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The Mets fan's guide to picking a European soccer club

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Hey, that US run in the World Cup was great fun. Maybe you are considering getting more into soccer this Fall, when the European club season kicks off. Here are some suggestions from one Mets fan to another.

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@Mets

With what was arguably the best World Cup of my lifetime now in the rear view mirror, soccer fans around the world now turn their attention to the European club season, kicking off in a few weeks. Perhaps you are one of the Americans that got swept up by the excitement of this year's World Cup, and want to explore the sport a bit more. This seems to happen every four years or so, but the pundits tell me that this time soccer will really take America by storm. Since you are most likely a Mets fan, I figured I would compile a list of teams to follow that will make the transition into the world of European football as seamless as possible.

(And yes, I realize that Bill Simmons already sort of did this a few years ago.)

There are several factors to consider when picking a soccer club to follow.

(1) Will I actually be able to watch them play?

This is less of an issue now that NBC Sports shows every single Barclay's Premier League game either on TV or online, so even if you pick West Ham United for some reason (not on my list, but to each their own), you'll be able to watch every one of their 38 Premier League contests. The Spanish and Italian leagues get reasonable coverage as well, assuming you invested in a serious digital or satellite sports package for your television. Elsewhere, it gets dicey. BeIn Sports, which is on DirectTV and in some digital cable packages, has the rights to the English Championship, but prefers to show such wonderful programming as "Dr. Ho's HoPhysio Back Belt" or "Sexy Face at Any Age," instead of actually showing the live soccer that they own the rights to. And if you decide to go for Strømsgodset of the Norwegian Tippeligaen (a defensible choice), you might be completely out of luck.

Of course as with anything popular with people on the Internet, there are a number of semi-legal ways to watch almost every European league, if you know where to look.

(2) Will I actually want to watch them play live?

If you are a world traveller, top-class European football offers you a wide variety of sumptuous destinations: Barcelona, Madrid, Amsterdam, Monaco, Paris, Milan, Rome, and London. It also offers you Manchester, Liverpool, Donetsk, and Dortmund.

Also, soccer is a highly underrated live sport.

(3) Can I watch the games with other people?

I'm limiting this solely to NYC, because it's the area where I know the soccer fan culture the best, but for me, one of the best parts of being a soccer fan is showing up bleary-eyed at seven AM with a bunch of fellow fans and having a few beers while we yell at the shoddy BeIN digital streams. An active supporter's club is always a plus, and it can help with the transition for a new fan.

I will also be grading each team's 2014 home kit. Now you shouldn't solely pick a team based on how smart they look on match day, but the home shirt is integral to the soccer fan experience, so it's important to know what you will be wearing.

So with those criteria in mind, here is my list of European clubs that might appeal to various strata of Mets fans:

 

If you really enjoyed The Worst Team Money Can Buy, but wish it had a slightly more upbeat ending:

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(photo credit: Ben Hoskins)

Queens Park Rangers

Queens Park Rangers are my usual go-to Mets equivalent in the Premier League (when they are actually in the Premier League). They are dwarfed by the major clubs in London (Tottenham, Arsenal, Chelsea), and have often tried to spend their way into relevancy with predictably mixed to poor results. Despite famously having spent more money on players than the last two UEFA Champions League runners-up (Atletico Madrid and Borussia Dortmund), QPR spent last season in the Championship, the second tier of English football, after being relegated from the Premier League at the end of the 2012-13 season. They didn't exactly run away with the Championship either, finishing fourth and needing the playoffs to beat a path back into the top flight. Clearly having learned from their mistakes, they have already been linked to Ajax striker Kolbeinn Sigthorsson, who won't come cheap, and signed former England international, Rio Ferdinand. Ferdinand was a world-class player for over a decade, but is now 35 and has back issues. I don't think you can get a more mid-90s Mets signing than that.

They do have some likable young talent. Charlie Austin stands out most notably, and despite a poor first season, Yun Suk-young has some potential as well. Of course, they also have Joey Barton, who is, to put it kindly, a bit of a dick (in fact, there are 3,850,000 results on google for "Joey Barton is a dick"). In better news, if you tried to get into club soccer after the last World Cup, there may be some familiar names here like Shaun Wright-Phillips, Robert Green, and Julio Cesar (currently on loan at Toronto FC).

