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Major League Soccer Week in review: Round 31

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Less than a month remains in the regular season, and the playoff races remain tight as rush hour traffic on the 405. Here’s what you need to know about Round 31, which finished with an usually busy Sunday foursome of matches.

The big results

So many, really, considering playoff races in each conference that simply refuse to yield all that fascinating congestion.

But the big-big result was surely Portland’s 1-0 win over the two-time defending champion LA Galaxy helps establish Caleb Porter’s team as a real contender. The Timbers are learning now to grind out results, with two 1-0 wins at home over Western foes lately.

Tim Cahill’s second half equalizer gave the Red Bulls a useful 1-1 draw in Seattle, where the Sounders fumbled away numerous chances to put away a side missing its its top attacker (Thierry Henry) and top defender (Jamison Olave). Seattle retains the inside track on Supporters Shield (based on the number of games remaining), but it was a result the Red Bulls can take pride in.

Columbus’ surprising 4-2 win in Dallas, the Crew’s second consecutive road win, was massive in the playoff jostle. The Crew looked so close to dead a few weeks ago, but a string of impressive results has kept interim coach Brian Bliss and his troops among the post-season hopefuls. Oh, and it was also was probably a knockout punch for FC Dallas, now five points out of the race.

The “controversial” decision – that wasn’t a bit controversial

LA Galaxy players and coaches, reinforcing that sense of entitlement that has become so familiar through the Bruce Arena years in Southern California, were absolutely apoplectic about a late Robbie Keane goal that was waved off, judged offside, in Portland. And it was a swell strike, a crisp near-post header off Landon Donovan’s precision free kick service.

But replays demonstrated that Keane was offside, just as the referee’s assistant correctly ruled.

We get on the men in the middle a lot on this site, so it’s only fair to point out when they get a very close, and quite important decision absolutely correct. Job well done, guys. Here’s that one:

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The most surprising result

Philadelphia was perhaps one more big punch from being knocked plum out of this fight, having fallen from second all the way to seventh. So going into Sporting Kansas City and coming away with a 1-0 win (over a team still thinking “Supporters Shield”) was easily the big upset of Round 31.

The most impressive result

It’s not like Real Salt Lake had much of a choice, surely needing to trust the reserves Saturday night in Vancouver. With the U.S. Open Cup final coming up Tuesday at Rio Tinto Stadium, RSL manager Jason Kreis filled his lineup at BC Place with young talent and backups – and what a night it was for his club when the reserves came through with a 1-0 win.

So the starters are rested for Tuesday’s huge match, the team remained up near the top of the West and Vancouver … well, Martin Rennie’s team is left to rue the squandered opportunity.

The top tactical change

A goal down, Houston got aggressive on the road, subtracting a defender in favor of an extra attacker in a 3-5-2 look. It paid off quickly as Will Bruin found goal for the equalizer in a 1-1 draw at New England. By splitting the points, not only did Houston keep the inside track on a playoff spot (the Dynamo schedule ahead is favorable compared to other Eastern Conference playoff chasers), but Dominic Kinnear’s team simultaneously prevented one of its pursuers from picking up two additional points.

Oh, the Dynamo has done something quite similar before, and somewhat famously so.

The Golden Boot chase

source:  Saturday’s match at Toyota Park outside Chicago didn’t just have playoff implications (like so many of Week 31 contests did), it also featured the league’s top two scorers. Montreal’s Marco Di Vaio scored once, but top pursuer Mike Magee from Chicago slotted home a pair. So Magee cut the gap to one. The update list of MLS top scorers is on the right.

Caleb Porters great choice

Ryan Johnson has been the Portland Timbers first-choice striker for most of the season. So the decision by manager Caleb Porter to give young Argentine Maximiliano Urruti the start in such a meaningful match Sunday afternoon at rainy, wind-swept Jeld-Wen Field was a bit of a gamble. Urruti, 22, made his manager look good, scoring the game’s only goal in the 1-0 result mentioned above.

The weekend’s huge boo-boo

Montreal’s attackers eventually bailed out their goalkeeper, but it looked for a while like Troy Perkins embarrassing mistake in the back was going to be the difference in an important Eastern Conference clash.

Perkins, Montreal’s veteran goalkeeper, tried to get a little cute and evade Magee inside his own penalty area. Big. Mistake.

Yes, Magee fouled the Impact goalkeeper, but that hardly excuses such a blunder, a “howler” in the vernacular. Montreal’s subsequent equalizer made the final 2-2 at Toyota Park. Here’s the play:

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Southampton 1-1 Sunderland: Defoe, Rodriguez score late in draw

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27: Jay Rodriguez of Southampton shoots during the Premier League match between Southampton and Sunderland at St Mary's Stadium on August 27, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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  • Rodriguez nets late equalizer
  • Defoe opened scoring from PK spot
  • Sunderland picks up first point of 2016

Jermain Defoe looked to give Sunderland three points on Saturday, but it was Jay Rodriguez who provided Southampton with a late equalizer at St. Mary’s in their 1-1 draw.

Defoe converted from the penalty spot with 10 minutes to play in regulation after Jose Fonte took down the Englishman inside the area a minute before.

The home side didn’t quit though with five minutes remaining, when Rodriguez smashed home the equalizer following a pass from James Ward-Prowse.

With the result, Sunderland picks up its first point of the new season, while Southampton sits directly above the Black Cats on the table with two points of their own.

