Premier League Playback: Chelsea “kill and destroy,” TV reviews, Suarez unstoppable, Rooney’s wondergoal

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CHELSEA’S ‘KILLER’ COUNTERS

The result of the weekend came in the London derby as Chelsea hammered, obliterated and pulverized title-rivals Arsenal 6-0.

In Arsene Wenger’s 1,000th game in charge of the Gunners, it was Jose Mourinho who embarrassed the Frenchman, with Chelsea’s devastating counter-attacks tearing Arsenal apart. The Blues were 2-0 up after seven minutes in the game Wenger had billed as “the game of the season.” Speaking to reporters afterwards, this is what Mourinho had to say.

“It was 10 amazing minutes, I knew that in 10 minutes we can win the game,” Mourinho said. “As we say in football, ‘we come to kill.’ In 10 minutes, we destroyed. After that it was easy. We got a penalty, they got a red card, 3-0. Easy. But my analysis of the game is about the first 10 minutes. We were very, very good. We pressed very high immediately, because we know they like to have the ball and pass it at the back. We pressed high and recovered the ball, attacking the space very fast. Those 10 minutes were amazing.”

That incredible high pressing and counter-attacking style has become a theme plenty of PL teams are credited with doing superbly this season, but none do it better than Chelsea.

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Click to enlarge – Interceptions and tackles from Chelsea and Arsenal during the Blues’ 6-0 win. (Players with min. of 2 included) Source: Opta

When Mourinho sold Juan Mata to Manchester United and dropped the likes of Ashley Cole this season, many questioned why on earth he would do that. But it was to implement this style, and this plan with players who could carry it out. On Saturday, with David Luiz and Nemanja Matic reunited in the center of midfield, those two broke up so many attacks, and then Chelsea could pounce on the counter.

The term “counter-attack” is overused and has fairly simple connotations to most, but if you get it just right, it can be devastating. We saw that with Chelsea time and time again against Arsenal, and the pace, power and guile Mourinho’s men showed to clinically dispatch the chances they kept churning out when winning the ball back. Matic and Luiz were key to that, with the amount of tackles they attempted (see table on the left) in the middle breaking up the play and the sheer size and athleticism overpowering Arsenal’s central midfield area.

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Click to enlarge – The space just in front of the center circle is where Arsenal gave the ball away, and suddenly Chelsea are 3 vs. 3 going forward. This played out time and time again.

On Eto’o’s goal after four minutes, see the picture on the right which shows when the ball was given away By Arsenal after pressure from Luiz and Andre Schurrle. Then Oscar played in Schurrle to give the German a three-on-three counter which he seized at full-speed, which Eto’o eventually finished off superbly. In 12 seconds Chelsea went from winning the ball on the edge of their to the ball hitting the back of Arsenal’s net.

MORE: PL Schedule | PL standings

Mourinho set up his side to thwart the Gunners passing through the middle of the pitch, with Schurrle and Hazard tucking in to support Oscar in a tight three-man unit directly behind Eto’o. Every time Matic and Luiz would win the ball, Hazard, Schurrle and Oscar would career wide and create space to get in behind Arsenal’s shambolic defending. As you can see on the left, the average position of Chelsea’s attacking unit is so compact, that they stopped the Gunners playing in the engine room and then were able to spring intricate attacks whenever they won the ball back.

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Click to enlarge – The average position of Chelsea’s players vs. Arsenal. Source: Opta

Mourinho has tweaked this style all season, as the Blues have gone from being an expansive unit which tried to play attractive soccer, to a ruthless machine which has handed him success in the PL, Portuguese Liga, Serie A and La Liga in the past. Basically, he’s gone back to what he knows best and has bought very well in the transfer market by adding players who can play these rapid two-way roles perfectly. Look at the stats of tackles and interceptions from Branislav Ivanovic and Cesar Azpilicueta, those full backs bomb up and down the flanks all day long and epitomize Chelsea’s incredible work-rate.

Asked if the 16th minute red card handed incorrectly to Kieran Gibbbs (more on that shortly) had a big say in Chelsea’s blowout win, Mourinho laughed.

“No, because after seven minutes it was 2-0… so after 70 minutes it should be 20-0,” Mourinho joked, “I am making fun. Obviously to play against 10-men is easier, but I think after the opening 10 minutes and the way we started, this game was our game.”

If Chelsea continue to be this devastating on the break for the rest of the season, this PL title could be their title.

