Who will get promoted to the Premier League?
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Who will get promoted to the Premier League? Your Championship primer

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The Football League Championship returns on Saturday, as Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion look to keep hold of their automatic promotion places.

It won’t be easy.

[ MORE: Spurs-Man Utd recap | JPW’s 3 Things ]

Here is your guide to the final nine matchdays of the season for England’s second tier.

The top two

Marcelo Bielsa’s Peacocks and Slaven Bilic’s Baggies have 7- and 6-point cushions on third place with nine matches to go, a congested fixture list ready to tax the benches of all of the sides.

The playoff race

Third through sixth in the Championship will contest the playoffs for the third promotion spot to the Premier League.

Third-place Fulham will learn a lot about whether it’s in the race for automatic promotion or just a playoff probability within one week’s time. The Cottagers host fourth-place Brentford at 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday and go to Leeds one week later.

Fulham has 64 points, six back of second place and nine clear of seventh place. It would be very surprising if the Londoners didn’t keep hold of a playoff spot.

Brentford (60) and Nottingham Forest (60) have five-point advantages on seventh, nice but not too comfortable, while Preston North End’s one-point-above-sixth-place footing is uneven.

Six teams are within two wins of Preston’s 56 points. Seventh-place Bristol City has 55, Millwall and Cardiff City have 54, Blackburn and Swansea City have 53, Derby County has 51, and QPR’s on 50.

Who will get promoted to the Premier League?
Rooney’s Rams are six points behind the playoff places (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

Americans Abroad

Speaking of QPR, USMNT veteran Geoff Cameron is a fixture for Mark Warburton’s London side. The 34-year-old has played 28 times this season.

Derby County has seen a fine season out of Duane Holmes, who has three goals and three assists. Not American, but ex-DC United man Wayne Rooney is Holmes’ teammate.

No American has played more Championship minutes than Fulham’s Tim Ream (3142). Next up are Wigan’s Antonee Robinson (2587) and Hull City’s Eric Lichaj (2546).

Matt Miazga is handling center back duties for Reading, while Cameron Carter-Vickers’ latest loan stint at Luton Town has gone well individually.

Luca De La Torre (Fulham) has seen neglible minutes this season.

English-born MLS and NCAA star Jack Harrison is with Leeds.

Manchester United academy product Jack Harrison of Leeds United went to school at Wake Forest before playing for NYCFC in Major League Soccer (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images).

The relegation scrap

Three clubs will go down to League One next season. Two of the three teams in the bottom three will need a massive change in fortunes to avoid that fate.

Barnsley is seven points back of 21st and Luton Town sits six points back of safety.

Charlton Athletic is currently in 22nd with 39 points, but it can look to a single win as chance to move ahead of any of the five sides ahead of it (depending on how goal differential goes).

Hull City, Wigan Athletic, and Middlesbrough are just two points above the drop zone, while Stoke City and Huddersfield Town have three-point distances above the drop.

Charlton can pass Hull with a win at the KC Stadium on Saturday, though it’s only other chance to affect a fellow struggler is July 18 versus Wigan.

This week’s schedule

Fulham v. Brentford — 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday
Middlesbrough v. Swansea City — 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday
Millwall v. Derby County — 8 a.m. ET Saturday
West Brom v. Birmingham City — 10 a.m. ET Saturday
Huddersfield Town v. Wigan Athletic — 10 a.m. ET Saturday
Hull City v. Charlton Athletic — 10 a.m. ET Saturday
Sheffield Wednesday v. Nottingham Forest — 10 a.m. ET Saturday
Luton Town v. Preston North End –10 a.m. ET Saturday
QPR v. Barnsley — 10 a.m. ET Saturday
Reading v. Stoke City — 10 a.m. ET Saturday
Blackburn Rovers v. Bristol City — 10 a.m. ET Saturday
Cardiff City v. Leeds United — 7 a.m. ET Sunday

EFL letter recommends clubs prepare for return ‘at short notice’

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The English Football League has sent a letter to all clubs advising they return to training in mid-May and prepare for a return to play from the coronavirus shutdown at what the EFL described as “relatively short notice.”

The letter from EFL chairman Rick Parry, which was sent to all 72 clubs before it was obtained by The Independent and shared by the BBC, notes that while the EFL does not have the power to enforce training schedules for clubs, it interestingly advises that clubs may suffer public relations damage should they return to training earlier than the advised May 16 date. The letter then addresses a rumored start date in early June without confirming or denying the viability of that date.

“By advising a mid-May return to training,” the letter reads, “it has inevitably led to speculation that the season will recommence on June 6 – three weeks later. No date has been discussed and we continue to work with the government and health authorities to help identify the date where we can resume our season. Our planning needs to be agile enough to allow us to be as prepared as possible for a return at relatively short notice.”

The letter is intentionally vague, leaving room for multiple possibilities, but does admit that “these [scenarios] are expected to take further shape over the course of the next two weeks and clubs will receive an appropriate briefing once these plans are at an advanced stage.”

The letter also invites clubs to share their thoughts and possibilities as the EFL notes “collaboration is key to achieving success in these challenging times.” It notes that many clubs have already expressed their thoughts about playing behind closed doors, admitting that is a very likely possibility for when the games recommence.

The Premier League is likely to follow suit shortly after videoconferencing Friday with all 20 clubs to discuss plans for the next few months and how to potentially return to play.

While it was not discussed in the letter openly, The Telegraph reported Friday morning that the EFL is considering its return to play using a limited number of Championship grounds – more specifically 10 stadiums – while closed-door games remain at the forefront.

Transfer rumor roundup: Manchester sides eye Welsh CB; Willian in demand

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The transfer rumor mill continues to hum this holiday weekend.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Don Balon says Willian is drawing interest from Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain amid reports of a contract impasse with Chelsea.

