About Jozy Altidore’s move to Sunderland: this is ALL about soccer

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I’ve been to Sunderland. The people were warm – but the weather wasn’t.

The Stadium of Light is a lovely place – but it’s across the river from a town that is fairly, well, un-lovely, truth be known. A seaside resort town, it is not.

I was dispatched by American Way Magazine a few years ago to generate a feature-length story on the “relegation battle,” a concept most Americans know nothing about. So I went to Sunderland and spent a couple of days there around a match against Wigan, another side that never could quite move beyond swinging distance of the relegation dagger.

(Due to a hotel mix-up and a lack of rooms, I also had the unique experience of spending my last night at a $28 room on Sunderland’s gritty seaside. But that’s another story.)

(MORE: Altidore signing with Sunderland becomes official)

What I wrote about the city (with a population roughly equal to Anchorage, Alaska, or Lexington, Kentucky) in the article:

Sunderland (population 290,000) sits along England’s right flank in the industrial northeast. Here, and in many of this area’s midsize cities, the decline of heavy industry has struck like an economic hammer. Reductions in shipbuilding and coal mining have cost the Sunderland region about 30,000 jobs over the last couple decades or so, rendering the economy as grim as a crime scene.

 … The weather can be equally bleak. The average high temperature in December, January, and February is 42 degrees Fahrenheit. The frequent thick fog ensures a wet, cold draping and near-constant heavy-sweater weather.”

So I sat in places like the Roker Avenue pub or the Fort and shared beers with the locals. I learned about why they call Sunderland’s team the Mackems. (Well, they are only theories, really.) I heard the jokes about the hated team from neighboring Newcastle. I watched the grimaces as proud supporters told tales of “devastation” felt with Sunderland’s tumble down into the lower tiers, some from men who showed me the club’s badge tattooed over their heart.

I came to better understand how, in places like this, so much of the town’s collective self-image is tethered to soccer.

What I also wrote about the place Altidore will soon land:

So Sunderlanders live for their team. What else is there? Sunderland is to English football what Green Bay is to American football: a scrappy little bruiser of a city that manages through sports to keep fast company with the wealthy boys of the neighborhood.”

So, this is all about soccer for the U.S. striker. Altidore’s first professional stop was in the United States’ largest media market.

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He moved to Spain, attempting to catch playing time in Villarreal along Spain’s sunny coast.

Even at Alkmaar, Altidore was spending his time off the field in a charming little Dutch town (pictured at right), just outside of Amsterdam and lined with picturesque canals.

I’m not saying any of those moves were about the scene … just saying that they weren’t notoriously lacking in glamour, either. Call it a “bonus.”

In moving to Sunderland, the man can scarcely be accused of looking for anything close to glamour or pretty things.  It’s about the opportunity for playing time in one of the world’s best leagues – and the aesthetics away from training ground clearly don’t matter.

Far more fashionable London may be calling one day. But for this day Altidore’s mind is clearly wrapped around his professional soccer career.

Wigan player races off for son’s birth after scoring 2 goals

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WIGAN, England (AP) It was better than a hat trick.

A player for English soccer team Wigan had a night to remember when he scored his second goal before dashing off the field and to the local hospital, where his girlfriend was in labor.

[ MORE: Chelsea advances to UCL Round of 16 after win over Qarabag ]

A picture of Ryan Colclough holding his new-born baby, Harley, while still in his soccer uniform was shared on social media by Wigan chairman David Sharpe.

Colclough said his father, sitting in the stands on Tuesday for Wigan’s 3-0 win over Doncaster in the second division, “gave me the action that the waters had broken,” but he didn’t want to come off until the ball was out of play.

“My head was a little bit battered, but I went and scored, looked at the manager and he said we’ll bring you off now,” Colclough said Wednesday of his 58th-minute goal, which he celebrated by pretending to rock a baby. “I came off and was straight down the tunnel, grabbed my keys and my phone, and went to hospital.”

Colclough had visited the midwife that day, and was told the baby was unlikely to arrive for “another couple of days.”

Lille suspends coach Marcelo Bielsa

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LILLE, France (AP) French club Lille has provisionally suspended coach Marcelo Bielsa following a string of poor results in the top tier.

[ MORE: Basel stuns Man United late to keep UCL hopes alive ]

The northern side said in a statement that Bielsa has been suspended “as part of a procedure started by the club.” Lille did not elaborate.

Bielsa joined Lille this season but has failed to make the club competitive again, with the team second to last after 13 matches.

The 2 Robbies podcast: PL sides in the UCL, Pulis sacking and more

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In today’s Euro Pod Edition, the Robbies breakdown the latest Champions League action. Man United lose at Basel, Chelsea cruise at Qarabag, Spurs impress against Dortmund, Man City continue to win, Liverpool surrender a 3-goal lead against Sevilla. Plus, the guys weigh in on the Oumar Niasse ban for diving and the Tony Pulis sacking.

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Listen to the latest pod by clicking play below.

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Europa League preview: Arsenal looks to wrap up Group H and more

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While several teams have already booked their place in the knockout phase, the Europa League reaches its penultimate round on Thursday with many big matches in hand.

[ MORE: Yannick Bolasie finally returns to Everton training ]

Of the two Premier League sides in the competition, only one will advance to the Round of 32, as Arsenal have all but assured themselves of the top spot in Group H. The Gunners can do so tomorrow with a win over Koln or a Red Star Belgrade defeat.

The other end of the spectrum features Everton, who has already been eliminated from reaching the next round after acquiring just one point in its first four matches.

European giants AC Milan can lock up a spot in the knockout phase on Thursday despite the club’s ongoing struggles in Serie A, while fellow Italian side Atalanta can move a step closer to the Round of 32 in Group E along with Lyon.

Here’s the full rundown of Thursday’s UEL matches.

Astana vs. Villareal — 11 a.m. ET
Konyaspor vs. Marseille — 1 p.m. ET
Rosenborg vs. Real Sociedad — 1 p.m. ET
Lazio vs. Vitesse — 1 p.m. ET
Viktoria Plzen vs. Steaua Bucuresti — 1 p.m. ET
Lokomotiv vs. Copenhagen — 1 p.m. ET
Zenit vs. Vardar — 1 p.m. ET
Red Bull Salzburg vs. Vitoria — 1 p.m. ET
Athletic Bilbao vs. Hertha Berlin — 1 p.m. ET
BATE vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m. ET
Ostersund vs. Zorya — 1 p.m. ET
Koln vs. Arsenal — 1 p.m. ET
Nice vs. Zulte Waregem — 1 p.m. ET
Lugano vs. Beer-Sheva — 1 p.m. ET
Ludogorets vs. Istanbul — 3:05 p.m. ET
Braga vs. Hoffenheim — 3:05 p.m. ET
AEK vs. Rijeka — 3:05 p.m. ET
AC Milan vs. Austria Wien — 3:05 p.m. ET
Lyon vs. Apollon — 3:05 p.m. ET
Maccabi Tel Aviv vs. Slavia Praha — 3:05 p.m. ET
Sheriff vs. Zlin — 3:05 p.m. ET
Partizan vs. Young Boys — 3:05 p.m. ET
Skenderbeu vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:05 p.m. ET
Everton vs. Atalanta — 3:05 p.m. ET