Sam’s Safe Space for Soccer Stoolies
What a season. What a day. What a game. Everything boils down to 90 minutes of soccer for Brentford and Fulham. Gonna be the best feeling in the world for one and the absolute worst for the other – but for the rest of us it is nothing but excitement and entertainment!
So let’s take a look at what to expect…
Quick reminder of what this is and why it is important…
So what is so cool about the playoff?
1) RELEVANCE: It matters. A lot. The Championship is one of the toughest, most grueling leagues in the world precisely because punching your ticket and getting promoted to the Premier League brings with it a MASSIVE influx of cash (and prestige).
2) DRAMA: The difference between success and failure can be vanishingly small, which is a recipe for elation, heartache and most important excitement.
3) BRILLIANCE: The Championship playoff combines the best of everything in the sports world! There are 24 teams fighting all season for three golden tickets. The top two finishers – Leeds and West Brom this season – are automatically promoted. In that sense the best teams in the league are rewarded for being good all season just like in traditional European leagues. On the other hand, the third and final promotion spot is decided by a four-team playoff that rewards the team playing the best at the end of the season like the (American) sports gods intended.
The field was whittled from four to two last week in the home-and-home semifinals where both London teams (Brentford and Fulham) overcame the two Welsh contenders (Swansea and Cardiff City) by final cumulative scores of 3-2.
Brief overview of the two clubs in contention for today’s “World’s Richest Game” given the amount of money on the line for the club that makes the jump to the Premier League:
- Everybody already knows at least a little about FULHAM (aka Fulhamerica) and their historic links to the red, white and blue. The club is situated in a rather posh part of London and they play in the historic (don't you dare call it outdated) Craven Cottage. Hence the Cottagers nickname. Their traditional connection to 'MERICA continues today as Tim Ream is expected to be in the starting XI.
- BRENTFORD is an ever so slightly more western London club that is definitely the lesser known of the two for Americans since they have never played in the big dick league (and haven’t been in the “top flight” of English soccer since before the war). The [Nerdy] Bees are apparently all about analytics and statistics, so if you are one of those Moneyball types this may be the upstart club for you.
CHAMPIONSHIP PLAYOFF – FINAL
The shift that Brentford put in at home against Swansea last time out was the most impressive performance of any of the four sides that qualified for the playoffs. What’s more, the Bees won both meetings earlier this season, winning at home 1-0 in December and on the road 2-0 in June. So suffice to say Fulham have their work cut out for them as reflected in the odds heading into this one.
Based on previous meetings, with the game in June serving as the best proxy, Brentford will not necessarily have a lot more of the ball but they manage to create WAY more chances. Perhaps there is something to those analytics nerds’ approach after all. Fulham managed to keep them off the scoreboard for 88 minutes before conceding not once but twice in the final minutes in that last game. All in all it was quite a bit closer than the scoreline suggests since Fulham hit the bar once and had a goal ruled out for offside.
Has anything changed this time around? Not really. Brentford were missing Bryan Mbeumo last time and he is back after shaking off the rona. Both teams are much the same though with (crucially) Aleksandar Mitrovic – Fulham’s top scorer – back healthy. Whether he will be sharp after missing both semifinals remains to be seen.
My head says Brentford and my heart says Fulham. I really really really hope there is an early goal, which would open things up nicely, because if not these games tend to start conservative and only get more so as the game wears on and everybody gets deathly afraid of being a ding dong who messed up and goes down in history as the person who lost their club the Championship playoff final. Since I haven’t really seen a ton of either team this season I’m gonna defer to my desire for entertainment and drama and ecstasy and heartache:
Prediction: 1-1 draw… with Brentford eventually pulling it out in penalties
So there we have it. Reminder that the MLSisBack semifinals are Wednesday (Philly/Portland) and Thursday (Orlando/Minnesota), and in the meantime Nashville and Houston start their three-game series that is being played separately to make up for the “regular season” games missed when they had to drop out of the tournament. Point being: lots of soccer still to come, including Europa tomorrow and THE CHAMMMMMMMMMPIONNNNNNS starting up again with the last legs of the R16 beginning on Friday. Summer of Soccer Stravaganza rolls on! Back with more again soon – stay safe out there kids…