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MLS (afternoon) roundup: Chicago on Fire; TFC lose Giovinco to injury

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The second MLS Saturday of 2017 is just about about halfway complete. A quick roundup of the day’s early games…

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Chicago Fire 2-0 Real Salt Lake

Two weeks into an MLS season is absolutely too early to make bold predictions based off of 180 minutes of soccer, but since I said it before the season started, I’m going to ride this pony until it keels over: Chicago’s going to the playoffs. Last week, they came from behind to rescue a point on the road against Columbus Crew SC. On Saturday, the blitzed RSL in the opening 15 minutes, took care of business defensively, saw out a mostly comfortable 2-0 win in their 2017 home opener.

Nemanja Nikolic bagged his first MLS goal to opening the scoring, only 11 minutes on the clock, and Arturo Alvarez made it 2-0 barely four minutes later.

The final score would have been extremely lopsided if not for the (typical) heroics of Nick Rimando. With four points from their first two games of the season, Veljko Paunovic’s side has already matched its haul from the first month of 2016 (four games).

Philadelphia Union 2-2 Toronto FC

Philadelphia and Toronto drew 2-2 but — who are we kidding? — the real story here is the health and well-being of Sebastian Giovinco. The tiny Italian was subbed off in the 45th minute, after Oguchi Onyewu destroyed the 2015 MLS MVP in a collision of knees at midfield. The official diagnosis from TFC was a “leg contusion.”

As for the other 89 minutes, 55 seconds: Jozy Altidore is off the mark for 2017, converting a penalty kick moments after Giovinco left the field after Jay Simpson scored his first MLS goal to put Philadelphia ahead in the 11th minute. TFC took the lead — ever so briefly as it was — in the 71st minute, as Justin Morrow fired past Andre Blake. Two minutes later, C.J. Sapong rounded Clint Irwin and made it 2-2, which is how the game would end.

New York Red Bulls 1-0 Colorado Rapids

Tim Howard played out-of-his-mind amazing on his 2017 debut (WATCH HERE), but Colorado were ultimately undone by an own goal, scored by Eric Miller, in the 45th minute. On the plus side, Colorado haven’t conceded a goal scored by their opponents through two games. They’re equally stingy, and annoying to watch and play against, this year as they were in 2016, which is to say, they’ll be involved in lots of 1-0 games these next eight months. Through two games: a 1-0 win, and a 1-0 loss.

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…

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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.