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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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Zlatan after Manchester United win: “I expect much more from the team”

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 29:  Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United celebrate following their sides 1-0 victory during the UEFA Europa League group A match between Manchester United FC and FC Zorya Luhansk at Old Trafford on September 29, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Manchester United has gone from a three-match losing streak to a three-match winning streak after Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s second half goal led the Red Devils to a 1-0 win over Zorya Luhansk at Old Trafford on Thursday.

The UEFA Europa League match was heavily titled in United’s favor, as Jose Mourinho’s men controlled the ball but didn’t find a finish outside of their big Swedish striker.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

Ibrahimovic was happy to pick up all three points after losing the group stage opener to Feyenoord, but expects better moving forward.

From the BBC:

“It was not an easy game, we played well, created chances but this is a typical game. When you don’t score in the beginning, the spaces get smaller and smaller. After the goal, we had more space but it was a decent game. We won and that is what counts after losing against Feyenoord.

“If you want to go through, you need to win the game, we did that. We could have done much more though and I expect much more from the team. We did not score as we did against Leicester but it is good for confidence. If we continue this and step it up, we will do good.”

United didn’t look like they’d concede a goal during the match aside from a very brief stretch early in the second half. Next up is an Oct. 20 trip to Fenerbahce.

Europa League: Zlatan leads Manchester United; Dundalk, Zenit win

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 29:  Mikhail Sivakov of Zorya Luhansk and Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United battle for the ball during the UEFA Europa League group A match between Manchester United FC and FC Zorya Luhansk at Old Trafford on September 29, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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  • Rooney assists Zlatan winner
  • Roma, Zenit win big
  • Irish history for Dundalk

A 68th minute Zlatan Ibrahimovic header spurred Manchester United past visiting Ukrainian side Zorya Luhansk X-0 at Old Trafford on Thursday in UEFA Europa League play.

United is a point behind Fenerbahce in Group A, level on points with Feyenoord but would sit behind them on head-to-head tiebreakers.

[ MORE: Early match roundup ]

Marcus Rashford hammered a Paul Pogba flick off the goal post moments after Zlatan Ibrahimovic missed a chance of his own, and Manchester United was rampant.

United was in control all half long, and even strings of passes were rare for Zorya. But the match remained 0-0.

[ MORE: Europa League standings ]

[ MORE: Europa League schedule ]

Funny thing, though, as Zorya really started to find some chances by crossing from wide positions as the second half got moving at Old Trafford.

The Red Devils got back on track with about 35 minutes to go, and it began to feel like the first half, that a goal was inevitable. Timothy Fosu-Mensah cut back for Wayne Rooney, who mishit a side volley directly to the back post. There, Ibrahimovic leapt to take advantage of baffled Zorya keeper Oleksiy Shevchenko, heading it over the line.

The Red Devils gave away a dangerous free kick with 12 minutes to play, but Jaba Lipartia hit his left-footed attempt over the bar.

Dundalk 1–0 Maccabi Tel-Aviv

Semi-pro side Dundalk became the first Irish team to claim a point in European play on the last match day, so it stands to reason the defeat of visiting Maccabi Tel-Aviv is the first win in Irish history. Big striker Ciaran Kilduff scored the goal that kept Dundalk second in Group D, two points behind Zenit Saint Petersburg. Dundalk is off to Zenit on Oct. 20.

Zenit Saint Petersburg 5-0 AZ Alkmaar

Speaking of Zenit, they didn’t just beat AZ, the Russians cruised past their Dutch visitors with five different goal scorers netting in the win.

Elsewhere
Saint-Etienne 1–1 Anderlecht
Genk 3–1 Sassuolo
Olympiacos 0–1 Apoel Nicosia
Fenerbahce 1–0 Feyenoord
Athletic Bilbao 1–0 Rapid Wien
Austria Wien 0–0 Viktoria Plzen
Zenit Saint-Petersburg 5–0 AZ Alkmaar
AS Roma 4–0 Astra Giurgiu

Giovani Dos Santos returns to Mexico team for Panama, New Zealand matches

CARSON, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Jack Jewsbury #13 and Ned Grabavoy #10 of Portland Timbers battle Giovani dos Santos #10 of Los Angeles Galaxy for a loose ball during the first half of their MLS match at StubHub Center on April 10, 2016 in Carson, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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Mexico’s friendly matches against New Zealand and Panama next week will see a return to the fold for in-form LA Galaxy striker Giovani Dos Santos.

