Is Luis Suarez a victim? Brendan Rodgers thinks so

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Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers insists that Luis Suarez has been victimized by the 10 match ban handed down by the FA and that “the punishment has been made against the man and not the incident.”

Since Suarez’ now infamous bite on Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic during last Sunday’s 2-2 draw, the Uruguayan was charged with violent conduct and handed a 10 match ban by an independent disciplinary panel. Liverpool, who have still not received the full report, have until Friday afternoon to appeal the decision.

In the meantime, Brendan Rodgers stepped forward to discuss the incident. “It is the severity of the ban that has hurt most,” said Rodgers. “That is something we are bitterly disappointed with – not so much the ban because everyone has seen it and Luis was very open and honest to know it was wrong.

“You can only compare it with similar incidents we’ve had. There have been two similar incidents both in 2006. One player [Tottenham’s Jermain Defoe] received no ban and has continued to be picked by the FA for the England team. The other player [defender Sean Hessey, who was charged for biting in a game between Chester City and Stockport County in 2006] received a five-game ban. So when Luis receives a 10-game ban it’s hard to understand.

“I honestly believe the punishment has been made against the man and not the incident.”

While it may be tough to grasp the logic behind Rodgers’ defense of Suarez, it’s hardly surprising that the manager has chosen to stand behind the Uruguayan. This is what Brendan Rodgers does, at least when it comes to his star player. Whether he’d do the same for Martin Skrtel or Jose Enrique remains to be seen.

Rodgers had Suarez’ back throughout both of the player’s prior incidents this season. When Suarez was repeatedly accused of diving (and exacerbated those accusations by celebrating his goal against Everton with a dive in front of David Moyes), Rodgers had his back. When Suarez handled the ball prior to scoring Liverpool’s winner in the FA Cup third round tie at Mansfield, Rodgers defended him.

In truth, it’s exactly what any good manager should do for his player, so long as it’s justified. In the context of diving and handball accusations, it was big of Rodgers to step up and defend the Uruguayan when the rest of the world was out to get him. But when it comes to the biting incident, Rodgers’ defense of Suarez is questionable and his assertion that the player is a victim is borderline asinine.

The claim that the “punishment has been made against the man and not the incident” evidences Rodgers’ misunderstanding of basic principles of justice. In any court system in the world, prior incidents are always factored in when determining punishment. You simply cannot consider punishment for an incident without understanding the man behind the incident.

In a criminal context, multiple violations always results in an extended sentence. Even in many a civil context, liability is easier to prove for repeat offenders. For example, in the context of a dog bite (which feels appropriate when discussing Suarez) a plaintiff in the U.S. must prove negligence of the owner so long as no prior bite has been proven. However, if the owner has been previously found liable for his dog biting someone, a plaintiff merely need to prove strict liability – a much lower and easier threshold to meet than negligence. In other words, history matters.

So was this a punishment made against the man? Absolutely. And rightfully so.

In fact, the 10 match ban seems quite fair when considering Suarez’ bite history. When the striker bit the collarbone of PSV Eindhoven midfielder Otman Bakkal in 2010, the Dutch Football Federation handed him a seven match ban. Logically, this punishment provided the FA with the floor for the potential ban. Anything below that number would have made a mockery of the FA while anything over 10 matches would have seemed egregious given the chomp didn’t cause actual injury to Ivanovic.

For all the criticism the FA has received this season, they got this incident right. One hopes that, in time, Brendan Rodgers will arrive at this understanding.

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.