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The Way Back (?) for Sunderland

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Sunderland’s gone.

The Stadium of Light side’s decade-plus stay in the Premier League is over, squashed by a series of insipid results in a last-place season.

The latest loss was Saturday’s 1-0 loss to Bournemouth, one in which the Black Cats battled but couldn’t find the necessary moments that provide points.

[ PL PREVIEW: Watford vs. Liverpool ]

It’s a long road back for Sunderland, one of three teams who will not be considered instant favorites to return to the top flight. Here’s three distinct parts of a path back to the top for the Black Cats. It could take a while.

1) Embrace the fate… — First and foremost, Sunderland needs to accept that its failure was all its own doing. This wasn’t “unlucky”. The Black Cats’ five wins came against teams that hardly lit the league on fire this season: Hull City, Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, Leicester City, and Watford. They have a minus-34 goal differential, are one of three teams to allow 60-plus goals and have scored a joint-lowest 26. Bad.

2) …And that it’s bigger than Moyes, Big Sam, almost any manager — It’s cute to point to the “heroics” of former managers Sam Allardyce, Paolo Di Canio, or Gus Poyet, but those bosses had more to work with than David Moyes did in this season.

You have to go 65 players to reach Sunderland’s top player through advanced stats site WhoScored, and 39 on Squawka. The former is Jordan Pickford, a player who will be in significant demand as an England U-21 player. The latter is a 34-year-old striker Jermain Defoe, and his rating is based on a hot start to the season (Defoe didn’t score following a brace on Feb. 4, a run that include nine goalless matches for his side).

Both seem gone, and other strong players seem close behind: Papy Djilobodji, Wahbi Khazri, Lamine Kone, and Didier N’Dong will have suitors, and represent some of the only strong buys in recent years. Will any consider staying?

And Patrick Van Aanholt isn’t coming through that door, while Adnan Januzaj, Jason Denayer, Seb Larsson, and Jan Kirchhoff are out of contract. The Black Cats are going to have to find a way to attract talent to the Northeast when London is the center of football.

3) Follow your neighbors – Now here’s where David Moyes, or whoever, has to convince Ellis Short to open his pocketbook. Newcastle United did it last summer with Rafa Benitez, and pretty much cruised to promotion at its first chance.

Newcastle had better resources to exploit in selling Giorginio Wijnaldum, Moussa Sissoko, and Andros Townsend to the tune of nearly $90 million, and did it along with the feat of convincing notorious bottom-liner Mike Ashley to reinvest almost all of it to get PL somewhat outcasts Dwight Gayle, Matt Ritchie, DeAndre Yedlin, Ciaran Clark, and Isaac Hayden, who have shined in the promotion bid (A clever loan for Christian Atsu didn’t hurt).

They also convinced players who would shine in the Championship: Jamaal Lascelles, Jonjo Shelvey, and Ayoze Perez to stick around.

Sunderland doesn’t have any elite young attacking talents and will only make so much money off Khazri, Djilobodji, Defoe, and Kone. And Moyes’ embarrassing “slap” comments make it harder to expect enthusiasm if Sunderland keeps him on board.

But let’s assume there isn’t a better candidate than Moyes to guide the ship — and Sunderland hasn’t had a wealth of options in hiring its bosses at Premier League level — it makes sense to give him and his staff the chance to bring in players who are not his former also-rans at Everton.

Completely speculating, but if Sunderland finds its Ritchie and Gayle, maybe it can buck the trend. It wasn’t Newcastle alone, as there’s a decent standard of finding players from the upper levels to get there: Glenn Murray helped Brighton this year, and Joey Barton and Michael Keane at Burnley in 2016.

USMNT Player Ratings from win over Ecuador

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Gregg Berhalter’s United States men’s national team extended its clean sheet run to 180 minutes under the new coach with a 1-0 defeat of Ecuador in Orlando on Thursday.

[ RECAP: USMNT 1-0 Ecuador ]

The longtime Columbus Crew coach handed notable chances to several MLS mainstays who stood out in January camp, but also re-introduced Christian Pulisic to the fold.