2014-15 kit quality (on the 20-80 scouting scale)

45, fringe-average

If you know my personal rooting interests, you'll know I am partial to blue and white. I like the horizontal stripes (or hoops, in the parlance), but this year's home shirt is missing last year's stylish collar and red trim. Like most non-marquee clubs that go through a big kit manufacturer (Nike in this case), the end result is fairly bland.

Mets team(s) they will remind you of

I already compared them to those early-to-mid nineties Mets teams, so pick whatever depressing year suits your fancy.

Why you might want to consider someone else

They aren't a particularly likable team, even without Joey Barton, and I'd imagine they'll be one of the bookie's favorites to drop back down this year. If you are going to pick a Premier League team, you might want to pick a better one. And I suppose you could also reasonably ask me: Who would voluntarily root for the mid-90s Mets?

You might also consider

Newcastle United (which has a very large fan presence in NYC, though you won't understand a word they say), AS Monaco

 

If you want to root for a 'good' team that still reminds you of the Mets:

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(photo credit: Clive Rose)

Tottenham Hotspur

Oh Spurs.

Now I can't in good conscience recommend one of the elite European sides. I can't stop you from picking Manchester United or Real Madrid or Bayern Munich, but if you were inclined to jump into soccer fandom through a team with a rich history and more spending money than some of the smaller South American nations, you'd probably be a Yankees fan anyway.

As far as English teams go, the clubs most likely to get you derided for bandwagon jumping are the aforementioned Man U, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, and Tottenham. By the same token, those teams generally have the largest and most active supporter's clubs (though weirdly, I tend to see more Aston Villa fans at my home bar than some of the bigger clubs). Tottenham is the one big English club I will recommend to Mets fans though. Their fanbase is comparably and familiarly neurotic. For example, this year they are complaining that the team's sponsor's logo is red, because that is traditional rival Arsenal's color. Complaining about the color of the uniform? Definitely Metsy. They also have two titles in their (admittedly longer than the Mets) history and sit in the shadow of a bigger rival, Arsenal (though for the love of god, don't bring that up with them).

Recently, Tottenham has played incredibly frustrating, occasionally brilliant soccer. They've brought in Mauricio Pochettino, the ex-Southampton manager, who should employ the same fun, creative style he did with the Saints. And they have the talent to pull it off, including what seems like half the Belgian national team. You would think their big 2013 buy, Spain's Roberto Saldado would have to play better this year under Pochettino, that their veteran back four won't be as shaky, that whatever Southampton players they poach will adapt well, and that Hugo Lloris will continue to be one of the best keepers in England. But it's Spurs, so you never know. You only suspect that pain and underachievement will follow. As a Mets fan, this should be pretty familiar.

2014-15 kit quality (on the 20-80 scouting scale)

45, fringe-average

I don't have a problem with the red AIA logo (I also never made a big deal about the black Mets jerseys though). However, the yellow trim and weird detailing around the collar doesn't do it for me. I have generally liked their kit designs in the past, but the Under Armour entries of the last few years have either been bland or, like this year, over-designed.

Mets team(s) they will remind you of

Occasionally brilliant, more often frustrating, and in the end bested by by teams that aren't necessarily more talented than them. Sounds like the 1987-1990 Mets to me.

Why you might want to consider someone else

Spurs will make you crazy, man. Also, Bill Simmons picked them.

You might also consider

Aston Villa, FC Porto

If you just want the closest approximation of 2014 Mets fandom:

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(photo credit: Laurence Griffiths)

Birmingham City

Mets fans who have suffered through the last decade or so of Mets baseball will feel right at home with Birmingham City.

- They play in a big city (Birmingham) where they have always been in the shadow of a bigger team (Aston Villa).

- They were so broke last season, they couldn't even afford to fire their manager as they slid down the table post-Boxing-Day.

- They won only two games at home all season.

Pretty much sounds like recent Mets teams to me.

