United States excited, but still business-like, ahead of Gold Cup semifinal clash with Honduras

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ARLINGTON, Texas – U.S. players and coaches sound genuinely excited about a chance to perform in Jerry Jones’ billion dollar colossus, and they don’t mind a bit that so much of a sold-out crowd at Cowboys Stadium will arrive to see the back half of Wednesday’s Gold Cup semifinal doubleheader, a contest involving Mexico.

U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann in particular sounds stoked about the opportunity and remains ever eager to learn yet more about this personnel group as they get pushed by a determined Honduras in a race for Sunday’s tournament final.

But make no mistake, the highly professional, decidedly business-like mentality Klinsmann keeps force-feeding to the players still prevails, and he wants badly to claim this tournament

“Obviously, to play in a place like this here is not happening very often,” Klinssman said Tuesday from inside the splashy venue. “So the players take it all in. Cowboys Stadium. A semifinal. A very, very difficult opponent. That’s what you all want! So, that’s the next benchmark for us.”

Klinsmann acknowledged that ongoing evaluations remain important, getting a “better picture,” as the manager says, of the players’ abilities individually and within a team concept. But clearly there is a balance to be achieved.

“The priority, when it comes down to the day before the game is the game!” he said. “It’s necessary to win those games. Therefore, the guys are already, they are pumped up.  They want to do well. An opportunity like tomorrow night doesn’t come along very often, in a huge, fantastic stadium. We always keep the big picture in mind, but we badly want this trophy this year.”

It is a swell place, and the roof will be closed Wednesday when Honduras and the United States kick off just after as 7 p.m. ET (Fox Soccer Channel), followed by Mexico and Panama at 10 p.m. ET.  Winners meet at historic Soldier Field on Sunday in Chicago.

While the venue is tops, the field isn’t. Another of these dicey, problematic temporary fields (this one struggling even more without the benefit of natural sunlight or proper air circulation) will be a talking point, especially as the narrow width plays into tactics that could potentially benefit Honduras.

(MORE: The field in a word at Cowboys Stadium: awful)

The United States, as always, hopes to keep the tempo high and the press Honduras near its own goal, while the visitors are more likely to attack with some caution and hope to strike on the counter. It has been ever thus in the Gold Cup as the United States has hopscotched across the big land, now playing in its fourth time zone during the semi-annual tournament.

Klinsmann has rotated players extensively during a competition with such a brutal pace of travel and rapid-fire matches. Counting a pre-tournament friendly against Guatemala, Wednesday’s semifinal will be the United States’ sixth match in 20 days, with travel between each stop.

So chance are high of seeing a new face or two in the lineup, even if the 11 deployed Sunday managed the quarterfinal task quite nicely, eventually chewing up El Salvador pretty good in a 5-1, Landon Donovan-inspired quarterfinal triumph.

Still, Eddie Johnson seems likely to replace Chris Wondolowski in the U.S. lineup. And big defender Omar Gonzalez, having met the team in Dallas after getting one more match in with his LA Galaxy, seems sure to feature along the back line.

Stuart Holden, left on the bench Sunday for the first time in the tournament, could come in for Mix Diskerud or even for holding midfield specialist Kyle Beckerman.

(MORE: Three Good Questions for U.S. midfielder Stuart Holden)

Honduras, a country where the soccer fortunes seem to rise annually now, arrived with a win Sunday over Costa Rica, the same team that gave the United States a pretty hard time in the Gold Cup group stage finale. Andy Najar, who made his professional bones with D.C. United before moving his pro career to Europe, had the Honduran goal in the quarterfinal victory.

Honduras, like the United States, has brought a “B” team version for the tournament. But some of the players remain familiar as these nations meet for a third time this year. A 2-1 World Cup qualifier loss in Honduras back in February was the last U.S. loss in a meaningful match (and was a “turning point” moment in some eyes, although Klinnsmann has said the February setback was more about the logistical challenges of players arriving in from Europe, unaccustomed to the Central American heat.)

Jozy Altidore’s goal was enough to push the United States past Honduras as the teams met again in qualifying for Brazil 2014 in June, this time on U.S. soil in Utah.

This is also the teams’ third semifinal meeting in a Gold Cup, with the United States posting wins of 2-1 and 2-0 in en route to the tournament finals in 2005 and 2009.  Clarence Goodson, a U.S. center back starter in this year’s tournament, had the game-winner in 2009.

(MORE: Three U.S. men who have upped their value with Gold Cup performance)

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.