Promotion Watch: Leicester City on the brink, as play off push heats up

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The final few weeks of the English Championship have arrived, with everything still to play for in England’s second-tier.

That being said, its time to keep one eye on the Championship and the teams at the top, three of which will be playing in the Premier League next season if they manage to secure promotion. In case you’re not familiar with how this works, the bottom three from the PL at the end of this season get relegated to the Championship, and the two teams who finish first and second in the Champions gain automatic promotion to the world’s most-watched league.

(MORE: Latest Championship standings)

Then, as if that wasn’t enough excitement, teams who finish third through sixth in the Championship battle it out in the playoffs, with the winner of the final at Wembley securing a place in the PL in what’s been dubbed as ‘soccer’s richest match’ with the cash windfall for promotion exceeding $150 million. Wowza.

Each week from now until the end of the season, will check in on the Championship to see the ecstasy and agony of those teams fighting to make it to the big-time after a gruelling 46 game season.

Some massive teams are on the brink of promotion, can they get themselves over the line?

Automatic aspirations

Current position: 1 – Leicester City – Games played 38, points 85

The Foxes have one hand on the Championship trophy, as they beat second-placed Burnely 2-0 away at Turf Moor last weekend with two stunning goals in the sunshine. Tough trip to FA Cup holders and in-form Wigan Athletic awaits in midweek, before the Foxes host Sheffield Wednesday on Friday. Pivotal three day stretch coming up.

Current position: 2 – Burnley – Games played 39, points 79

After defeat to Leicester, the Clarets are starting to wobble a little and losing star striker Sam Vokes for the rest of the season will hurt them. A tricky game away at playoff hopefuls Watford awaits this week. Can Sean Dyche’s side hold onto second spot? They have a nine point cushion over QPR with seven games to go, but anything can happen…

Current position: 3 – Queens Park Rangers – Games played 39, points 70

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QPR’s stable of stars has struggled in recent weeks. Can they pull it together and snatch an automatic promotion spot?

Harry Redknapp’s men have recovered after a blip which saw them lose four in seven but now QPR are three games unbeaten. Possessing the best squad in the Championship, by far, it has been a disappointing season for Redknapp’s men who were relegated from the PL in 2012-13. However, they’re still in with a shot of automatic promotion if they can finish strong. Playoff chasing Bournemouth away this weekend for the R’s.

Top six certainties

Current position: 4 – Derby County – Games played 39, points 69

Steve McLaren has turned Derby into playoff certainties and they have an outside chance and nicking second place. The American and Canadian ownership group who run the Rams have this week stated the club is no longer in debt to them, as good times are ahead for the Pride Park outfit. Middlesbrough away this weekend.

Current position: 5 – Wigan Athletic – Games played 38, points 63

New manager Uwe Rosler has had a tremendous start to life at the DW Stadium, with the Latics in the FA Cup semifinal and making a strong surge towards the playoffs. Last weekend Jordi Gomez missed a last minute spot kick which would’ve sealed victory over Lancashire rivals Bolton, but Wigan remain on course for the playoffs as they aim for an immediate return to the PL. Big week, as they host Leicester and Leeds.

Play Off pretenders

Current position: 6 – Reading – Games played 39, points 60

The Royals have been wobbling under Nigel Adkins, as they could only draw at home to Huddersfield on Saturday. It is now six games without a win at the Madejski Stadium at precisely the wrong time of the season. Only three wins in their last 10 games could scupper Reading’s chances of making a return back to the PL at the first time of asking. They face relegation haunted Charlton Athletic away this weekend.

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U.S. international Danny Williams is helping Reading battle towards the playoffs.

Current position: 7 -Nottingham Forest – Games played 39, points 58

Managerless Forest have made a right pig’s ear of the final few months of the season. For so long this season Forest were flying under Billy Davies, but the Scotsman was relieved of his duties last week as the two-time European champions slid down the standings. However, they are only two points and one place below the playoffs so all is not lost. Rumors of Stuart Pearce taking over at the City Ground are rife, a big win against lowly Millwall could be exactly what they doctor ordered.

Current position: 8 – Ipswich – Games played 39, points 58

The Tractor Boys have had a fine season under Mick McCarthy and are threatening to make a late run to the playoffs. Portman Road has become a fortress and Ipswich are one of the toughest teams to play against. Organized and solid, they will be hoping to beat Blackburn at home this weekend.

