. Manchester City (11 a.m., NBCSN), Valencia vs. Milan (BeInSport USA), DC vs. Colorado (8 p.m., Univision).

About Michelle Kaufman

Michelle Kaufman

@kaufsports

Michelle Kaufman grew up in Miami and graduated from UM in 1987. She has worked at the St. Petersburg Times and the Detroit Free Press and has been with the Miami Herald since 1996. She has covered 13 Olympics and 6 World Cups.

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