Birmingham narrowly avoided relegation to League One on the last day of the 2013-14 season (okay, the Mets comparisons stop there) with a late Paul Caddis equalizer, and will likely be a trendy preseason pick to be in the relegation mix once again.

It hasn't always been this bad though. Brum was in the Premier League as recently as three years ago, when they bagged the League Cup over Arsenal. And no one will accuse you of being a bandwagon jumper, like they might if you jump into European soccer as a Manchester United or Real Madrid fan.

2014-15 kit quality (on the 20-80 scouting scale)

60, plus

Brum ditched the blue and white panels for this year's kit and went with a very stylish all blue number. It has a collar(!), and the thin stripes give it a nice dimension. It's an excellent effort. The away kit is unremarkable, but that isn't always a bad thing in the soccer world.

Mets team(s) they will remind you of

The post-Madoff, totally depressing 2012-2014 Mets.

Why you might want to consider someone else

I'm also not entirely sure why anyone would voluntarily root for the 2014 Mets, and since they are in the Championship, you'll probably only get to see ten or so games across the length of the season. Also, Birmingham isn't exactly the crown jewel of England's tourism industry. And finally, it could go downhill very quickly for Brum; remember, MLB doesn't have relegation.

You might also consider

Blackpool FC

If your favorite Met is Mike Piazza and you occasionally got drunk and shouted "Forza Azzurri" during the World Cup:

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(photo credit: Claudio Villa)

AC Milan

Milan is by far the most successful team I'll recommend. They've won seven Champions League titles, second only to Real Madrid's ten, to go with 18 Serie A (Italian League) titles and 11 Italian Cup wins. That is a lot of hardware. They have household names up and down the lineup (Robinho, Michael Essien, Keisuke Honda, Nigel de Jong, and Mario Balotelli, who is a fair approximation of Jordany Valdespin as a world-class footballer).

 

So why do they appear on a list of teams that would feel familiar to Mets fans? Well, terrible ownership and crippling financial problems of course! They are owned by former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is having his own, uh, fraud issues. This might cause him to sell off some of those world-class players like, uh, Mario Balotelli. The financial issues also contributed to one of the worst results in Milan's recent history, an 8th place finish in Serie A that will see them shut out of European competition for the first time since 1998.

On the plus side, Milan is a heck of a vacation destination, and their fanbase has a strong presence in NYC. Also, Serie A games tend to kick off later than English games, so you won't be getting tanked over breakfast (may not be a plus for some).

2014-15 kit quality (on the 20-80 scouting scale)

40, below-average

I actually really like the classic red and black stripes of Milan, but Adidas' 2014-15 kit is likely to be a bit controversial. Personally for me it is just very, very busy, though I like the mock-style collar. Of course you can always just get a shirt from a different season. This one is pretty nice.

Mets team(s) they will remind you of

Financial troubles? About to lose their best player? A smattering of other old stars past their prime? The bottom dropping out after a run of success? Sounds like the 1978 Mets to me.

Why you might want to consider someone else

Berlusconi is one of the few professional sports owners less sympathetic than the Wilpons. Maybe more sympathetic than M. Donald Grant though.

You might also consider

S.S. Lazio

If you really don't want to put a lot of effort in (or are French):

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FC Metz

(photo credit: fcmetz.com)

To be honest, I wasn't even aware that FC Metz existed until a French twitter follower pointed them out to me. They were just promoted to Ligue 1 on the backs of their 2013-14 Ligue 2 championship. And the comparisons to the Mets go beyond the name. Metz have a renowned youth academy that has developed many French stars (due to the nature of European football, they usually end up getting sold off to bigger clubs after short stints with Metz's first team). And our homophonic cousins were also good in the late-90s, winning the French League Cup in 1996 and finishing 2nd in Ligue 1 in 1998.

Beyond that, I don't know really know that much about them, other than Google maps tells me Metz is a pretty long hike from both Paris and the south of France. Though not that far from Belgium, if that is your thing.

2014-15 kit quality (on the 20-80 scouting scale)

50, average

It's another generic Nike kit, and one with A LOT of sponsors. Like the Milan kit, it's too busy, but I like the panel look as opposed to the solid red. And the away shirt is pretty swanky. Too bad neither is blue and orange to really complete the effect.