Current position: 9 -Brighton – Games played 38, points 56

Oscar Garcia has seen his side slip towards midtable after a run of three-straight defeats. The South Coast club are an attractive side to watch, but too often this season they’ve come up against teams who’ve out battled them. If they lose to Blackburn in midweek, they can almost kiss their playoff dreams goodbye.

Sounders tip Timbers 1-0 in sloppy Cascadia Cup affair (video)

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Cristian Roldan scored the lone goal of an arguably unofficiated match between Portland and Seattle on Saturday, as the Sounders picked up a much-needed win that was anything but pretty at Century Link Field in Washington.

Goalkeeper Stefan Frei scooped up his 50th clean sheet as an MLS backstop, and is the 11th player to reach that milestone.

[ MORE: Pulisic, BVB win German Cup ]

Referee Mark Geiger was equally offensive to both sides, denying Portland of a penalty kick via handball and allowing the Timbers’ Vytas Andriuškevičius to thoroughly inspect Jordan Morris’ arms during a second half breakaway.

Roldan turned a corner kick off a Portland defender and home for three points that leave the Sounders, Timbers, and Whitecaps all on three points after two matches played in the 2017 Cascadia Cup.

Poignant FA Cup final reflects current mood in UK

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LONDON — Arsenal beat Chelsea 2-1 to win the 2016-17 FA Cup on Saturday at Wembley Stadium, but this was about much more than a game of soccer.

“They just keep coming, no matter what, don’t they?” said a fellow journalist I bumped into surveying the scene outside Wembley before kick off as a wave of red and blue supporters inched towards the home of soccer while under armed police guard.

They certainly did.

The FA Cup final on Saturday, a 90,000 sellout, provided most of the UK with a slight distraction from a nightmare week where the worst terrorist attack since the 7/7 bombings in 2005 dominated the hearts and minds of a nation.

After watching on in horror as 22 people were killed and 116 injured by a suicide bomber outside Manchester Arena late Monday, the attention of everyone in the UK has been focused on the atrocity in Manchester.

That horrendous attack led to the UK being placed into the highest terror threat level of “critical” for just the third time since it was introduced in 2006 and things like soccer games, rivalries and trophies seemed somewhat meaningless as the threat of an “imminent attack” dominated the news.

It didn’t matter that this was a final being played between two Premier League teams from London. Everyone had Manchester on their minds.

A few hours before the game British Prime Minister Theresa May downgraded the terror threat level to “severe” rather than critical, but that didn’t stop armed policeman in abundance at Wembley as armored police cars replaced some of the burger vans which usually littered the roads near Wembley Way.

Arsenal fan Andy Calcutt stood on an elevated walkway outside Wembley having a cigarette as he pushed his sunglasses further up his nose.

The skyline of London was visible in the distance on a glorious early summer day and the message was clear: terrorists will never win.

“It is the British spirit to soldier on and go through it. It is fantastic today,” Calcutt said. “Nobody that I know has any issues about turning up to a big event. There is obviously more of a security presence, which gives you a bit of reassurance, but it’s not an issue for anyone here. We keep on going through our day to day. That’s how we get on.”

As the glorious sunshine beat down on Wembley two hours before kick off, there was a lingering sense of remembrance but celebration was in the air too.

On Friday the most senior counter-terrorism officer in the UK, Mark Rowley, urged citizens to “go out as you planned and enjoy yourselves” around the bank holiday weekend.

After the week the UK has had, it is easy to understand why that was the message following security measures being reviewed for over 1,300 events as the Aviva Premiership rugby final took place at Twickenham, the Manchester Great Run was scheduled and there were many huge events up and down the nation.

The FA Cup final was by far the biggest as the eyes of the world fixed itself on Wembley.

Chelsea fan Marcus Mays stood with his partner looking out on Wembley Way as the fans flooded in before the cup final.

“I was born in Manchester and I have a lot of friends from up that way and I think everyone was behind Manchester United for their Europa League win in midweek. It was lovely to see,” Mays said. “We have got to get on with our lives and I think everyone appreciates that. I can’t imagine anybody swerving a cup final because of the terrorist attack. Everyone has to crack on with their lives.”

