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US Soccer stars impress with intelligence and class at MLS Media Day

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Despite the deep nipple-freeze cold and New York subway system being up to its old holiday tricks, I made it to Red Bull Arena on time (the wife would be so proud) for yesterday’s Major League Soccer Media Day.

I hadn’t been to previous Media Days so all I knew was what MLS Communications Coordinator, Susan Marschall, had emailed — that the journalists roundtable interviews would take place in a 4th floor suite and that for 15 mins apiece, the following players would swing by to chat: Michael Bradley, Landon Donovan, Diego Fagundez, Tim Cahill, Clarence Goodson, Brad Evans, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Mike Magee, Eddie Johnson, Graham Zusi, Maurice Edu, Kyle Beckerman and Thierry Henry.

Suffice to say, I was supremely stoked about the gig.

Upon walking into the suite I immediately recognized a good deal of the journalists — Ives Galarcep, Graham Parker, Brian Strauss, Kyle McCarthy, Leander Schaerlaeckens, among others.

Around 10am the players started coming in. With my I-Phone ‘Voice Notes’ down for the count, I typed furiously during most of their chats. On others, I took a break and just listened.

My top impression from listening to this group is that they all come off as being extremely well educated. As an American, this trait swells me with pride. Look, we’re (probably) not going to win the World Cup. But based on our intelligence alone, beautiful things can happen in Brazil (as they have in many a past WC).

It’s also worth noting that the players are all genuinely pumped at the direction MLS is heading — Miami, Orlando City, everything that went down in Toronto this past offseason — they’re really juiced about it. How the heck could you not be? The league is so blatantly on the up and everyone knows it.

In general, I found the players to be a bunch of classy dudes. Well-spoken. Funny. Respectful. Dudes.

Below are some more specific takeaways from each of the 14 players who attended the roundtable:

Michael Bradley: Bradley has spent the last eight years playing in four of the top leagues in Europe and now, The General is set to unleash havoc on MLS.

Landon Donovan: Hugely impressed by Donovan’s general good nature and mastery of the Spanish language but was disappointed that I couldn’t ask whether he would retire from the Stars & Strips after Brazil was out the door (national team questions were deemed ‘off-limits’).

Diego Fagundez: Love this kid, who told me he’s gonna nutmeg Cristiano Ronaldo when they meet on the pitch — dude has ‘USMNT’ written all over him!!!

Tim Cahill: I’m convinced Cahill (one of my Everton heroes) will be one of two things when he retires — an Army general or a top, top soccer manager.

Clarence Goodson: Dude is tall, skinny and managed to stump the entire room when he asked what Maryland Terrapins were drafted into MLS they year he graduated college.

Brad Evans: Despite the hideous camo pants, Evans’ stock to be the starting US right-back in Brazil sky-rocketed in my book for one reason that rarely gets mention — dude has big time leadership skills.

Omar Gonzalez: Another incredibly sharp thinker, I look forward to the day when Gonzalez doesn’t merely “think” he can be the leader at center-back but knows it, demands it and will tear up anyone who comes near it.

Matt Besler: Under-rated in every possible way Besler has huge breakout potential in Brazil, topping my list as the US player most likely to be in-demand by European clubs come July.

Mike Magee: In not-so-many words Magee admitted that his explosion in 2013 was largely due to finally getting out of the shadow of players like David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane.

Eddie Johnson: Noting what a “blessing and an honor” it is “to be a part of a team that’s had so much history,” it’s hard not to root for Johnson to succeed at DC United.

Graham Zusi: Appropriately described by someone inside the suite as ‘the guy you want your sister to marry,’ Zusi comes off as one of the nicest guys you could ever possibly meet.

Maurice Edu: After candidly describing his plight at Stoke City — let’s just say the man was done wrong by Mark Hughes, among others — Edu earned a soft spot in my heart and is a guy I’m gunning for to make the roster in Brazil.

Kyle Beckerman: The former Miami Fusion player couldn’t hide that he was “really excited” for David Beckham’s new franchise, noting “I don’t know if the guy has made a bad move in his life.”

Thierry Henry: Henry gets a good deal of schtick for his temperament but I came away from my first time meeting the French legend with nothing but good things to say – upon entering the room he shook every journalist’s hand, pulled his chair in close and gave a Wengerian-esque take on everything from MLS to US Soccer to Arsenal.

