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It seems almost inappropriate these days to write about the Premier League, which kicks off this weekend, without liberal use of trademark symbols. Manchester City® for the title this year? How about Liverpool®? Perhaps Chelsea or Tottenham or Arsenal or Manchester United, the other long-established entrants in England soccer's Battle of the Brands?

Most of the attention will be focused on the teams at the very top of the league, on their way to major glory and even more major revenue. But the bottom 14 are the ones deserving of attention. There are plenty of recognizable names, if not worldwide brands, in the group.

Aston Villa, the biggest club in Birmingham, England's second-largest city, is back in the Premier League. The team came to St. Paul last month for a friendly against Minnesota United at Allianz Field.

There's Wolverhampton Wanderers, known to all as the Wolves, which finished seventh last year. Everton still claims the blue half of Liverpool as its own. West Ham and Crystal Palace and Watford toil in the shadows of their better-known London brethren.

Their stadiums might not be full every week, but those in the stands go every week because they care. It's often better to watch them on TV than the overwrought saga of the title race, precisely because the fans' dedication isn't based on glory, and therefore feels even more authentic.

Short takes

• The NWSL has focused on how it can capitalize on the success of the USA in the World Cup, but it also must fight off growing interest in other women's leagues. England's Women's Super League will broadcast every match, free online and worldwide, just as the NWSL does (excepting its ESPN broadcasts). American soccer fans might be more interested in seeing, say, Arsenal play Manchester City, rather than watching less-famous clubs in America battle it out.

• The drama of Minnesota United's victory Wednesday in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals underscores MLS' excellent decision to make its end-of-season playoffs single elimination this season. Two-legged, home-and-home playoffs might be fairer, but there's no beating a winner-take-all, one-off match.


Premier League: Aston Villa at Tottenham, 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Ch. 11. After winning the promotion playoffs last season, Asto Villa has spent $178 million on new players, a net spend greater than any other Premier League team. Meanwhile, the Spurs huffed and puffed into third place last season, but surely need some kind of trophy this year to go with their new stadium.

Writer Jon Marthaler gives you a recap of recent events and previews the week ahead. E-mail: