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Van Gaal redeems himself with faith in youth

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Joe Riley wore the smile of a cat that got the cream. Quite right, too, because in making his first appearance for Manchester United, the 19-year-old who worked his way up through the club’s ranks from the age of six lived an experience that boys the world over would give their eye teeth for.

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“Standing at the side, waiting to come on, just wearing your shirt with your name on the back. It’s always something that any lad going through the system is proud to do,” Riley said after his debut 45 minutes as a second-half substitute in a 3-0 victory at Shrewsbury Town in the FA Cup in February.

[ MORE: Christian Fuchs’ family explains his success at Leicester ]

“A very good feeling.”

Many United fans, of course, would rather have the here-and-now instant gratification of league and cup silverware. They’re hungry for a return of pulsating entertainment at Old Trafford, not the thin, unappetizing gruel served up too often by United of late.

Still, in the absence of trophies and of coherent, consistent attacking football, the single most redeeming feature so far of Louis Van Gaal‘s two-year tenure as manager has been his heavy use of young players like Riley: born in and around Manchester, hot-housed by the club since they were kids and thrown by the Dutchman into the deep end of first-team football.

This has been both by accident and design. Van Gaal’s history of trusting young players outshines contemporaries such as Jose Mourinho. At Barcelona, the coach gave Xavi Hernandez the first of his record 767 appearances for the club. At Bayern Munich, he made a first-team regular of teenage debutant Thomas Mueller. In striker Marcus Rashford, Van Gaal appears to have unearthed another pearl this season at United.

Cruel accumulations of injuries and, some might argue, a failure to recruit or retain more senior players also forced Van Gaal’s hand. Missing injured first-team players for his first official match in 2014, Van Gaal handed debuts in defense to Tyler Blackett and Jesse Lingard, both from the Manchester area, and promptly lost 2-1 to Swansea.

Riley, born in Blackpool on the northwest coast above Manchester, came on against Shrewsbury because Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, another Manchester-born product of United’s academy fast-tracked by Van Gaal into the first team, was injured in the first half.

But why Van Gaal has done what he’s done is less interesting than the simple fact he has done it at all. In turning to youngsters in tough times, he is perpetuating one of the club’s finest traditions.

In the 1950s, Matt Busby brought though his “Babes” who helped make him a legendary manager. He gave Duncan Edwards his debut at 17. The 18-year-old Bobby Charlton scored twice on his 1956 debut under Busby – a feat that Rashford, also 18, emulated in his first match this February, a Europa League victory against Denmark’s Midtjylland. And Alex Ferguson had his “Fledglings” – David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and others who made fools of those who argued that United wouldn’t win with kids.

So the half-dozen youngsters debuted by Van Gaal this season and those from last season have much to live up to before they will be worthy of their own “Louis’ lads” tag. Van Gaal – or whoever replaces him should United force him out this summer – should continue what he has started, keep giving young players opportunities to deepen the mark they have made, rather than simply shop on the open market for established stars and relegate the next generation to the bench.

That will allow Nicky Butt, a former Fergie Fledgling appointed in February as head of United’s academy, to keep telling parents in all honesty that the club’s pathway for youth remains well and truly open and that their kids might also get to run on the Old Trafford turf one day.

“Our history shows that if you continually let these kids play together, they’ll just get better and better,” said Tony Park, co-author of “Sons of United,” a history of the club’s youth system, and a United season-ticket holder for 25 years.

When one or two young players break through to United’s first team, “the third one thinks he’s next,” Park added. “All of a sudden, everyone thinks they can do it. You get this groundswell of confidence at the next level down.”

[ MORE: Villa owner Lerner accepts blame for team’s relegation ]

Of course, first-team places must be earned. Long-term, not all the youngsters Van Gaal has tested will be worth retaining. Some have already moved on. But Rashford, certainly, oozes class. By making Wayne Rooney drop back into midfield to accommodate the teenager up front, Van Gaal has sent the encouraging message that age and experience are secondary to talent. Lingard, Borthwick-Jackson and the strapping, athletic Timothy Fosu-Mensah, recruited at age 16 from Ajax, also look promising.

Seeing youngsters in red might not feel as worthwhile as shiny trophies but is still its own reward.

