The English Premier League season is only 2 weeks old, and already I have a favorite team: Huddersfield Town.
For those who haven’t been paying attention, the recently promoted club from Yorkshire is 2-0-1 and is tied for second behind Manchester United after outscoring Crystal Palace and Newcastle by a combined score of 4-0 and tying Southampton 0-0 on Saturday.
It’s too early to anoint Huddersfield the new Leicester City, which went from near-relegation to EPL champion two years ago, but there is so much to love about the Terriers.
For starters, they have returned to the top flight for the first time in 45 years despite having one of the smallest payrolls in England’s second division last season. This is a club that shares a training ground with snooker and croquet teams, a club that invites fans to its afternoon practices, a club that has been known to have its players stand in line for food at the concession stands among the fans.
Secondly, Huddersfield Town is coached by German-American David Wagner, a charismatic character who played eight games at forward for the U.S. national team between 1996-98. His father is a U.S. serviceman, and his mother is German. He was playing with Schalke in the Bundesliga, was a teammate of U.S. national team defender Thomas Dooley and was introduced to former U.S. coach Steve Sampson, who brought him into camp.
Wagner’s U.S. career didn’t last long, but he played in Germany until his retirement in 2005 and became very close friends with current Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, whom he met during their years as teammates at Mainz.
Wagner had no intention of becoming a manager. Upon retirement, he enrolled in university to study biology and sports science with plans of starting a teaching career. But Klopp, who was coaching at Dortmund, in 2011 persuaded Wagner to coach Dortmund II, the club’s second-division team. He had great success there, and in 2015 was hired to take over Huddersfield, which languished in 18th place.
He bolstered the roster with a half-dozen players he knew from Germany. He took the team to Sweden for a wilderness bonding trip. He introduced a high-energy, aggressive attack. Little by little, he got his players to believe they could reach the Premier League.
He also won over the fans. His players make it a point to walk over toward the stands after matches and salute the fans.
Although Wagner said the team is staying humble, and has not forgot from where it came, the 45-year-old coach has big dreams.
“We’re not here just to say hello,” he said.
Will the Terriers wind up being the toast of the league like Leicester City? Or, will they go the way of Hull City, which two years ago upon promotion won its first two games, didn’t win again until November, saw its coach fired and the team was relegated in May.
I, for one, can’t wait to find out.
▪ Mbappe to PSG? It appears the spending spree at Paris Saint-Germain will continue, as reports in France say the club is ready to sign Monaco forward Kylian Mbappe for $193 million. The 18-year-old plays for Monaco and the French national team, and would join Brazilian star Neymar, who recently signed a world-record deal with a $250 million transfer fee.
Mbappe was a key player for Monaco last season and led the team to the Champions League semifinals. The signing gives PSG a potentially electrifying offense with Mbappe, Neymar and Edinson Cavani. The question now is whether they will keep Argentine star Angel Di Maria, or whether he’ll wind up in Barcelona, as rumored, to replace Neymar.
▪ MLS signs 15-year-old: Sporting KC signed 15-year-old forward Gianluca Busio of Greensboro, North Carolina, who became the second-youngest player to sign with a Major League Soccer team since the much-hyped 14-year-old Freddy Adu signed with D.C. United in 2004.
Busio is the second teenager signed by Kansas City. They also signed 16-year-old Erik Palmer-Brown a few years ago.
“Since I was a kid, I always dreamed of being a professional soccer player,’’ said Busio, who developed his game in the Sporting KC youth system. ‘’From the day I arrived in Kansas City, they have made me feel like part of the family.’’
He lives with a host family and attends high school in a Kansas City suburb.
Fall season - Puerto Rico (9), Miami FC (9), San Francisco (6). Carolina (6), NY Cosmos (5). Combined – Miami FC (45), San Francisco (32), NY Cosmos (29), North Carolina (27), Jacksonville (26)
East – Toronto (53), NYCFC (47), Chicago (41), NY Red Bulls, Columbus (39). West – Seattle (41), Portland and KC (40), Houston (38), FC Dallas (36)
Sunday- Chelsea vs. Everton (8:30 a.m., CNBC), Liverpool vs. Arsenal (11 a.m., NBCSN), Real Madrid vs Valencia (4:15 p.m., BeINSport USA), Montreal vs. Toronto (4:30 p.m., ESPN), Los Angeles vs. San Jose (7 p.m., FS1), Seattle vs. Portland (9:30 p.m., FS1)