The 100-times capped 27-year-old is having an MVP caliber season in MLS, and is one of only three non-Mexico based call-ups for head coach Juan Carlos Osorio.

The other two? Eintracht Frankfurt’s Marco Fabian, who is red-hot in the Bundesliga, and Giovani’s younger brother: Villarreal’s Jonathan Dos Santos.

[ MORE: JPW hangs with USMNT prospect Gooch ]

Mexico plays New Zealand on Saturday in Nashville before heading to Chicago for Tuesday’s match against Panama.

Here’s Mexico’s full list of call-ups:

Moises Munoz – America
Jesus Corona – Cruz Azul
Rodolfo Cota – Guadalajara
Hugo Ayala – Tigres
Hedgardo Marín -Guadalajara
Oswaldo Alanis – Guadalajara
Silva Jordan – Toluca
Jesus Duenas – Tigres
Jorge Torres Nilo – Tigres
Adrian Aldrete – Cruz Azul
Luis Robles – Atlas
Jesus Molina – Santos
Jonathan Dos Santos – Villarreal
Orbelin Pineda – Guadalajara
Erick Gutierrez – Pachuca
Elias Hernandez – Leon
Angel Sepulveda – Querétaro
Hirving Lozano – Pachuca
Isaac Brizuela – Guadalajara
Giovani Dos Santos – LA Galaxy
Marco Fabian – Eintracht Frankfurt
Oribe Peralta – America
Alan Pulido – Guadalajara

Europa League: Saints draw in Israel; Schalke, Fiorentina roll; Inter 0-2

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 25:  Fraser Forster of Southampton catches the ball ahead of Cheikhou Kouyate of West Ham United during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Southampton at London Stadium on September 25, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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An update on the early matches of Europa League play, with Manchester United amongst 20 European teams dealing with 3:05 p.m. ET kickoffs.

Southampton traveled a long way and is coming home with a point.

A shorthanded Saints side without Jose Fonte and Charlie Austin amongst others played Hapoel Be’er Sheva to a 0-0 draw in Israel on Thursday in Europa League play.

[ MORE: JPW hangs with USMNT prospect Gooch ]

“It’s a good result,” said Saints boss Claude Puel. “We played a very good team. When you cannot win a game it’s important to take one point and it’s an important point for the future.”

The Premier League side won its first group stage match, and remains level with Hapoel Be’er Sheva for the Group K lead. Sparta Prague beat Inter Milan 3-1 in the Czech Republic to move into third place, while Inter is dead last at 0-2.

Mario Balotelli scored to open Nice‘s match at Krasnodar, but that was one of the only bright spots in a 5-2 win for the Russian side.

Schalke put aside its poor Bundesliga form to batter Red Bull Salzburg 3-1. Benedikt Howedes’ 58th minute goal gave the Germans a three-goal lead.

Full Europa League scoreboard

Qabala 2-3 Mainz
Astana 0-0 Young Boys
Zurich 2-1 Osmanlispor
Schalke 3-1 Red Bull Salzburg
Slovan Liberec 1-2 PAOK Salonika
Fiorentina 5-1 Qarabag
Steaua Bucuresti 1-1 Villarreal
Krasnodar 5-2 Nice
Ajax 1-0 Standard Liege
Shakhtar Donetsk 2-0 Braga
Celta Vigo 2-0 Panathinaikos
Sparta Prague 3-1 Inter Milan
Gent 2-0 Konyaspor

3:05 p.m. ET kickoffs
Manchester United – Zorya
Saint-Etienne – Anderlecht
Genk – Sassuolo
Olympiacos – Apoel Nicosia
Dundalk – Maccabi Tel-Aviv
Fenerbahce – Feyenoord
Athletic Bilbao – Rapid Wien
Austria Wien – Viktoria Plzen
Zenit Saint-Petersburg – AZ Alkmaar
AS Roma – Astra Giurgiu