Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


Why the FA Community Shield Does and Does Not Matter

While this is more than a little embarrassing to admit, last night I attended a One Direction concert at Gillette Stadium. I knew very little about the band, but begrudgingly agreed to go when nobody else volunteered to take the last ticket. And I have to say I was thoroughly underwhelmed. How those five guys ever become world famous is beyond me. Only a couple of them have any real vocal talent, and none of them are great musicians – it was shocking to find out only one of the five plays an instrument on stage – and when one of them is singing, the others just stand there. And it’s not like they can dance either. As they rapidly lose their boyish looks, I hope they disappear from the music scene. They really have no business selling out three straight nights at a giant stadium in one city. But nonetheless, it was an experience being at Gillette Stadium with a crowd that was 98% female.

Now back to important matters. There seems to be a never ending debate about the importance of the FA Community Shield. Some say winning it is the equivalent of any other trophy, and some say it’s a glorified preseason friendly that should only be used to build fitness. I tend to come out somewhere in the middle on this issue. I’ll break down why I think it matters and why I think it doesn’t.

It’s easy for fans of a lot of teams to say a trophy shouldn’t be won on just one game alone, especially before the season officially starts. But those people fail to understand that teams earn the opportunity to play in this game the year before. To make it into the match, a team needs to either win the FA Cup or the Premier League, and if they are the same team, then it’s the second place finisher in the league. So to get into the match, you need to have prolonged success the year before. You don’t get into this match without earning it. Being there means you did something right.

There is also a trophy at stake, and a real one at that. It’s not the Emirates Cup or the International Champions Cup. It’s a real trophy that’s been handed out for over 100 years. Any chance a team gets at a real trophy should be taken seriously, especially for teams that have not won an abundance of silverware over the last few years. Trophies bring happiness to a squad and they improve confidence levels. For Arsenal, winning a second trophy in a row could create a surge of momentum going into the new season. There is no downside to winning on Sunday.

Lastly, the match matters because it gives a lot of players another chance to play on the biggest stage at Wembley. The national stadium is a special place for players, and they all clearly love taking the field there. Not everyone got the chance to play there a year ago, so for many players, it could be their first action at Wembley. And the more experience they get playing with that pressure, the better they’ll do in future matches at the beautiful stadium.

But that could also be given as a reason why the game shouldn’t be taken so seriously. If the best XI won’t necessarily be playing for both teams, then can one really put any high level of importance on the match? Arsenal don’t even have all of their players back from summer vacation yet, and nobody is rushing back for this match alone. Young players could be given chances they wouldn’t otherwise get, so the atmosphere will be less tense. There is still room to experiment with squad selection in this match.

It also doesn’t matter because there are no consequences for losing this game in any way. There are no dropped points, as it is a one-time thing. There is no elimination from future rounds. And there shouldn’t even be a hit on morale going into the new season, as the players all know nobody is at their best yet.

In short, winning the FA Community Shield would be good for Arsenal in a lot of ways. It would be another trophy to add to the cabinet, giving the players a confidence boost, and it would be a great start to the season. But losing the match would be like losing a friendly. They could forget about it the very next day as they welcome the Germans back to training, with attention quickly turning to the Premier League opener a week later.

The match is more than a friendly. But winning the trophy is certainly not on par with winning the league or even the Capital One Cup. For us fans who’ve been dying for action, it’s a great way to kick off the season a week early. But if things don’t go the right way, we can all quickly forget it ever happened as we prepare for the real opener.


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A Look at the Other Top EPL Clubs’ Summers

With the new look Red Sox on an off day, I tuned in to watch the Manchester United-Liverpool game in the International Champions Cup Final last night. It gave me a nice opportunity to catch up on those two teams’ progress this summer. So I thought I would take this opportunity to discuss the summers of Arsenal’s Premier League rivals, analyzing the impact of the arrivals and departures at the other major clubs.

But before I get to that, I want to say something about the International Champions Cup. The name would suggest something other than a meaningless preseason tournament, but that’s what the highly publicized competition is. In general, I think it’s better for clubs to play against other European teams rather than MLS teams in the middle of their season. And I understand wanting to bring the game to the U.S. if the matches will attract large crowds and much media attention. So the idea is a good one. But I think it’s silly that Fox, ESPN and NBC have spent so much energy billing this tournament as a big deal. It’s not. Preseason is about finding form and building fitness, and nothing more. There should be no fireworks before the match, no great buildup and last night’s match certainly should not be referred to as a “Final.”

On that note, Fox’s soccer coverage continues to be horrendous. With the network taking over from ESPN in the next World Cup cycle, it’s worrying that the studio hosts continue to mispronounce names like Steven Gerrard. There is no such thing as Americanizing names. If refusing to learn simple pronunciations is their way of trying to get Americans interested, I want no part of it. If Fox doesn’t get their act together before 2018, a lot of people like me might be switching to brushing up on Spanish before the next World Cup.

I’ll start my analysis with the champions, Manchester City. It’s been a relatively quiet summer for Manuel Pellegrini’s side, as they have focused on adding a bit of depth to the squad rather than adding star power. Whether it was the impact of Financial Fair Play or not, City have been a lot more careful with their spending, taking advantage of free transfers (Bacary Sagna came free) and loans (Frank Lampard joins before his time with New York City FC). However, despite the lack of excessive spending, City will be pleased with their summer because of who stayed. Keeping Yaya Toure in town was vital. Fernando looks to be a decent signing in the midfield, but for the most part, expect a similar City side to last year. And they will be equally devastating even without any high profile additions.

Next comes Liverpool, whose summer has seen a lot of quality signings but far more significantly, the departure of Luis Suarez. John Henry’s club has improved their depth tremendously with new summer arrivals, but while all of their signings have talent, none will come close to matching the production of Suarez. Adam Lallana is the best signing of the bunch, but he can’t win matches on his own like the Uruguayan could. I think the money spent on Rickie Lambert was a waste, as I feel he’ll struggle to make an impact at Anfield alongside Daniel Sturridge. And while I like Dejan Lovren at center back, he is not a huge improvement on what was there previously. It’s notable that none of the signings came from major clubs. And as a result, I think the signings were ones who will make Liverpool compete for the top-four rather than for the title itself. They’ll need Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson to take massive strides forward should they make another run at the title.

Chelsea on the other hand have made a number of signings that can sway the title race. Cesc Fabregas, Felipe Luis and Diego Costa are all world class players who instantly make Jose Mourinho’s squad better. Costa and Luis in particular will help Chelsea become a more complete side, relying less on the midfield than they did last season. The one area I think they’ll need to strengthen in the last month of the window is at center back, where they are a little thin having let David Luiz go. The money from his sale though helped finance everything else, so I think it was a smart bit of business. In general, Chelsea have addressed their needs appropriately this summer, bringing in superstars to complement an already strong team. They are my title favorite at this point.

Lastly, Manchester United have had an interesting summer on the transfer market. While I’m sure they’ll have a series of departures that could finance more arrivals in the coming weeks once Louis van Gaal wields his axe, they have spent a lot of money on relatively little in my opinion. Ander Herrera is not a world class midfielder right now, and he isn’t much of an improvement from United’s other options in the middle. And while Luke Shaw will be great in a few years, I feel he’s overrated at the moment. United has the talent to compete, but it will be up to van Gaal to bring out the best in players that David Moyes overlooked. Their signings this summer will be the players misused a year ago. I think they’ll be much improved, but unless they add another star this month, I don’t see them challenging for the title.

If I had to rank the summers of all of these clubs plus Arsenal, I’d say the order from best to worst is Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United and then Liverpool. A lot can still happen in the next month, but with preseason coming to a close, the big clubs like these will be looking to switch their focus away from the market towards the play on the field. I’ll have more coverage on the EPL as a whole in the buildup to the new season, so check back for that. Thanks for reading.

Who do you think has had the best summer in the EPL? Please comment below.