Everton 1-0 Stoke: Toffees remain unbeaten

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27: Shay Given of Stoke City reacts after failing to save a penalty during the Premier League match between Everton and Stoke City at Goodison Park on August 27, 2016 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Lynne Cameron/Getty Images)
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  • Given own goal the difference
  • Williams, Mirallas, Bolasie go close
  • Just one goal this season for Stoke
  • Everton unbeaten, 7 points from possible 9

Everton continued their solid start to the new Premier League season as Ronald Koeman‘s side edged out Stoke City in stormy conditions at Goodison Park.

The Toffees won the game thanks to Leighton Baines‘ second half penalty kick which rebounded off Shay Given, onto the post and then back off his head and in. Despite the comedic nature of the game-winner, Everton were the more dangerous side throughout and deserved to win by more.

With the win Koeman’s side now have seven points from their opening three games, while Stoke has just one point on the board.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

It was all Everton in the first half as Kevin Mirallas forced Given into a smart stop down low and Ashley Williams almost grabbed his first goal for the club as he headed Mirallas’ cross towards the far corner of the net but Peter Crouch brilliantly hooked it off the line.

Everton then had a great chance as Ross Barkley drove towards the box and set up Mirallas. His powerful shot forced Given into a fine stop as the veteran goalkeeper tipped the ball over the bar.

[ MORE: Premier League standings

Barkley then went close as Mason Holgate whipped in a great cross from the right which Barkley slid in for but just missed.

Everton eventually went 1-0 up in the second half as Phil Bardsley was adjudged to have pushed Williams in the box and Baines’ spot kick was not well struck and was saved by Given in the wet conditions. However the ball then struck the post and hit Given on the head before going in. 1-0 to the Toffees in comedic fashion.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]  

Soon after they went behind a rare chance arrived for Stoke as Marko Arnautovic had a shot pushed onto the bar by Maarten Stekelenburg but Everton kept pushing hard for a second with Yannick Bolasie forcing Given into a save and the Stoke goalkeeper also denied Barkley.

Stoke went close as Arnautovic’s cutback couldn’t find Jonathan Walters and then Bolasie curled another effort just wide.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score

Everton comfortably held on for the win as Koeman has two wins and is unbeaten in his first three games in charge.

Leicester 2-1 Swansea: Foxes back in business

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27:  Jamie Vardy of Leicester City celebrates scoring his sides first goal during the Premier League match between Leicester City and Swansea City at The King Power Stadium on August 27, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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  • Vardy nets first of the season
  • Leicester secure first win
  • 2 defeats in 3 for Swansea 
  • Mahrez misses PK

Reigning champs Leicester City beat Swansea City in torrential rain at the King Power Stadium on Saturday as Claudio Ranieri‘s side survived a late scare.

Jamie Vardy put Leicester ahead in trademark fashion and Wes Morgan made it 2-0. Leroy Fer‘s header made things interesting but Swansea couldn’t find an equalizer late on.

With the win Leicester has four points on the season, will Swansea has three points after two-straight defeats.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Riyad Mahrez whipped a free kick just over from a promising position and it was then down to Leicester’s other star to put them ahead.

Leicester took the lead through a classic counter attack as Danny Drinkwater‘s perfect long ball found Vardy who finished emphatically to grab his first goal of the season, and his 50th in the league for Leicester, to put the Foxes 1-0 up.

[ MORE: Premier League standings ]

With thunder and lightning in the skies over the King Power Stadium, Swansea responded well to falling behind as Gylfi Sigurdsson curled an effort just over from 25-yards out.

The game was effectively early in the second as Morgan knocked him after a corner fell to the Leicester captain inside the box and he hooked home. 2-0.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]  

Leicester then had a great chance to go 3-0 up after Shinji Okazaki was fouled in the box but Mahrez’s penalty kick was saved by Lukasz Fabianski as he tipped it onto the post and then saved Okazaki’s shot with the rebound.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

A worrying moment then arrived for the Foxes as goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel was forced off after making a brave save. That meant a debut for Ron-Robert Zieler.

One of his first acts was to pick the ball out of the net as Fer headed home to make it 2-1. Game on.

Despite being ahead Leicester continue to pour forward and search for a third goal but left gaps at the back which Swansea couldn’t exploit. The Foxes were relieved to bag their first win of the new season.

Crystal Palace 1-1 Bournemouth: Dann rescues late point for Palace

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27:  Lewis Grabban of AFC Bournemouth takes the ball away from Christian Benteke of Crystal Palace during the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and AFC Bournemouth at Selhurst Park on August 27, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
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  • Dann pulls out result for Palace
  • King gives Cherries early advantage
  • Boruc makes fantastic PK stop

They had more of the chances on the afternoon, but it took over 90 minutes for Crystal Palace to rescue a point at home against Bournemouth. Scott Dann‘s 93rd minute equalizer gave the home side a 1-1 draw after limiting their opponent to just three shots on target.

Bournemouth struck in the 11th minute when Josh King smashed his close-range effort inside the far post.

Just five minutes later, Palace had a perfect chance to equalize from the penalty spot but Yohan Cabaye‘s effort was saved in spectacular fashion by goalkeeper Artur Boruc.

With neither side taking control of the match in the second half, Palace battled its way back into the game to find their opening goal on the day in stoppage time.