Who saw this coming? Columbus routs LA Galaxy, 4-1

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Given how Gregg Berhalter reacted to last week’s loss, noting he needed more from four or five players in his lineup, Columbus were setup for a make-or-break moment this weekend. Either the Crew would respond to their coach’s implied challenge or accept what they had become: A team that’s failed to recapture March’s promise.

In case the headline leaves any doubt, the former came out at Crew Stadium today. Against what’s been the strongest team in the league (at least, over the last few weeks), Columbus gave one of its most impressive performances of the season. Thanks to two goals on each side of halftime, the Crew beat the LA Galaxy 4-1, assuming fourth place in the Eastern Conference in the process.

Justin Meram opened the scoring 23 minutes in, turning onto his right foot to put a shot from just outside the area inside Jaime Penedo’s left post. Ten minutes later, Columbus had taken apart LA’s defense once more, with Ethan Finley finishing from the left of the penalty area.

Gyasi Zardes’s 10th goal of the season brought LA within one in the 49th minute, but an easy goal for Ben Speas in the 75th restored Columbus’s two-goal edge. Nine minutes later, Columbus completed the Galaxy nightmare when Giancarlo Gonzalez headed home a Federico Higuaín corner, giving them a 4-1 win.

It was the first time this season LA has given up more than two goals in a game – a performance that comes on the heels of giving up two at home to San Jose. In that game, the Galaxy only gave up two shots on target but were caught twice in transition. On Saturday, despite holding 57 percent of the ball, LA gave up 12 shots on target, leaving little doubt as to the justice of the result.

That the result was just doesn’t make it any less of a surprise; at least, from Los Angeles’s point of view. While Columbus deserves credit for a convincing display, one that came in the face of last week’s disappointing loss, a three-goal loss is one few thought the Galaxy had in the team. For a team that had begun to look like a championship contender, Saturday could be a setback.

It would also be a complete outlier – a one-off. Though the defense was poor today, nothing about 2014 suggests that’s part of a bigger trend. The reason why this is such a big result: Nobody saw it coming.

It does, however, give us some insight into each team’s potential. For Columbus, it’s an example of the team putting it all together, getting the disparate parts that’ve misfired for much of the season onto the same page. When that happens, the Crew can put up a big result.

And for Los Angeles, the game showed the fine line Bruce Arena’s team may be walking. Though it was the league’s best over the previous month, the Galaxy also have deficiencies in defense, weaknesses that can be exploited when the back line isn’t getting help.

Odds are Saturday’s result will be a wakeup call.

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.