As for Arsenal, Wenger didn’t show up to the post-match press conference after speaking with a few outlets in tunnel immediately after the match. The reason given for his no-show was that “the bus was leaving and he had to get on it.” But in his 1,000th game in charge of the Gunners, Wenger’s future with the North London club seems to have been thrown into doubt after his side were “killed and destroyed” by Mourinho’s ruthless counter-attacking machine.

Premier League Schedule – Week 31

Result Recap & Highlights
Aston Villa 1-4 Stoke City Recap and watch here
Cardiff 3-6 Liverpool Recap and watch here
Chelsea 6-0 Arsenal Recap and watch here
Everton 3-2 Swansea Recap and watch here
Hull 2-0 West Brom Recap and watch here
Man City 5-0 Fulham Recap and watch here
Newcastle 1-0 Crystal Palace Recap and watch here
Norwich 2-0 Sunderland Recap and watch here
Tottenham 3-2 Southampton Recap and watch here
West Ham 0-2 Man United Recap and watch here

WHY VIDEO REVIEWS SHOULD STAY AWAY, FOR NOW

Sat in the cramped press box on Saturday at Stamford Bridge, there was already plenty of jovial slaps from myself and other journalists before the pivotal moment of the match arrived. Chelsea led 2-0 after seven minutes, against an Arsenal side unraveling before our eyes. But what myself, and over 41,000 others inside the Bridge were about to see defied belief.

Eden Hazard arrowed a shot towards the goal and as the ball passed Arsenal ‘keeper Szczesny and headed towards the bottom corner, a player came out of nowhere to flick the ball away with his outstretched hand. I say ‘a player’ because in real time, nobody where I was sat had a clue exactly who it was.

Referee Andre Marriner, who was at a similar angle to myself but 50-yards closer, paused, then walked, then paused, as Jose Mourinho ran around with his arms flailing like a madman, after jumping off the bench and spiraling in circles protesting (as only Jose can) at the handball we’d all just seen. Marriner, after much deliberation, gave the spot kick. And as he chatted away on his microphone, the PL referee would’ve wanted to hear some more information from his other officials in his earpiece. But nothing. A blank look adorned Marriner’s face, as he now realized he’d awarded a penalty for a clear handball… but had no idea who’d committed the crime.

Eventually, he chose to send off Kieran Gibbs. The Arsenal left back flipped out, as the cries of disbelief and squinting at the miniature screens began ferociously in the press seats situated just behind the team benches. Even as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the guilty party, had informed Marriner that it was his hand which had knocked the ball wide, but Marriner didn’t change his mind. Mourinho’s assistant coach Steve Holland turned to the press behind the dugout to ask who had handled it… even he didn’t know.

(MORE: Chelsea 6-0 Arsenal – Blues hammer Gunners, as bizarre red card ruins Wenger’s big day)

A few of us responded that it was Chamberlain and we got a thumbs up from Holland, but the damage was done for Marriner, who has since issued an apology, but this moment will go down in PL history. After he sent off the wrong man, Marriner will long be the butt of jokes across England and further afield.

source: Getty Images
Marriner shows Gibbs the red card, but the referee got it horribly wrong. How can we help refs make these big calls in the future?

But how can we rectify mistakes like this in soccer? Video reviews are the number one answer when this topic comes up. A small TV screen in front of the fourth official to help with controversial moments, which will then clear up any mistakes the referee makes on the spot. In theory it is a great idea, but my argument is: where do you draw the line?

Several contentious decisions take place in soccer throughout a 90-minute match, you can’t review all of them. Unlike the NFL, where video reviews are commonplace, soccer is not a stop-start sport. Having witnessed several atmospheres in NHL games hampered after lengthy video review decisions, I think bringing these reviews into the PL and elite levels of soccer would be a bad idea, for now. I’m all for suggestions as to how we can make referee’s decisions easier, but I don’t think stopping the game every five minutes to check replays multiple times on a TV screen is the way forward.

Marriner got it wrong, but in that split-second at Stamford Bridge, the vast majority of humans who walk this earth would’ve done the same. Having something, or somebody, to help with those kind of knee-jerk calls is needed. But I have to admit, debating the calls live on the stadium and for hours afterwards is a heck of a lot of fun. If TV reviews come in, would we lose that debate over a pint in a bar?

UNSTOPPABLE SUAREZ

At a certain point of the season, commentators will run out of superlatives to describe Luis Suarez’s strokes of genius. That time could be about now.

On Saturday Liverpool were trailing Cardiff City 2-1 but managed to fight back and win 6-3, with a hat trick from Suarez stealing the show as the Reds have now scored 82 goals in the PL. The Uruguayan now has three trebles this season, and six for Liverpool in total. He also has 28-goals and counting, which equals Robbie Fowler’s record as the most goals scored in a single PL season by a Liverpool player.

