Ah, Ajax. One of the greatest Dutch teams of all time, and the curator of a veritable assembly line of talent. Sadly, Ajax’s gifts at finding and polishing young players hasn’t done them any good since the mid-90s – like the Expos (RIP), they sold their best players to keep the lights on. Unlike the Expos, the lights are still indeed on.
Champions League primer
Wondering just what this so-called “Champions League” is all about? Curious about the games, but have no idea who to support? FOX Soccer is here to help. Here’s a quick guide to help you find your new favorite European team – by pairing it with a well-known American sport team you might already support. As always, these pairings are made with our tongues firmly in our cheeks. Contributions from: Leander Schaerlaeckens, Thomas Hautmann, Charles Ventura and Jamie Trecker
Manchester United : New York Yankees
Great brand. Beloved and hated in equal measure, but undeniably successful. Struggling under a new coach. And every bandwagon jumper loves them. Did we mention they have a “great brand?” Yeah, go ahead and hate them.
Bayer Leverkusen : Buffalo Bills
Perpetual bridesmaids, the 109-year old Leverkusen have been Bundesliga runners-up five times – almost equaling the Bills’ infamous record of playing in and losing four straight Super Bowls. That makes them almost lovable!
Real Sociedad : Pittsburgh Pirates
Sociedad hadn’t been relevant in some time but are suddenly the trendy, hot underdog team. Helped by Mexican starlet Carlos Vela, this is a team to keep an eye on this year. Also, like the Pirates, they have a really cool logo.
Shakhtar Dontesk : Miami Marlins
Oh boy. As with the Marlins, Shakhtar spent big and got a shiny new stadium. After underachieving, they were forced to sell off some key parts. The difference is that the Miners have dominated Ukranian football, and, um … Anyway, they also both wear weird orangey uniforms.
Copenhagen : Milwaukee Brewers
No relation to the chewing tobacco. The Danes make tasty beer and play pretty good soccer – but like the Brewers, have the misfortune to be within range of a category killer. How would you like living next to the market-killing Chicago Cubs? Copenhagen has Bayern to endure.
Juventus : New Orleans Saints
Juventus and the Saints have been successful over the years. They are currently perpetual contenders, and beloved in their cities. They also have been dogged by cheating scandals, and taken heavy punishments as a result. Somehow, through all this, they still seem pretty classy. How? We don’t know.
Galatasaray : Washington Redskins
The Turks have money to burn and incredible fans. They go out and they get big players, just like the Skins. And just like the ‘Skins, they have no clue how to compete at the highest level.
Real Madrid : Los Angeles Lakers
This is the real “FC Hollywood,” a championship-laden side stacked with some of the all-time greats. Everyone wants to play here; everyone else wants to beat them. Cristiano Ronaldo is the Kobe Bryant of the sport, and vice-versa. Their glamor belies a tough work ethic that allows them to grit out wins.
Benfica : Toronto Blue Jays
Like the Jays, Benfica can't quite decide if they're going to be big-time or not. Like the Jays, they spend in half-measures, getting together a team that’s almost really good – but missing a vital piece.
Anderlecht : Cincinnati Bearcats
Does winning a league no one else cares about make you a big fish? If so, then Anderlecht is like any member of the unloved used-to-be-Big-East-but-now-isn’t “American Athletic Conference.” Fun fact, American Sacha Kljestan plies his trade here. Successfully.
Olympiakos : Detroit Tigers
The Greeks have one of the strongest and best loved names in the sport. And, unfortunately, as with Detroit, they are playing in an utterly bankrupt market. Arguably, it’s just made them tougher to play.
Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) : Miami Heat
First, be like the hipsters and call them “PEE-ESS-GEE.” So much easier. Second, go out and buy a lot of talent with the money you got from your unspeakably wealthy new owners. Both teams have “Big Threes” (Ibrahimovic, Cavani, Lucas for PSG; James, Wade and Bosh for the Heat) and both teams are expected to win everything.
Bayern Munich : New England Patriots
Bayern is like the modern Patriots – not the gang that used to wear those helmets with Pat Patriot on them. Both teams are always in the championship mix, boast genius coaches and rely on awesome field generals at the top of their game. Like Bill Belichick? You’ll love Pep Guardiola. Think Tom Brady is awesome? Check out Bastian Schweinsteiger. Both command fearsome media attention, and both have suffered ecstatic wins and heartbreaking losses.
CSKA Moscow : Alabama Crimson Tide
After all, they both have big Red Armies. Historically, both teams are also pretty fearsome, though today you’d take a bet on the Crimson Tide over the former Soviet monoliths.
