Pro Soccer Talk’s Premier League Player of the Week – Robin Van Persie

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Tough call on Player of the Week for the opening fixtures of the Barclays Premier League.

A lot of players were quite impressive – Robin Van Persie and Danny Welbeck for Manchester United, Fernandinho, Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero for Manchester City, Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturrdige for Liverpool, Frank Lampard and Oscar for Chelsea . . . the list goes on.

But one man sticks out and despite it being the popular choice, it also feels like the right choice.

Robin Van Persie. The Dutchman has us running out of adjectives he’s so talented.

For his first seven seasons at Arsenal, RVP was defined by one thing: injuries. When he did manage to play, his quality was obvious. But in those first seven years, from 2004-2011, he failed to play more 28 matches in a single season. Naturally, the talk was always about what if.

What if Van Persie got healthy?

What if he could be a consistent starter?

What if he managed a full season at 100%?

Then finally, in 2011-12, we got our answer as RVP appeared in all 38 Premier League matches (starting all but one of them) and scored 30 goals. It was clear, right then and there, that Van Persie deserved to be in the conversation of who is the best pure striker on the planet.

Manchester United didn’t hesitate, pouncing on the Dutchman who was looking for the one thing he desired when arriving at the Emirates in the summer of 2004 – a Premier League title. After bagging 26 goals last season on the way to hoisting the championship trophy in May, Van Persie finally had his title along with the praise from entire footballing world.

And yet just two months later, the majority of pundits were back questioning Manchester United. Doubters, myself included, suggested that the spending of Manchester City and Chelsea had put those clubs in the lead for the 2013-14 title. Implied within that doubt was the issue of whether Van Persie, now aged 30, could duplicate his extraordinary form of the last two seasons.

On Saturday, Van Persie (and all of Manchester United for that matter) silenced the doubters. Oh yes, there will be a title race in 2013-14 and the Red Devils have just as good of a chance at winning it as City and Chelsea.

As for the race for Golden Boot, well, Van Persie has set forth his intent to make a run at that as well. The Dutchman’s brace in the driving rain at the Liberty Stadium was something to behold. An incredible leaping side volley that put cement into the boots of Swansea defender Ashley Williams was followed by a net-popping rifle of a goal in the second half.

This man can do it all, my friends. And we look forward to watching the Robin Van Persie Show each and every week from now through May 11, 2014.

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

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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.