The influential but aging winger had been said to be anxious to stay in the Premier League if he left Chelsea, preferring a life in London.

Willian has been far from combustible as his contract nears its conclusion, going as far as to insist he’ll play for free if it means concluding the Premier League season.

The Brazilian turns 32 in August but has still turned in influential performances this season. He has seven goals and six assists in over 2500 minutes. He has 59 goals and 59 assists in 329 appearances for the Blues.

He’s got tread on the tires, and will fetch a healthy salary given a lack of transfer fee. He may even allow PSG to cut ties with one of its big assets to bridge the Parisiens to another generation of winger.

Swansea City’s Joe Rodon is a $25 million target of several big name Premier League sides, according to Wales Online, including Manchester United and Manchester City.

Rodon, 22, has played 48 matches over two seasons with Swans after breaking into first team football on loan to Cheltenham Town in 2017/18. He’s been twice-capped by Wales.

His 5.4 clearances per game put him seventh in the Football League Championship. He’s also averaging one tackle and 1.6 interceptions per game.

Former teammate Daniel James made a surprise move to Manchester United last summer for just under $20 million.

Liga MX president says he has coronavirus

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MEXICO CITY (AP) The president of Mexico’s Liga MX soccer league announced Friday he has tested positive for coronavirus.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage

Liga MX President Enrique Bonilla said in a statement that “I don’t have serious symptoms.” He says he’ll remain in isolation and keep up with the situation of Mexican first-division soccer.

Mexican first-division soccer matches were suspended this week until further notice to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mexican soccer learned Tuesday the head of Atlético de San Luis team, Alberto Marrero, also had coronavirus.

Mexico has yet to declare legal bans on public gatherings, but has encouraged its citizens to maintain a healthy distance in crowded places due to coronavirus.

MLS 5 things we learned: Its Pity’s time to shine, can he?

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It’s matchday 2/3 of the MLS season and we’re already learning plenty about the season to come. Some teams are dealing with major injuries, others are dealing with squad incohesiveness, and still others are powering through low expectations.

Whatever the adversity, some teams have been able to push through while others are struggling to cope.

1)  The reign of Pity Martinez has begun

You knew this already, but with Josef Martinez out long-term, Atlanta United will be leaning heavily on Pity Martinez. While Pity was always important to this Atlanta United side even with Josef in the picture, his stature in the squad is now greater than ever. That was all too present in Atlanta United’s win over FC Cincinnati, which isn’t exactly a top test of his ability to carry this team, but it’s a start.

Unfortunately, after that moment and through the rest of the first half, Pity hardly saw a sniff of the ball and Atlanta’s attack suffered as a result. They managed just five total shots in the first half and none after the 25-minute mark, with just two shots after that point the rest of the game. Credit Cincinnati, who was able to match Atlanta’s tempo and go stride-for-stride in midfield through the first 45 minutes. While the possession numbers were 60-40 in favor of Atlanta and Cincy didn’t create much of anything in front of net, they still were able to get the midfield going.

Thankfully for Atlanta, Emerson Hyndman stepped up and created for himself as Atlanta won 2-1, but Pity Martinez will need to carry this team better down the road because tonight he did not have a full 90 minute performance.

2) Inter Miami has a long way to go

Inter Miami looked solid early at Audi Field, but it began to disintegrate as the first half went on, and then the wheels fell apart after the Torres red card. They have shown promise, and should be able to compete as the season rolls on and they become more in tune with each other, but at this point there’s significant strides to be made on a fluidity level.

It doesn’t help that playmaker Robbie Robinson may have suffered a long-term injury, which would further sap an attack that has been spotty at best thus far.

Speaking of which…

3) Ban injuries

Ugh. First Josef Martinez is cut down by a torn ACL, and now Robbie Robinson comes off with what looks to be a nasty one less than an hour after dazzling on Inter Miami’s first-ever goal. One can only hope that it’s not too serious, but if it’s indeed a long-term issue, this season has been brutal on early injuries sapping the league of its best and most electric talent. Nobody wins when the league loses star power. Thankfully that seems to be it for killer injuries so far, but with a few other guys like Miles Robinson and Nicolas Lodeiro dealing with some nagging things while Michael Bradley sits out the first few months, hopefully the league doesn’t suffer too many more big-name body blows going forward.

4) If at first you don’t succeed, keep shooting

Toronto FC was battering NYCFC all day long at BMO Field, but couldn’t find a breakthrough. Justin Morrow should have won a penalty, but VAR somehow said no and the hosts were still searching. Finally, after ripping off 16 shots with half of them on target, they found the breakthrough.

For Toronto, it was a deserved lead and a deserved win against a disappointing road performance. Toronto looks primed to be a force in the East, and they pushed ahead to seven points through three matches on the young campaign. Keep shooting boys, it’ll find a way through.

5) So like…Minnesota United?

Only two of the four PST writers picked Minnesota United to finish in a playoff position this season, and nobody had them higher than fifth in the Western Conference. And yet here they are scoring goals at will. After topping Portland 3-1 on the road, Minnesota only went and did it again on the road at San Jose with a 5-goal bonanza.

Minnesota found lots of joy down the left through Robin Lod who was a force both distributing in the final third and defensively, completing all five tackles he attempted including three in the opposition half. Lod also scored Minnesota’s fourth goal in first-half stoppage time to push Minnesota into a 4-1 lead. On the other flank, Ethan Finlay wasn’t as dangerous in the build-up but he was also spot-on tackling, with a 5/5 performance of his own. The defense has conceded a few soft goals but if they shore that up, this team can capitalize on opposition mistakes with venom.