Relegation picture: The situation for Newcastle, Sunderland, Norwich

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This is tight, tense and getting horrible for the three teams battling it out at the bottom.

We know Aston Villa has already been relegated but three teams — Norwich City, Sunderland and Newcastle United — are in a dogfight to avoid relegation.

Three into two doesn’t go.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Just two points separates the three aforementioned teams going into the final two weeks of the season. Plus, Crystal Palace isn’t out of the picture either as they have 39 points but Alan Pardew‘s side should be fine. Just.

Newcastle United is the form team as Rafael Benitez’s side is now unbeaten in four games and grabbed a huge 1-0 win against Palace on Saturday, while Sunderland is solid under Sam Allardyce and have lost just once in eight games but have six draws in that span.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule | standings

Norwich is reeling after three defeats on the spin and Alex Neil‘s side is running out of time as they lost 1-0 at Arsenal on Saturday despite a brave, battling display.

Below is a look at the relegation picture, plus the remaining fixtures for all three teams as Newcastle have just two games left, while both Sunderland and Norwich have three.

Who do you think will survive out of these three teams?


Newcastle United – 17th place, 33 points

May 7 – Aston Villa (A)
May 15 – Tottenham Hotspur (H)

Sunderland – 18th place, 32 points

May 7 – Chelsea (H)
May 11 – Everton (H)
May 15 – Watford (A)

Norwich City – 19th place, 31 points

May 7 – Manchester United (H)
May 11 – Watford (H)
May 15 – Everton (A)


Looking at the schedules above, Newcastle has a great chance of getting at least three points from their remaining two games with an away trip to Aston Villa up next, plus if Tottenham is out of the title race heading into the final game then it may be a great chance to pick up another three points at home.

Sunderland will find it tough going against Chelsea and Everton but home advantage will be key, while the final game away at Watford, a team who has nothing to play for, could be the crucial one. They hold their own destiny in their hands. Win all three and they will stay up.

As for Norwich, they won’t expect much against Manchester United next up but they will fancy their chances of picking up at least four points against Watford and Everton in their final two games. Simply put, nobody knows which of these two teams will go down and it’s likely to stay that way until the final minutes of the season.

Arsenal 1-0 Norwich City: Amid protests, Welbeck pulls Gunners third

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 30:  Danny Welbeck of Arsenal celebrates scoring the opening goal with Olivier Giroud (R) during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Norwich City at The Emirates Stadium on April 30, 2016 in London, England  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images
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  • Gunners scoreless streak ends at 200 mins
  • Welbeck subs on to score
  • Norwich stay 19th

Danny Welbeck‘s second-half goal was enough to give Arsenal a much-needed three points from Norwich City’s visit on Saturday.

The Emirates Stadium started with protests, and the Gunners didn’t do a ton to quiet Arsene Wenger‘s critics in the 1-0 match.

Arsenal does, however, pull three points clear of fourth place Manchester City, which plays Sunday at Southampton.

Norwich, meanwhile, is two points back of Newcastle and one point back of Sunderland as the race for 17th continues in England. Newcastle has played one more match than each of its competitors.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Arsenal couldn’t find a way through Norwich City’s defense in the first half, entering the break without scoring a goal in 187 minutes. After taking a 2-0 lead in the 38th minute against West Brom, the Gunners were blanked in the second half, then in a 0-0 draw with Sunderland.

Norwich had a chance or two during a late 10-minute run of play, but couldn’t beat Petr Cech. Both sides had 7 shots, but Norwich was the only to put any on frame with three.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Welbeck subbed on for Arsenal, joining Olivier Giroud up top and quickly making an impact with a shot that deflected to beat John Ruddy and give Arsenal the match’s first goal.

The Gunners still carried the play, though the chance for a pivotal point lurked with every Canaries moment of possession.

Mohamed Elneny took a phenomenal shot that Ruddy met with a similar save, when, in the 83rd minute he used the outside of his foot to swerve an effort that forced Ruddy into flight just to force a corner. Good-looking stuff.

