Why Major League Soccer got it right on Rafa Marquez’s three-game suspension

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I know the umbrage and outrage is ricocheting around the internet now, wondering why Major League Soccer didn’t wallop Rafa Marquez a little harder over the head with the frying pan of justice.

Me? I’d say justice was served with Thursday’s announcement of a three-game suspension for the reckless and senseless actions that have put San Jose attacker Shea Salinas out for 6-8 weeks.

(I covered some of the context and consequences in a previous post.)

I do get the reflexive reaction here. In a lot of circles, Rafa Marquez is a shadowy figure with a history of menacing behavior who deserves to have the book thrown at him.  Who could possibly forget Marquez’s flying kung fu combo assault on Cobi Jones back in the 2002 World Cup, where the Mexican international defied the laws of physics by simultaneously head butting and kicking his American opponent?

A bunch of people haven’t forgotten, so that’s fueling some of the extra ire in this case. The Mexico-U.S. rivalry surely simmers, sub-plot style, in the backdrop on this one.

But the disciplinary committee’s job isn’t to administer frontier justice nor to right previous wrongs. And it most certainly shouldn’t consider nationality and international rivalries when dealing with the important business of crime and punishment.

At its core, the Marquez suspension and the ongoing, prickly practice of issuing retroactive suspensions based on video evidence is about player awareness, and about Major League Soccer goosing the enterprise to create the product they want.

I completely understand the call for a longer suspension, something more along the lines of what Salinas will miss (probably somewhere around 6-8 games). But this really isn’t eye-for-an-eye stuff – and anybody suggesting MLS move in that direction really hasn’t thought this through.

If you go there, then perhaps Shalrie Joseph (a very important player for New England) would be out for an equal duration as the injured Ricardo Villar (a backup midfielder for FC Dallas, although he was starting due to other injuries). Fair swap? Not really – especially considering that Joseph’s tackle was pretty low on the scale of menace.

Injuries do happen. They are unfortunate, but they can’t be legislated out of the game. Plenty of injuries have nothing to do with the reckless, careless or violent actions that Major League Soccer is trying so hard to reduce. Some do, and injuries are rightly being considered when the disciplinary committee adjudicates these matters – just not in equal measure of recovery time to punishment length.

The messages are being heard by players. The course correction (so far overdue) is under way and players know they bang and bust at their own risk.

I feel bad for the fallen Earthquakes midfielder, but this isn’t about Rafa Marquez and Shea Salinas per se.

The bigger picture is about creating a better game, enforcing tougher standards, ensuring player safety and delivering a more watchable product. We’re all better served when the soccer  is a little easier on the eyes, a game with more finesse and a little less fouling, obstructing, colliding and crunching – the tactics that mitigate and marginalize skill in this sport.

New York Red Bulls introduce space at RBA for autistic families

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HARRISON, N.J. (AP) The Red Bulls have announced plans for a permanent sensory-friendly space at their stadium for families impacted by autism.

Formerly executive offices, the space overlooking midfield is a calm area that is free from the crowds and the noise of Red Bull Arena during matches. Families can use it for free.

The team announced the new space on Saturday before the Red Bulls were set to host the Chicago Fire. It was Autism Awareness Night at the stadium.

“Families deserve to feel welcome and comfortable each time they step foot into Red Bull Arena, not just one night a year,” Red Bulls GM Marc de Grandpre said in a statement released by the club. “We hope all sports teams and entertainment venues are inspired to take similar action to provide comfort for families with loved ones on the autism spectrum.”

League Two game restarted in empty stadium after fans storm field

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LONDON (AP) An English soccer game restarted in an empty stadium after a pitch invasion led to the crowd being told the fixture had been abandoned.

There were five minutes remaining in Leyton Orient’s fourth-tier game against Colchester on Saturday when a sit-down protest was staged on the pitch by Orient fans against Italian owner Francesco Becchetti.