The results were mixed, but the win was deserved as the U.S. did not allow much danger to reach Sean Johnson’s cage.

LINEUPS

Sean Johnson — 6.5 — Had to catch, what, one ball? Still, nice for him to get a clean sheet.

Tim Ream — 7 — A couple of dicey moments, sure, but the man with the captain’s band stood out at left back not just for his assist but his aggression in pressing high up the left flank.

John Brooks — 6.5 — Not much to do, but effective when needed with a win-saving stop. Here’s hope the thigh injury isn’t a notable one. Intelligent and accurate in his passing out of the back.

Aaron Long — 6 — His passing was a bit off early, and that will need to be better at the back of Berhalter’s defense, but overall he was composed and well-drilled.

Tyler Adams — 7.5 — Given he was playing an unusual position with immense responsibility (right), Adams deserves a lot of credit for keeping his motor high over 90 minutes. He only attempted two dribbles, staying in his shoes and venturing wide and forward on occasion. A very promising sign for an ambitious move by Berhalter. That’s a lot of green over there, and green is good —>

Wil Trapp (Off 59′) — 5.5 — He’s not supposed to be the guy who stands out in a game, and should be known for doing the little things, but he’s still not standing out from the pack as someone who should keep Michael Bradley or Tyler Adams from the center of the park.

Weston McKennie (Off 68′) — 5 — Potentially scary injury aside, he will have much better days for the U.S. than this and certainly didn’t show chemistry with Trapp. Second guessing is easy, but flipping McKennie and Adams might’ve been the play.

Paul Arriola (Off 77′) — 6 — An energetic, productive night on the wing takes a hit due to his inability to finish the match’s best scoring chance (even if the save was legit).

Christian Pulisic (Off 62′) — 7 — Not at his sharpest, but still quite lively in producing many American attacks. Had an memorable moment working over Antonio Valencia near the end line.

Jordan Morris (Off 68′) — 6 — Still learning how to be a winger, but a decent and industrious effort for the Seattle Sounders man.

Gyasi Zardes — 7 — It was the goal that did the trick for him over 90 minutes, and it was good to see the Columbus Crew man score a USMNT for the first time since 2016.

Subs

Michael Bradley (On 59′) — 6.5 — Quick decisions and possession-aiding passes with precious few mistakes (See Opta chalkboard from MLSSocccer.com at right).

Sebastian Lletget (On 62′) — 6 — Has to be a bit more careful in his own half, but we’d like to see him get a start against Chile.

Cristian Roldan (On 66′) — 5 — Sloppy with the ball in a short stint.

DeAndre Yedlin (On 66′) — 6 — Busy and ready to produce chances from the right side.

Jonathan Lewis (On 77′) — N/A —

Zardes goal pushes controlling USMNT past Ecuador

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  • Yanks have not allowed goal in 3 matches under Berhalter
  • Pulisic returns to USMNT set-up
  • MORE: McKennie stretched off
  • Zardes scores deflected winner off Ream feed
  • American control ball, but struggle in final third

Gyasi Zardes scored his seventh international goal and first since the Copa America Centenario as the USMNT handed Ecuador a 1-0 defeat at Orlando City Stadium on Thursday.’s

The win marks the third clean sheet victory in three tries for USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter, who leads the Yanks against Chile on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Player ratings ]

The U.S. came out of the gates flying, connecting passes with their wings and fullbacks sitting very wide to stretch the surface.

When Ecuador did collect the ball, the Yanks pressed very hard and won it back.

Industry and speed was the story of the USMNT game, with Christian Pulisic and Jordan Morris leading the way in forcing the match on Ecuador.

Weston McKennie did some heavy lifting in nice combo play with Pulisic and Gyasi Zardes for a chance that was just missing the finishing touch from Paul Arriola (and got a nice save).

Pulisic was felled by a hard foul just inside the Ecuador half in the 55th minute, but carried on and Paul Arriola took a yellow for fouling Jefferson Orejuela in response.

Michael Bradley entered the match for Trapp in the 59th minute, and Pulisic exited for Sebastian Lletget three minutes later.