Mets team(s) they will remind you of

I mean, they are named "Metz," what more do you want?

Why you might want to consider someone else

I don't know enough about French football to proffer a guess about Metz's chances of staying up in Ligue 1 next season, but I do know enough about French football to mention that you won't be able to watch much of them without resorting to quasi-legal means.

You might also consider

METZ the band

If you want to dream on the possibility of new ownership (or just have drinks with me at seven in the morning):

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(photo credit: Michael Regan)

Sheffield Wednesday

Ah, my beloved owls. Like the Mets, they haven't really seen much glory since 2000 (the last year Wednesday spent in the Premier League), but still have an incredibly loyal, incredibly neurotic fanbase (hmm, this seems to be a trend). After years of bouncing between the bottom of the Championship and the top of League One, and after barely surviving a winding-up order in 2010, the club was bought this summer by Azerbaijani billionaire Hafiz Mammadov. The sale is still being completed, so Wednesday aren't awash in new players yet, but the future finally looks bright for a club with as many first division titles as Chelsea and Manchester City. At least that is what I keep telling myself. This year's team lacks star power of course, but they have had a few USMNT players come through in the past, most notably midfielder John Harkes, who became the first American to score at Wembley Stadium, and last year, center back Oguchi Onyewu.

Also, like the Mets, there is an intriguing group of young talent here. Sam Hutchinson has been brought in full time from Chelsea after a loan spell last year. He is only 24 and was getting first-team time with the Blues when he wasn't dealing with horrible knee issues. If Wednesday can keep him healthy, he can be a force in the defensive midfield along with fan favorite Jose Semedo (he's magic, you know). Up front they have a young cadre of strikers in Adthe "Albanian Pele" Nuhiu, Scottish national Chris Maguire, and the homegrown Caolan Lavery. And like with Birmingham City, no one is going to accuse you of jumping on a bandwagon. Plus, we have a vibrant supporter's club, (note to self: Tell Paddy to update the website more often) that gets 10-20 South Yorkshire dudes out to the bar for those obnoxious 7:15 AM kickoffs.

2014-15 kit quality (on the 20-80 scouting scale)

60, plus

Wednesday has gotten some guff on the twittersphere for switching to a Sondico, a small English kit manufacturer, after spending the last few seasons with Puma. Honestly though, the last few Puma kits were garbage (last year's-- pictured above-- was famously compared to an Everton shirt being pulled out of a Tesco bag), and I think Sondico did a fine job with this year's home shirt. It has a pretty cool retro feel to it. They still haven't announced an away kit, despite their first match being away to Brighton in, uh, two weeks, but that's Wednesday for you.

Mets team(s) they will remind you of

The 2016 Mets, after a new commissioner and money woes force the Wilpons to finally sell to someone with money?

Why you might want to consider someone else

Like Birmingham City, Wednesday will only get a dozen or so games televised this year (first one is 7:15 AM August 30th against Nottingham Forest if you want to join me for a few beers). And like the Mets, Wednesday is pretty good at screwing things up even when the future looks bright.

You might also consider

I have a soft spot for Everton, I guess?

But of course, we all know you are actually going to pick...*sigh*

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(photo credit: Clive Mason)

Arsenal

I still don't quite understand the rather large intersection between Mets fans and Arsenal fans. While I wrote above that Wednesday and Spurs fans are neurotic like Mets fans, I should now note that they are not nearly as neurotic as Arsenal fans. I remember sitting at Football Factory early last season, watching a winless Wednesday squad at the bottom of the Championship play a listless draw with Yorkshire rivals Barnsley, while down at the end of the bar, a group of mostly American Arsenal fans groused about their team WHICH WAS ON TOP OF THE PREMIER LEAGUE TABLE AT THE TIME. I get the Nick Hornsby thing (I'm not a fan of his work, but whatever). I get that they are a well-run organization with the whole "Moneyball" thing going for them, but I can't in good conscience recommend an actually good Premier League team (Spurs don't really count).

But you are going to pick Arsenal. Because in the end, everyone picks Arsenal.

Alexis Sanchez is pretty awesome though, I will grant you that.