John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org or follow him at http://twitter.com/johnleicester

La Liga: Real Madrid shocked by Mallorca; Messi, Suarez, Griezmann send Barca top

AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos
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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: Lampard “pleased for Pulisic,” praises subs in Chelsea win ]

Eibar 0-3 Barcelona

Lionel Messi goal – check; Luis Suarez goal – check; Antoine Griezmann goal – check; clean sheet – check. If there exists a perfect recipe for a Barcelona victory this season, the Blaugrana put it to good use en route to a fourth straight La Liga victory and top spot in the league table on Saturday.

Griezmann opened the scoring in the 13th minute, followed by Messi in the 58th and Suarez in the 66th. Marc-Andre ter Stegen didn’t have to make a single save as Eibar managed just five shots in the game.

Mallorca 1-0 Real Madrid

Real Madrid’s unbeaten start to the season was snapped at eight games on Saturday, when Los Blancos went to Mallorca and suffered a hugely underwhelming 1-0 defeat. Zinedine Zidane’s side — already without the likes of Gareth Bale (calf), Luka Modric (bruise), Toni Kroos (adductor) and Marco Ascensio (knee), among others — finished the game with 10 men after Alvaro Odriozola earned his second yellow card in the 74th minute. The defeat sees Madrid fall off the top spot, now sitting second behind Barca.

Lago Junior scored the game’s only goal in the 7th minute and Mallorca held on for 83 more, allowing just four shots on target (12 in total). The early goal was Mallorca’s only shot on target over 90 minutes.

Atletico Madrid 1-1 Valencia

Atleti coughed up a late lead and settled for a 1-1 draw with Valencia, but the worst news of the day comes in the form of an injury suffered by Joao Felix. The 19-year-old’s ankle buckled underneath him late in the second half. Atleti finished with 10 men after their $140-million superstar was forced off.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Getafe 2-0 Leganes

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Alaves v. Celta Vigo — 6 a.m. ET
Real Sociedad v. Real Betis — 8 a.m. ET
Espanyol v. Villarreal — 10 a.m. ET
Athletic Bilbao v. Real Valladolid — 12:30 p.m. ET
Sevilla v. Levante — 3 p.m. ET

Haringey Borough abandon FA Cup qualifier after racist abuse

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LONDON (AP) An FA Cup qualifier between Haringey Borough and Yeovil Town was abandoned Saturday when the home team walked off the field after one of its players was racially abused.

[ MORE: Analyzing a day of VAR drama in the Premier League ]

Haringey, a London-based non-league club, walked off in the 64th minute after claims its Cameroonian goalkeeper Valery Pajetat had been targeted by racial abuse by visiting fans minutes earlier, when Yeovil took a 1-0 lead from a penalty.

Haringey manager Tom Loizou told BBC Radio 5 Live that defender Coby Rowe was also racially abused, and that “there was no way I could let him continue.”

The match at Coles Park Stadium was in the fourth qualifying round for the FA Cup, with the winner advancing to the first round of the tournament.

[ MORE: Lampard “pleased for Pulisic,” praises subs in Chelsea win ]

“The abuse a few of my players got was disgusting,” Loizou said. “Yeovil’s players and manager were different class. Their team tried to calm their supporters down, they tried their best and they supported us. They said, ‘If you’re walking off, we’re walking off with you.’ I took the decision to take my team off and I don’t want Yeovil Town to get punished for it. If we get thrown out of the FA Cup and they go through, there is no hard feelings there.”

The incident comes four days after England’s European Championship qualifier in Bulgaria was stopped twice in the first half as home fans hurled racial abuse at England’s black players. However, England decided to play on and won 6-0.

In a statement on Twitter, the football anti-discrimination charity Kick It Out praised the “swift and decisive action” taken by the Haringey manager Tom Loizou and his players.

Bundesliga wrap: Dortmund beats leaders Gladbach; Bayern draws

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Another Saturday in the Bundesliga, another nutty set of results allowing a side the chance to claim the top of the league on Sunday.

David Wagner, Weston McKennie and Schalke are the ones licking their lips this time, knowing that a win at Hoffenheim will boost them into first.

[ MORE: Lampard “pleased” for Pulisic ]

Wolfsburg remains unbeaten with a draw, and dropped points for Borussia Monchengladbach, RB Leipzig, and Bayern Munich means an absurd nine teams are within two points of the top of the table.

Nine!

Borussia Dortmund 1-0 Borussia Monchengladbach

Gladbach’s stay atop the league could last just one match day, as Thorgan Hazard set up Marco Reus for a 58th minute goal and a place one point back of the top.