McKennie then suffered a painful ankle injury and eventually accepted stretcher help to get to the bench.

Zardes put the U.S. ahead when his powerful strike from atop the 18 took a huge deflection off the calf of Robert Arboleda and looped over the head of a flailing Alexander Dominguez.

The play began when Sebastian Lletget’s pressing pushed a poor Ecuadorian clearance to USMNT left back Tim Ream, who spotted Zardes in the middle of the Ecuador half.

USMNT, Schalke mid McKennie stretchered off with ankle injury

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Schalke and USMNT midfielder Weston McKennie limped off the pitch during the second half of a friendly against Ecuador on Thursday in Florida.

McKennie appeared to twist his ankle shortly after being called for a foul in the match, which stood 0-0 at the time.

[ MORE: Hazard, Real, and the back-up plan ]

He left the match with trainer help, and was eventually carted to the bench while seated on a stretcher.

A key piece of the program’s future, the 20-year-old midfielder has been a utility knife in the Bundesliga, playing everywhere from right back to left mid.

Only six players have played more league minutes for Schalke than McKennie, who earned his eighth cap on Thursday.

Making the case: Raheem Sterling as PL Player of the Year

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Even a year ago, I wouldn’t have imagined someone making this case in a rational manner any time soon.

I especially didn’t think it would be me.

But as the Premier League takes a deep breath ahead of the stretch run, I’m going to have to say it.

[ MORE: JPW ranks the candidates ]

Raheem Sterling has been the best attacking player in the Premier League this season, and quite possibly the best player period.

Whether he earns the nod over defender Virgil Van Dijk is another story altogether, as it will probably comes down to wins and losses and one or two titles, but consider how deadly, consistent, and deadly consistent Sterling has been since the start of the season.

Of the four Premier League players who’ve accounted for some combination of 24 goals and assists, Sterling gets the least amount of positive publicity. Eden Hazard has largely been the Chelsea attack, Sergio Aguero has tied the PL hat trick record, and Mohamed Salah is riding his 2017-18 season through a remarkable cold snap of form.

But there’s Sterling, with 15 goals and nine assists in the second-fewest minutes of the bunch (Aguero).

How about these numbers — via WhoScored.com — in 2,149 league minutes?

Sterling is also averaging a tackle and .6 interceptions per match, the best of the bunch, while committed the fewest bad touches per game (most remarkable considering his second touch haunted him for several seasons).

A concession: For what it’s worth given the above stats, Hazard is easily in second of the bunch if not competing directly with Sterling. But Sterling hasn’t been a part of underachieving teams for three different managers, so we’ll abide.

There are two things going against Sterling, neither of which are his fault. The first is that Man City’s dominance of last season and run back into a title right this season has people imagining that the feast of talent at the Etihad Stadium makes numbers an afterthought; That is to say that Sterling, Aguero, and the Silvas (not to mention Leroy Sane) aren’t producing much more than their theoretical replacements.

And maybe there’s something to that, but here’s how important Sterling’s production has been to City.

In Premier League matches in which Sterling neither scored, assisted, nor drew a penalty, City has four wins, two draws, and four losses. When he has, that mark is 17-0 (He sat out wins over Huddersfield Town, Burnley, and Watford to complete Man City’s 24W-2D-4L record).

Aguero, for his part, racked up nine of his goals in three matches. I’m not here to hat trick shame, but Sterling feels a less replaceable part of Pep’s team.

The second thing going against Sterling is a bit more nefarious, linked to articles and conceptions about his gun tattoo or hairstyles. This part, hopefully, doesn’t require us to refute it.

Van Dijk has been phenomenal, and as a longtime defender admirer — those who can’t do it, love those who do it well — I’d be thrilled to see him join N'Golo Kante in non-scorers to claim such an honor.

But VVD was also on the scene for a moment that encapsulates what Sterling has become to City’s attack. He’s arguably been this season’s Leroy Sane, and coincidentally cues up the German with this incisive pass from well outside his office for the January winner against Liverpool.