Sunderland’s escape: Tracking the key moments in Black Cats’ dramatic season

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With today’s win over West Brom, Sunderland became the first team since the 2004-05 Baggies to survive after spending Christmas at the bottom of the table. The close quarters of this season’s bottom helped the Black Cats, but over time, that will be forgotten. For years into the future, fans and pundits will be referring to this as the club’s great escape.

Here’s how Sunderland’s improbable  run played out, from August to May:

August 17 – The Black Cats open the season as victims of a smash-and-grab, with Fulham taking full points out of the Stadium of Light. Though they drew at Southampton a week later, a 3-1 loss at Selhurst Park in round three proved the turning point of Paolo Di Canio’s tenure at Sunderland.

September 21 – Sunderland’s 3-0 loss at West Brom caps a disastrous opening month of the season. At 0-1-4, the team’s Premier League obituary’s already being written, with famous Sundlerand fan Jonathan Wilson (author of Inverting the Pyramid) expressing the ironic hope the team can “best” the 15-point season that saw the club relegated in 2006.

September 22 – Paolo Di Canio is gone. Five games into the season, having won two of 12 since being brought in at the previous campaign, the former Swindon Town boss is fired. In search of its next manager, Sunderland would lose its next three matches.

October 8 – After two weeks’ speculation linking him to the job, former Brighton & Hove Albion manager Gus Poyet is appointed as Di Canio’s successor. After winning two of his first four games in charge, Poyet lost three of four, leaving Sunderland at the bottom of the table in mid-December.

December 14 – Sunderland ends a two-game slide with a 0-0 at Upton Park, a result that stirs discontent about Sam Allardyce’s job at West Ham. The result begins a seven week,  16-point run, with the Black Cats surviving in both the FA and League cups.

February 1 – Sunderland claims a 3-0 win over rival Newcastle at St. James’ Park, leaving the team unbeaten in four and 4-4-1 in its previous nine. It’d be 87 days before the Black Cats claimed their next Premier League victory.

March 2 – Sunderland lose the Capital One Cup final to Manchester City, but along the way  (and during an FA Cup run), the club piled up games in hand. For months, they’d prove supporters’ only consolation as their club struggled to find its form.

March 31 – If Sunderland can’t win these, they’re destined to go down. You’d forgive a supporter for thinking that after the team’s 2-1 home loss to West Ham. Though Gus Poyet felt his team “better in every respect,” West Ham still left with full points against the league’s cellar dwellers. It’s the third in a five-match losing streak Sunderland would carry into mid-April.

April 3 – Sunderland hear its penalty for playing an ineligible Ji Dong-won earlier in the season: a six-figure fine. The leniency surprised Gus Poyet, but the Black Cats’ survival hopes are bolstered by avoiding a points deduction (hopefully).

April 12 – An own goal by Wes Brown leaves the Black Cats 1-0 losers to visiting Everton. In last place and winless in league since Feb. 1, Sunderland’s matches in hand are the club’s only reason for home.

April 16 – Let the dream begin. In last place coming into the match, Sunderland gets two goals from Connor Wickham to briefly take a late 2-1 lead on Manchester City. A late Samir Nasri goal made it 2-2, but Sunderland still take a point from the then-title favorites.

April 19 – Handing Chelsea its first loss at home under Jose Mourinho in 77 matches, the Black Cats continue their climb out of the cellar, with Fabio Borini’s 82nd minute winner giving the team a 2-1 upset against another title frontrunner.

May 3 – Thanks to a Sebastian Larsson goal, the Black Cats take a 1-0 win out of Old Trafford. With a huge goal difference edge on Norwich, Sunderland needs only one point in its last two games to survive.

May 7 – Who needs one in two when you can claim three all at once? Goals from Jack Colback and Fabio Borini lead Sunderland to a 2-0 win over West Bromwich Albion, giving the team 13 points in its last five games. Going into the last round of the season, the Black Cats sit 15th, their four-game winning streak confirming another season in the Premier League.

