Stoke City pull off superb signing, land Bojan Krkic from Barcelona

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File this one under, “didn’t expect to ever see this happen.”

Stoke City have pulled off a major coup by signing the player known around the world as “the new Messi” back when he exploded onto the scene as a teenager.

Bojan Krkic has signed for Stoke on a four-year deal from Barca, as Potters boss Mark Hughes has used his connections at one of his old clubs to great effect.

The Spanish international, who came up through Barca’s famed La Masia academy, is looking to kick start his career in the Premier League after spending the last three seasons away from Barcelona on loan. Since 2011 he has spent a season at AS Roma, AC Milan and Ajax but has now left the Catalan outfit for good after making his debut as a 17-year-old way back in 2007.

Speaking about the acquisition of Bojan to Stoke’s website, Hughes was delighted that the 23-year-old chose the Potters to further his career.

“Anyone who knows European football will be aware of him as a player and the fact that he sees his future at Stoke City is really exciting and an endorsement of the Club itself,” Hughes said. “He’s desperate to prove himself in the Premier League and we’re pleased to be able to offer him that platform.”

Okay, Bojan’s career hasn’t quite kicked on the way he would have hoped in the last few seasons, but his quality is undoubted and the diminutive attacker will have fans at the Britannia Stadium on the edge of their seats every time he touches the ball. Bojan played four seasons for Barca from 2007-11, with his tricky feet and Lionel Messi-esque drawing plenty of comparisons with the Agrentine star, before heading out on loan for three-straight seasons. At the Nou Camp he scored 41 goals in 162 games and won two UEFA Champions League titles and three La Liga crowns.

Like we said, Stoke signing him is a surprise and a real coup.

Whilst on loan Ajax last season you began to see the Bojan of old return as he helped the Amsterdam club win the Dutch title. His teenage years are beyond him, and he will now be at the center of Stoke’s plan to kick on from a ninth-place finish in the PL last season. That was their best ever PL finish in history and Hughes has turned them from being a team who favor long balls to a side who like to spray it around on the floor. In his second season in charge of Stoke, Hughes is making moves.

After Mame Biram Diouf, Steve Sidwell, Phil Bardsley and Dionatan Teixeira, Bojan becomes Hughes’ fifth-signing of the summer as the Potters look to continue their climb into the upper echelons of the Premier League standings.

With Bojan on board, anything is possible. What a signing.

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.