PHOTOS: Supporters protest, support Arsene Wenger before Arsenal-Norwich

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 30:  Arsenal supportes hold banners 'Time For Change' during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Norwich City at The Emirates Stadium on April 30, 2016 in London, England  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images
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“Time for Change” read the sea of placards outside the Emirates Stadium on Saturday, as Arsenal fans protested the continued employment of its legendary manager.

Many consider this season a wasted opportunity for Arsenal to lay claim to a first Premier League title since 2003-04, and have laid the blame at the feet of manager Arsene Wenger.

[ MORE: Everton’s moving tribute to Hillsborough 96 ]

There were some expressing support for their beloved boss, and we’ve got all that and more below. The match is scoreless as halftime, as Arsenal continues to have trouble scoring against relegation threatened rivals.

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 30: Arsenal supportes hold banners 'Time For Change' during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Norwich City at The Emirates Stadium on April 30, 2016 in London, England (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
(Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 30: (EDITORS NOTE: This image was processed using digital filters) Arsenal supporters hold a banner saying 'Arsene Thanks for the Memories But It's Time To Say Goodbye' prior the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Norwich City at The Emirates Stadium on April 30, 2016 in London, England (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 30: An Arsenal supporter holds banner 'Proud of Arsene Ashamed of Fans' during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Norwich City at The Emirates Stadium on April 30, 2016 in London, England (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 30: A banner protesting to Arsene Wenger is seen prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Norwich City at The Emirates Stadium on April 30, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
(Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

And some had some pretty good fun with the protests:

Sunderland hail “brilliant point” but Allardyce fuming at refs

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - APRIL 30: Sam Allardyce, manager of Sunderland reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Sunderland at the Britannia Stadium on April 30, 2016 in Stoke on Trent, England.  (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)
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Sam Allardyce was fuming with the officials as Sunderland drew 1-1 at Stoke City on Saturday.

The Black Cats netted a last-gasp penalty kick via Jermain Defoe to move onto 32 points but slipped into the relegation zone courtesy of Newcastle United’s huge home win against Crystal Palace.

[ MORE: Deeney “sticks it to Villa” ]

Sunderland have a game in hand over Newcastle but they are a point behind. Things are getting very tight as two from Sunderland, Norwich and Newcastle will be relegated.

Speaking after the game, Allardyce feels his side continue to get unlucky with calls from officials and it is starting to wear thin with Big Sam.

“The disappointment is, how many points do they take away from us in this battle against relegation that cost us so dear?” Allardyce told Sky Sports. “All this rubbish about people saying it evens itself out, that’s the biggest load of rubbish I’ve ever heard in my life.

“We’ve had countless opportunities ourselves to win games, so we’ve got ourselves to blame as well but the last thing we want at this stage of the season, with so few games left, is to not get what we deserve. In the last two games, today and last week we certainly didn’t get what we deserved off the officials as far as I was concerned. But I am pleased he was brave enough in the last minute to give a penalty in against Jermain Defoe.”

On reflection, Allardyce agreed that it was a “brilliant point” for his team and but he still couldn’t resist another moan at the officials.

From the BBC:

“It is a brilliant point in the end but for me one that could have been a win rather than the draw,” Allardyce said. “Obviously they didn’t deserve their goal because it was a blatant foul on Younes Kaboul and we should have had a penalty when Geoff Cameron flicks the ball with his hand and referee and his assistant don’t see it. Those things have gone against us today which has not allowed us to be in a position to win it. It is a very precious point and in the end the referee was brave and good enough to make the right decision for us for the penalty.”

The incidents in question are certainly debatable. For Stoke’s goal it did appear that Peter Crouch had his arms on Kaboul when he nodded down for Arnautovic and Allardyce can have complaints about that. Last week a handball decision against Per Mertesacker didn’t go Sunderland’s way and if you add up those two calls, that’s an extra four points for the Black Cats.

[ VIDEO: Townsend scores screamer

However, with Sunderland not really at the races at Stoke and still managing to grind out a point to keep their PL fate in their own hands, he has to be happy enough.

They now have home games against Chelsea and Everton coming up, with the final game of the season away at Watford. Seven points from that will see Newcastle unable to mathematically finish above them.

It’s a big ask but what if Big Sam starts getting some big decisions in Sunderland’s favor?