MLS (afternoon) roundup: Historically awful MNUFC spanked again

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The fourth (partial — playing during international breaks should be banned) MLS Saturday of 2017 is two-thirds of the way complete. A quick roundup of the day’s early games…

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New England Revolution 5-2 Minnesota United

What else needs to be said about Minnesota at this point? What else can be said? The number of goals they’ve conceded in their first four MLS games: 5, 6, 2, and 5. While (we think) a bit of luck will eventually go their way, and they’ll curtail the goals they’re conceding (we can’t be sure anymore), Adrian Heath’s side is on pace to conceded 153 goals this season.

Anyway, New England picked up their first win of the season. The quality (and ease) of goals scored will tell you everything you need to know about Minnesota’s defending.

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

New York Red Bulls 0-0 Real Salt Lake

Five days after firing head coach Jeff Cassar, RSL returned to their inept, toothless ways in a scoreless draw away to New York. Through four games, the Claret and Cobalt have scored all of one goal, and genuinely look the league’s most lifeless side; Minnesota have at least shown signs of quality in the attacking half.

On Saturday, New York created the majority of the game’s best chances — a pair of shots from distance, masterfully saved by deputy goalkeeper Matt VanOekel — but the chance that will live in the memories of RSL fans for a lifetime came and went in agonizing fashion.

Albanian federation denounces “extremist acts” of their fans in Italy

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) Albania’s soccer federation has strongly denounced the incident that halted the World Cup Group G qualifier with Italy for nearly nine minutes on Friday.

During the match, which was won by Italy, 2-0, a group calling itself Illyrian Elite threw flares onto the pitch.

“Such totally extremist actions from the grouping Illyrian Elite have nothing to do with the excellent Albanian fans” who were distinguished in the EURO 2016 finals in France for their friendship and camaraderie in their festivities, the statement added.

The federation said an coach Gianni De Biasi also was “upset by the flares,” adding that during five years he has been in charge “I’ve seen something that’s never happened before.”

USMNT: 4 players, including Brooks, Lletget, released; Arriola added

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Hours after his side’s 6-0 thrashing of Honduras to resuscitate dreams of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, Bruce Arena announced on Saturday five changes to the U.S. national team roster ahead of Tuesday’s qualifier against Panama.

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John Brooks (sinus infection), Sebastian Lletget (foot), Jordan Morris (knee) and Michael Orozco (knee) were all released back to their club teams, while Club Tijuana midfielder Paul Arriola was added to the squad.

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Brooks dealt with the sinus infection throughout USMNT camp this past week, as Morris did his knee injury which he picked up last weekend. Lletget left Friday’s win over Honduras in the 18th minute and will undergo further tests to determine the severity of his injury; he was seen leaving the stadium on crutches and wearing a walking boot.

The USMNT’s roster for Tuesday’s qualifier in Panama City, Panama, now stands at 23 players, and reads as follows:

Goalkeepers: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Jermaine Jones (LA Galaxy), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

Rapinoe won’t back down on social issues despite U.S. Soccer policy

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Megan Rapinoe recently earned her spot back in the U.S. Women’s National Team squad ahead of next month’s friendlies against Russia, but the veteran won’t remain silent when it comes to her stance on the social climate of America.

[ MORE: Looking back on USMNT’s big win over Honduras ]

The 31-year-old was scrutinized for joining NFL player Colin Kaepernick in 2016 when they knelt during their respective sporting events, along with dozens of other athletes across the United States.

While Rapinoe admits that the form of protest is up for discussion, she also states that social inequality issues in the U.S. go far beyond that.

“What has surprised me the most, especially post-election, is that people are still sort of arguing against it. It’s really obvious that we have very serious inequality in this country across many different spectrums,” Rapinoe told the Guardian. “Yes, we can talk about the form of protest, or the way it’s done, or this or that. But it’s still not really the conversation that I think we desperately need to have more of in this country.”

A few weeks back, U.S. Soccer announced that it now requires all players that represent the Stars and Stripes to stand when the national anthem is played, and Rapinoe has agreed to do such.

While her days of kneeling on the pitch are in the past, Rapinoe believes she wouldn’t do anything different because she was simply trying to spark discussion amongst the American people.

“I don’t think there’s any perfect way to protest. I think if there was something else being done, something else would have been said about it. I can’t look back and say that I would have done this different, this different or this different.

“I can sleep at night knowing that I genuinely tried to have a really important conversation, or at least tried to open it up. I think I came to it with an open mind, an open heart and tried to get as many people to talk about it as I could.”