Fit the final question as Seattle selects Marco Pappa

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That big Marco Pappa versus Erik Friberg talk we had on Wednesday? Come Thursday, it was irrelevant. Friberg had signed with Bologna, eliminating one of Seattle’s options. Instead of potentially luring the former Sounder back to Major League Soccer, Seattle could either take the already signed up Pappa — returning for a failed 16-month spell in Holland — or trade the first pick in the allocation order. Either way, they had to decide by Friday at 4p.m. ET.

Hours ago their decision became official, with Pappa becoming the latest addition to the 2014 Sounders. Though Seattle did try to trade the pick, the price they were asking amounted to due diligence. If nobody was willing to give them beyond Pappa’s value, Seattle appeared happy to add the Guatemalan international.

If they’ve acquired the same player Chicago sold to Heerenveen in August 2012, Seattle’s got another All-Star caliber player to an attack that already features Clint Dempey, Obafemi Martins, and Kenny Cooper. With Osvaldo Alonso and Brad Evans also likely starters in the team’s front six, the Sounders’ offseason shakeup has left them with an enviable group in front of defense. And of course, that defense has added Chad Marshall and Stefan Frei, albeit at the cost of Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Michael Gspurning.

If, however, Seattle get a player that’s regressed at Heerenveen, they’ve got another a Eddie Johnson-esque restoration project on their hands. When the U.S. international returned to MLS, he’d rarely played during his final days at Fulham (or, his various loan destinations). Sigi Schmid, however, made him into an All-Star, a transformation he may have to repeat with Pappa. Languishing at club level (283 league minutes in 16 months), Pappa has also seen his production drop for Guatemala.

To get him on track, Seattle may have to abandon the idea of a midfield diamond, a formation they seemed to be leaning toward as the likes of Mauro Rosales and Steve Zakuani left this summer. With those players, though, there with other reasons for leaving the team – details that had nothing to do with how Schmid planned to set up his team. Though the squad and Schmid’s use of Dempsey implied Seattle would stay with a diamond, nothing’s set in stone.

With the acquisition of Pappa, Seattle has a significant incentive to ditch an approach that became a hinderance during last year’s postseason. Best when deployed wide and allowed to come in, Pappa doesn’t fit in the setup Schmid used at the end of last season. Any attempt to squeeze him in might complicate Seattle’s ability to get him back on track.

If, however, Schmid goes back to flat midfield, everything all of a sudden falls into place. He’s got Alonso and Evans in the middle, Martins and Cooper up top, and Dempsey and Pappa wide. Everybody’s playing their natural positions. Schmid goes back to a setup that’s worked recently. The offseason shake-up could lead to a refreshingly back-to-basics approach.

It’s also an approach that gives Seattle the best chance to make this pick worthwhile. Whether he excels or falls on his face, Pappa’s worth this ‘gamble’ (which only required giving up the top spot in allocation). But that gamble has a much greater chance of succeeding if Pappa’s put in a natural spot.

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.