Manchester United cruise past clawless Sunderland

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With one eye on Monday’s FA Cup quarterfinal at Chelsea, Manchester United cruised at Sunderland on Saturday, putting in a typical Red Devils performance while taking a 1-0 victory out of the Stadium of Light. And by typical Manchester United, we mean there are two probably distinctly different ways to interpret their performance.

The first is the reflex reaction to any United performance that fails to awe as much as their 25-2-3 Premier League record. United didn’t generate a ton of chances, let a bland and boring Sunderland stay within striking distance, and never had to show their true selves to see off a perpetually disappointing Black Cats’ side. With their only score a first half own goal, the Red Devil win was another example of a decent but deep team dominating a down league despite obvious deficiencies.

It’s a tired story. Manchester United were knocked out of Champions League early, but in the process they showed they’d rebounded after a down season, resuming their place among Europe’s elite. While individual results can be picked apart, their body of work speaks to a quality that emerges when Manchester United plays the Real Madrids of the world.

Sunderland isn’t Real Madrid. They’re not Atletico Madrid. They’re not even Getafe or Rayo Vallecano, La Liga’s other Madrid-based sides. They’re so much worse. Martin O’Neill has made Sunderland into an impotent, inflexible side that’s intent on diving into a relegation battle. The team hasn’t won since visiting Wigan on Jan. 19, posting only six goals and three points during their eight-match winless run.

So Manchester United didn’t start Wayne Rooney. They didn’t start Patrice Evra or Rio Ferdinand. Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck also started the game on the bench. It’s only Sunderland. Why should they? If Manchester United didn’t look like world-beaters, it’s because they never tried to put their best foot forward.

A Tyson Bramble own goal mid-way through the first half was all United needed to claim full points, and as the second half played out predictably – Sunderland with a few half-chances, Manchester United showing frustrating restraint – the Red Devils never seemed interested in more. United did put eight shots on Simon Mignolet and held 61 percent of the ball, but there was never a feeling they needed a second goal.

If anything, the numbers testify to control, not intent. Sunderland has fallen so far that a half-speed United were able to hold them to one shot despite having one eye on Monday. For a team with Sunderland’s resources to have so little way of influencing matches speaks volumes about how much the squad has regressed.

Such is that state of the Black Cats, but such is also the comfortable ride United have created for themselves in this year’s Premier League.

PODCAST: Bob Bradley talks MLS past, USMNT

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Scott Nicholls and Otis Earle welcomed Bob Bradley to their “Beyond The Pitch” podcast to discuss his time coaching the Chicago Fire, the Fire’s current squad, how MLS has evolved, the new generation of players coming into the USMNT and more.

Perhaps most interesting is Bradley talking about previous losses with stinging emotion that sounds like they happened yesterday, including the 2000 MLS Cup.

[ MORE: Latest Men In Blazers pod ]

Since being fired from Swansea City after less than 100 days, Bradley has been linked with the Norway national team gig as well as a return to Los Angeles. Keep up with the U.S. coach here, and check it out:

U.S. Open Cup preview: Which underdog has best odds?

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Every dog has its day, and the three lower-tier clubs remaining in the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup are hoping for a second.

Miami FC, Sacramento Republic, and FC Cincinnati enjoyed wins over Major League Soccer sides in the fourth round, and now get further MLS tests in this week’s fifth round.

[ MORE: Lampard linked with manager opening ]

Once FC Dallas and Colorado Rapids tangle on Tuesday, attention turns to the underdogs on Wednesday. Who has the best chance to advance?

  1. Miami FC vs. Atlanta United — Playing an MLS expansion side at Riccardo Silva Stadium will give Miami a bit of confidence, and this is also a side with some good experience in pressure spots. Whether it’s manager Alessandro Nesta or MLS vets Michel, Gabriel Farfan, and Michael Lahoud, MFC won’t shy away. Upset chance: Solid.
  2. FC Cincinnati vs. Chicago Fire — The visitors are having a heck of a season in MLS and don’t have a group which will be worried by a huge crowd, but there’s no debating that 25,000-plus in Southern Ohio give FCC more than a puncher’s chance. Upset chance: Improbable, but possible
  3. LA Galaxy vs. Sacramento Republic — If LA puts something close to its best side out there, Sacramento will struggle to stop its attack.  Upset chance: Long shot.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, New England hosts DC United, Philadelphia visits the Red Bulls, Seattle is off to San Jose, and Houston hosts Sporting KC.

WATCH: Spain’s Saul smashes a shot past Italy’s Donnarumma

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Since returning from a loan at Rayo Vallecano, Saul Niguez has been a somewhat under the radar star at Atletico Madrid.

Coming off his best season with Atleti, the 22-year-old Saul is making an even bigger name for himself at the U-21 EURO this summer.

Spain’s Saul scored a hat trick past Gianluigi Donnarumma and Italy on Tuesday, and the second goal was laced with venom.

Getting onto the ball from 30-plus yards out, Saul smashed his shot with enough power that the ball barely had occasion to rotate.

Saul is under contract at the Vicente Calderon through 2022, and has three caps for Spain’s senior team, too. He was rated Atleti’s third-best performer by WhoScored this season.

Men in Blazers podcast: Transfer window, USMNT at Gold Cup, RBNY-NYCFC

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Men In Blazers are back with their latest podcast, and the boys are hitting club soccer here and abroad as well as Bruce Arena’s men in the red, white, and blue.

Rog and Davo break down transfer window activity, rumored and real; get a heat check on the USMNT heading into the Gold Cup; and recap the (Ray) Hudson River Derby.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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