Viktoria Plzen: Frederick Keys
Manchester City : Los Angeles Dodgers
Both teams are good. Both teams have spent a lot of money. Neither has yet to fully live up to expectations. One other thing: both teams are loved in their cities, and somewhat grudgingly accepted elsewhere. (Brooklyn has yet to forgive Walter O’Malley.)
Chelsea : New York Giants
Both teams are smart, classy and boast filthy rich fan bases. They are also in the glare of major market spotlights: New York sports coverage is sui generis; London isn’t far behind. While both have won it all, there’s a lingering feeling around both teams that somehow they have not been successful enough.
Basel : North Carolina Women’s Soccer
Being the most successful team all-time in Switzerland is like being North Carolina’s women’s soccer program. Lead by Murat Yakin (Basel) and Anson Dorrance (UNC) they are recognized as great by a few small, select group of people. And that’s about it.
Schalke : New York Mets
Dysfunctional to a fault, both teams have dedicated fan bases, plenty of cash and little idea what to do with any of it. Unfortunately, the team from Gelsenkirchen, to the best of our knowledge, does not have a “Mr. Met” analogue. That would be cool.
Steaua Bucharest : Quinnipiac University Bobcats
Both teams are utterly unpronounceable unless you live there. (It’s KWIN-ip-EE-ak.) Honestly, you don’t really care about Steaua. Or Quinnipiac.
Marseille : Baltimore Orioles
Both are charmingly crappy harbor towns. Both have the best collections of dive bars in their respective nations. (Trust us, we know our dive bars.) They also boast impressive histories … which neither seems to be able to live up to. They’re fun to watch, but struggle to get over the final hurdle. They look to play spoilers in the group of death.
Arsenal : Dallas Cowboys
Guess what? Arsenal are "America's Team.” The Gunners have a massive and mystifying fan base here in the States. And, just like the ’Boys, Arsenal can't win the big games. The parallels don’t stop there: both boast state-of-the-art stadiums, brutally steep ticket prices, and mercurial and oft-criticized coaches. Arsenal’s Tony Romo? Thomas Vermaelen. Both teams are also a bit full of themselves. They just can’t help it!
Napoli : Green Bay Packers
Napoli isn’t a socialist collective, but it’s hard to argue that there’s a tougher market than gritty Naples. Green Bay, WI isn’t exactly easy street either. And yet, both teams have overcome humble surroundings to post unexpectedly strong results. Like solid grinders? These are your guys. They have a real shot to get out of the group of death.
Borussia Dortmund : Tampa Bay Rays
Talk about teams punching above their weight. Riding homegrown talent, shrewd signings and excellent management, both teams have proven to be big-time contenders from smaller markets. You better fear ‘em. Favorites in the Group F, the group of death.
Atletico Madrid : New York Knicks
Years of rampant mismanagement by egomaniacal owners finally made way at both clubs, earning them something approaching respectability. It’s deserved: these two teams aren’t bad, and are both are adored in their cities. (Both owners, Miguel Angel Gil Marin for Atletico and James Dolan for the Knicks, are still hated, mind you.)
Zenit St. Petersburg : Oakland Raiders
Tough to play, tougher to take. Both teams are feared on the field and off, thanks to fans most teams would rather not have. It’s a shame because in Zenit’s case, their notoriously racist and violent fan base overshadows some genuinely great talent – Danny is one of the most underrated midfielders in the world game.
Austria Vienna : American University
Both are named after a country. OK, we’re reaching a bit, but both are also rather dull. (“Clawed the Eagle?!” What kind of mascot is that?)
Porto : Vancouver Canucks
So close, yet so far. If you like a team that keeps winning their “leagues” (in Vancouver’s case it’s their division) and keeps stumbling when it comes to taking the big prize, then this pair is for you.
AC Milan : Boston Celtics
Two proud teams, AC Milan and the Celts have enjoyed a long tradition of winning. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and both clubs are now in what is charitably called “rebuilding.” As Group H is one of the toughest – it is the only one fully larded with former European Cup winners – it could be a grim fall for the Italians.
Celtic : Golden State Warriors
It’s amazing to see the change in perception toward Glasgow Celtic. They once were the “other” team for half of Scotland. But with the decline in the Premiership, only the most partisan fans now begrudge Celtic their moments of glory on the European stage. Celtic are now a curious thing: lovable underdogs with a passionate fan base. If you’d told us that in 1970, we would have laughed.
Barcelona: Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers are one of the NFL’s all-time greatest teams. Barcelona have been the consensus best team in the world for several seasons running. Both teams boast intensely passionate fan bases that, in Barcelona’s case, span continents. There are no political overtones in Pittsburgh as there are in Catalonia, but both teams are darn good at what they do.