It forced the referee to take the players off the field. The protests lasted for more than an hour before the crowd was told the game had been abandoned and the stadium eventually cleared. The teams came out and finished the game.

Leyton Orient lost 3-1 a week after its relegation from the English Football League was confirmed after 112 years.

“A decision was taken with the police to announce that the game had been abandoned as it was felt this would help clear the pitch, which proved correct,” the EFL said in a statement. “However, it was deemed appropriate that the game needed to be played to a conclusion in order to maintain the integrity of the competition.”

La Liga: Barcelona, Real Madrid hold serve in tight title race

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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: Super-duper Sunday preview — North London derby, plus 6 of top 7 ]

Espanyol 0-3 Barcelona

Barcelona are doing all they can do — win — in their bid to usurp Real Madrid in the race for the title. While they entered the weekend — and still are — ahead of their El Clasico rivals based on head-to-head results this season, Los Blancos still have a game in hand which will surely decide whether Madrid claim their 33rd top-division title, or a 25th for Barca.

On Saturday, Luis Enrique’s side had more than just the title at stake — also at stake: the Derbi Barceloni, against fellow Catalan side Espanyol.

For 45 minutes, the home side held firm and refused to break, but once Luis Suarez put the Blaugrana ahead in the 50th minute, that was all she wrote. Ivan Rakitic doubled the advantage in the 76th minute, and Suarez completed the scoring 11 minutes later.

Real Madrid 2-1 Valencia

By the time the derby kicked off, Madrid had already applied the pressure and gone three points clear with a 2-1 victory that was a whole lot closer than the final score indicates.

Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring just before the half-hour mark, and Zinedine Zidane’s side was well on its way to victory. Ronaldo followed up his opening goal with a missed penalty kick 10 minutes into the second half, and Daniel Parejo pulled the visitors level with a sensational free kick just eight minutes before the end of regular time. Points looked sure to be dropped, and the door opened wider for Barca, but Marcelo was prepared to play the part of hero on the day, and the Brazilian left back bagged one of the season’s more improbable goals, a right-footed strike from the top of the box, in the 86th minute.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Las Palmas 0-5 Atletico Madrid
Real Sociedad 2-1 Granada

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Osasuna vs. Deportivo La Coruña — 6 a.m. ET
Real Betis vs. Alaves — 10:15 a.m. ET
Eibar vs. Leganes — 12:30 p.m. ET
Celta Vigo vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:45 p.m. ET

Monday’s La Liga schedule

Malaga vs. Sevilla — 3 p.m. ET

Championship Focus: It’s all about the playoff places now

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With Brighton & Hove Albion and Newcastle United having already clinched the Championship’s two automatic promotion places, all eyes turn to the four teams behind them still jockeying for playoff positioning…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s coverage of the Championship ]

3rd — Reading — 82 points, +2 GD
4th — Sheffield Wednesday — 81 points, +16 GD
5th — Huddersfield Town — 81 points, +1 GD
6th — Fulham — 77 points, +27 GD

First of all, the Championship remains the least sensible league in the world. Disagree? Just try to explain the above wildly varying points totals and the corresponding goal differentials. Go ahead, I’ll wait

As for the weekend’s results, Reading and Wednesday did themselves major favors in the race for third with victories over Wigan Athletic (1-0) and Ipswich Town (1-0), respectively, while Huddersfield, who entered the weekend in that top playoff place, played 67 minutes with a man advantage against Birmingham City, and lost 2-0. All three of Reading, Wednesday and Huddersfield have clinched their place in the promotion playoffs, which begin two weeks from Saturday, on May 13.

[ MORE: PL Sunday preview — North London derby, plus 6 of the top 7 play ]

Given Leeds United’s 3-3 draw with Norwich City, a win would have clinched the fourth and final playoff place for Fulham, but the Cottagers dropped a pair of points themselves in a 1-1 draw with Brentford at Craven Cottage. Still, Fulham are all but into the playoffs with a three-point lead on Leeds, and a goal differential that’s 13 goals better.