MLS Preview: Portland Timbers at FC Dallas

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He never wants to talk about it, but so much of Caleb Porter’s first season in Portland has been about putting the Timbers’ short MLS history behind them, whether that be from moving on from two seasons outside of the playoffs or turning around a terrible road record that’d come to define the club. Sitting fourth in the West and having won at Kansas City a week ago, Portland’s already started to match owner Merritt Paulson’s aspirations. Reflections on the past will soon be little more than a literary device for unimaginative authors.

There are, however, small remnants of the past which keep popping up. For example, with the Timbers in Dallas tonight, Portland fans are reminded of two of the worst losses in team history. Two years ago, during the team’s inaugural season, Portland lost 4-0 in their first trip to what was then Pizza Hut Park, and while the Timbers earned a 1-1 draw when they returned next March, their last visit to Dallas ended with an embarrassing 5-0 defeat. In three trips to visit Schellas Hyndman’s team, Portland’s been outscored 10-1.

But with both teams making so many improvements since last season, it’s hard to see those lopsided results as precedence. FC Dallas, who missed last year’s playoffs, have the best record in the league, their 6-1-2 mark leaving them six points ahead of the Western Conference’s three-way tie for second place. Within that cluster are the Portland Timbers, who, along with Dallas, are one of team teams yet to be dealt a second loss.

For Dallas, a couple of key additions and some improved health have fueled their hot start. Kenny Cooper was brought back to Texas this offseason, and while it took a while for Hyndman to feel out his best spot, the big striker has adapted to a wide role in Dallas’s 4-2-3-1 formation. Those two holders – Andrew Jacobson and Michel – have been crucial to bolstering a midfield that spent the preseason looking for an identity. Raul Fernandez has also replaced the departed Kevin Hartman at the back, but with playmaker David Ferreira fit and with the team from the get-go, health has been as vital as upgrades for Hyndman.

(This is also where we should mention Jackson, Dallas’s best player through the season’s first two months. But, since I painted myself into a corner with the change and health angles, consider Jackson done wrong.)

For Portland, it’s been all about the upgrades. Ryan Johnson is giving them production they never got from Cooper or Kris Boyd. Will Johnson’s thriving in his new home. Donovan Ricketts is flashing the form most thought he’d lost in Los Angeles, while Diego Valeri is one of the league’s most exciting additions. They’re bringing the best out of holdovers Darlington Nagbe, Diego Chara, and Rodney Wallace, though the team’s biggest upgrade – luring Porter from Akron – deserves credit for their improvements.

In a meeting between two teams much improved over last season, we can afford to discard the past and concentrate and a surprisingly intriguing present. Rather than wonder whether a 10-1 margin can transcend two club’s changes, better to ask if Pederson and Michel can contain the new-look Timbers.

New York Red Bulls introduce space at RBA for autistic families

Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images for New York Red Bulls
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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

Photo credit: BBC Sport / Twitter: @BBCSport
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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.