Werder Bremen 1-1 Hertha Berlin

Josh Sargent’s 7th minute goal didn’t stand up, thanks to Hertha’s electric Dodi Lukebakio scoring with 20 minutes to play. Watch the American striker’s goal, here.

Augsburg 2-2 Bayern Munich

The champions’ stumbles continued, with first minute concession providing a test. Bayern’s red hot pair delivered a lead, with Robert Lewandowski answering in the 14th minute, and Serge Gnabry supplying a 49th minute lead.

Stoppage time was the downfall, though, as Alfred Finnbogason helped himself to the equalizer with all kinds of questions for the Bayern defense.

Elsewhere

Eintracht Frankfurt 3-0 Bayer Leverkusen — Friday
Union Berlin 2-0 Freiburg
Fortuna Dusseldorf 1-0 Mainz
RB Leipzig 1-1 Wolfsburg
Koln v. Paderborn — 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday
Hoffenheim v. Schalke — Noon ET Sunday

STANDINGS

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Mönchengladbach 8 5 1 2 15 7 8 2-1-1 3-0-1 16
 VfL Wolfsburg 8 4 4 0 11 5 6 2-2-0 2-2-0 16
 Bayern Munich 8 4 3 1 22 10 12 2-1-1 2-2-0 15
 Borussia Dortmund 8 4 3 1 20 11 9 3-1-0 1-2-1 15
 RB Leipzig 8 4 3 1 16 8 8 1-2-1 3-1-0 15
 FC Schalke 04 7 4 2 1 14 7 7 2-1-1 2-1-0 14
 SC Freiburg 8 4 2 2 15 9 6 1-2-1 3-0-1 14
 Eintracht Frankfurt 8 4 2 2 14 10 4 3-2-0 1-0-2 14
 Bayer Leverkusen 8 4 2 2 12 11 1 2-2-0 2-0-2 14
 Hertha BSC Berlin 8 3 2 3 13 13 0 2-0-1 1-2-2 11
 Werder Bremen 8 2 3 3 13 17 -4 1-1-2 1-2-1 9
 1899 Hoffenheim 7 2 2 3 6 11 -5 1-0-2 1-2-1 8
 Fortuna Düsseldorf 8 2 1 5 10 14 -4 1-1-2 1-0-3 7
 1. FC Union Berlin 8 2 1 5 8 13 -5 2-0-3 0-1-2 7
 FC Augsburg 8 1 3 4 10 21 -11 1-2-1 0-1-3 6
 FSV Mainz 05 8 2 0 6 7 18 -11 1-0-2 1-0-4 6
 1. FC Köln 7 1 1 5 5 16 -11 0-0-3 1-1-2 4
 SC Paderborn 7 0 1 6 9 19 -10 0-0-4 0-1-2 1

Brilliant Barco assist helps Atlanta outlast New England

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The game in 200 words (or less): Highly-favored at home, the reigning champions needed their goalkeeper to keep them alive against a New England Revolution side that only made the postseason via MLS’ decision to let almost everyone make it. Yes, Atlanta United dodged a bullet as Brad Guzan made six saves and Ezequiel Barco’s slick pass set up Franco Escobar for a brilliant winner with about 20 minutes to play. New England fought to the very death, but couldn’t take advantage of the absence of Miles Robinson.

[ MORE: Lampard “pleased” for Pulisic ]

Soon-to-retire Michael Parkhurst appeared to dislocate his shoulder late in a challenge with Cristian Penilla, and needed a lot of help to get off the field. Hopefully that wasn’t the last we see of him.

Atlanta will host either Philadelphia or the New York Red Bulls on Thursday evening.

Three things we learned

1. Guzan overcomes blip to stand tall: The longtime USMNT backup made a major error and nearly allowed New England in front but was otherwise sensational over 90 minutes in Georgia.

2. Martinez off, and Martinez off: While Frank De Boer opted to keep Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez out of the Starting XI, it was his star striker who nearly made him pay for the decision. Josef Martinez was not on his game, and lashed a should-be winner from his office over the goal in the first half before being stopped on by Turner on a 1v1 as the match neared stoppage time.

3. Barco makes the difference: Who knows if the 20-year-old Argentine will ever fully deliver on his promise, but the plays he made to set up Escobar’s goal was sensational. After dancing around a pair of defenders, he cut a shot pass between two defenders for the on-running Escobar to blast past Matt Turner.

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Man of the match: Barco

Goalscorers: Escobar (70′)