That sentiment was echoed time and time again by everyone in and around Wembley. There was plenty more waiting in lines before you got into the stadium but nobody complained, nobody moaned. They queued and got on with it with a smile on their face.

As I walked out of Wembley Park underground station before the game, a guy in an Arsenal shirt went up to a policeman and shook his hand and thanked him, then walked off.

It has been that kind of week, to appreciate those around you and what you have.

At times like these you call your family and friends more often, you kiss your wife, husband or kids more. You reach out to strangers and offer a smile while sat on the subway train, or a polite nod, when previously the stresses of the modern world appeared to be too much to offer such niceties.

Even in a major cup final between bitter rivals there was respect.

Sure, there was chanting back and forth between Chelsea and Arsenal fans beforehand, laughter and jokes as groups of friends met up in among policeman armed with semi-automatic rifles, but just before kick off it became apparent how reflective the mood was.

There was an immaculately observed minute’s silence to remember the victims as both teams stood united around the center-circle, linked to their teammates. 90,000 fans stood in silence as some began to chant “Manchester!” but quickly stopped.

Fans held up signs reading “I love MCR!” and on the large TV screens at either end of Wembley messages simply read “We Stand Together” as the vast three-tier venue stood perfectly still.

Following a week like this it easy to brush off the insignificance of sport. So often fans, and even players and managers, watch or get involved in the action to try and forget everything else in life for a few hours a week.

Speaking after the game, Antonio Conte reinforced that message, one he had shared before the game.

“It was an important game but don’t forget the tragedy in Manchester,” Conte said in the aftermath of defeat.

He was right. This was no place to forget.

Chelsea and Arsenal’s fans held banners up saluting Manchester and the victims of the attacks and before the game both clubs canceled plans for a trophy parade in London on Sunday, out of respect for Manchester and also to not put a further burden on the already-stretched police force as they continue their huge investigations.

Everyone in the stadium and everyone at home hoped they’d never have to live through seeing scenes like this again. Children and their families killed as they left a music concert.

At times like these sport can provide a distraction and helps some to heal, but there’s so many more important things going on in the UK, and across the globe, right now.

The overall message portrayed at Wembley on Saturday was a poignant one: this was no time to hide.

Now, even in one of the darkest moments for the UK in recent history, was the time to face the world and stand tall.

“It’s just another day. You can’t live in fear, can you?” Arsenal fan Ryan Kilburn said. “There’s no point in hiding.”

Pulisic helps Borussia Dortmund to German Cup win

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Christian Pulisic won the decisive penalty kick as Borussia Dortmund won its fourth German Cup final with a 2-1 win over Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday.

Pulisic subbed into the match to earn a foul off the keeper, as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang converted the PK in Panenka style to ice the win.

[ MORE: Gunners win FA Cup

It’s BVB’s first Cup win since 2011-12, and ends a run of three-straight German Cup Final losses.

The 13-times capped USMNT winger finishes his club season with 43 appearances, five goals, and 13 assists. Not bad for an 18-year-old.

Conte’s verdict on FA Cup’s controversial flashpoints

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Failing at a first season double hasn’t taken the shine off a fine first season for Antonio Conte at Chelsea.

The Italian mastermind was adamant that his season was great, and that his side just had a rough day at the office on Saturday.

[ RECAP: Arsenal 2-1 Chelsea | Three things from Wembley ]

That’s not just about form, either. There was, depending on your viewpoint, either a handball, offside, both, or neither in the run-up to Arsenal’s first goal, and Victor Moses was sent-off for diving when it appeared that he anticipated a body challenge that Francis Coquelin never provided.

Did it look like a dive? Yep. Was it? No, but that’s soccer. Here’s Conte’s thoughts on both:

“It’s a clear handball – it’s very clear. I don’t understand why the referee didn’t see this situation. It can happen. Players can make mistakes – referees too. At the end of the season I saw a lot of mistakes against us. Manchester United, Bournemouth. We were unlucky.”

“The Moses yellow card was a key moment. It’s very difficult to tell [whether it was a yellow] – I saw contact with Moses and the defender, but was there contact for a penalty? I don’t know.”

Again, I don’t believe there was diving intent by Moses yet understand why Anthony Taylor saw what he saw. As for the Sanchez handball and Ramsey offside… different story.