(WATCH: Premier League Team of the Week led by Toure and Suarez)

Safe to say, Suarez will surpass that comfortably. Stunning finishes with his left and right feet, coupled with sublime set up play to get his strike-partner Daniel Sturridge on the scoresheet, leave me in no doubt that if Liverpool somehow win the PL, Suarez’s goals will be the main reason they’ve prevailed. A stunning striker called Suarez is scything down records on a weekly basis. And oh yeah, did anybody forget he was banned for the first five games of the campaign? Remarkable, checked out yet another signed match ball ‘El Pistolero’ gets to take home and wedge in the trophy cabinet.

WONDERGOALS GALORE: ROONEY ‘DOES A BECKHAM’

Last week in Playback, I stated that “I can’t remember seeing a stronger top five goals video” so far this season. Well, this week was even better. Wayne Rooney led the way with a volley from close to the halfway line in a goal reminiscent of David Beckham’s wondergoal for United back in 1996 against Wimbledon. That famous goal which help launched Beckham to stardom, as the commentator brands it as “a goal we will talk about for years.” He was right, nearly 20 years on that goal is the first thing we mention after Rooney’s sublime 60-yard strike. But the question is, will Rooney’s goal be mentioned in the same breath as Beckham’s two decades from now? On the volley and with a bouncing ball to control, in many ways Rooney’s strike is arguably better than what Goldenballs conjured up.

(MORE: West Ham 0-2 Man United – Rooney goal the highlight of Red Devils’ routine win)

Becks was on hand to see Rooney’s magical strike, as the England star produced a moment of sheer brilliance. If it wasn’t for that, any of the next four strikes would’ve usually taken away the goal of the week gong, as the PL was rife with spectacular goals. Yaya Toure’s long-distance curler, Alex Tettey pulverizing the ball on the volley, Samuel Eto’o curler or Fernandinho’s blast. In Week 31 we were blessed with an incredible 42 goals, most of which were stunners. Watch the video below in awe at the PL’s top five goals from last weekend.

Bonus: Here is Beckham’s famous strike in ’96 to salivate over, and compare to Rooney’s wondegoal. Which goal from halfway was better?

U.S. STAR CAMERON: HOLDING MID IN BRAZIL?

Stoke City’s resurgence continued on Sunday, as the Potters hit back after going behind early to win 4-1 away at Midland rivals Aston Villa.

U.S. international Geoff Cameron was undone by Fabian Delph’s trickery who set up Christian Benteke for the first goa, but Stoke’s ‘Mr. Consistent’ made amends with another solid performance capped off by his second PL goal of the campaign. In the 92nd minute, Cameron strode forward as Stoke countered and looked to polish off an already resounding away win. As the ball broke on the edge of the box Cameron’s marauding run was timed perfectly, as the former Houston Dynamo star slotted the ball into the bottom corner to make it 4-1 and give him bragging rights over his U.S. teammate Brad Guzan.

(WATCH: PST Extra – Which U.S. national team stars have shone in the Premier League?)

With runs and finishing like that, could Cameron slot into Jurgen Klinsmann’s midfield for the World Cup this summer? It is no secret that Cameron’s position in the USMNT starting XI is not secured. With the PL player playing at right back for Stoke for two-straight seasons since he arrived from MLS, many would pigeon-hole him as the starting RB in Brazil. But with Brad Evans pushing Cameron all the way, it may be elsewhere that the Bostonian flourishes with the U.S. national team. Given Klinsmann’s insistence on his players playing at the top level possible, Cameron is performing well week in, week out in arguably the toughest league in the world. Surely that means there will be a spot for him in the USA’s starting lineup in the WC opener against Ghana on June 16? Central midfield, central defense or RB, wherever he plays, you know you can count on Cameron.

RELEGATION PICTURE TAKING SHAPE

Down at the bottom of the standings, it was doom and gloom for many teams this weekend. However the big winners were Norwich City, who catapulted themselves up to 13th in the PL and are now seven points clear of the drop zone after a comfortable 2-0 win over Sunderland. The Black Cats remained intrenched in relegation battle after that defeat, so do Swansea, Crystal Palace, Fulham, Cardiff City and West Bromwich Albion after they all lost.

(MORE: Latest Premier League standings)

Elsewhere, West Ham have been dragged back into the equation as they have 31 points and are just six points ahead of Sunderland in 18th but Gus Poyet’s side have two games in hand. With three of the bottom seven in action midweek, the relegation picture will be clearer by the time Saturday rolls around, maybe. But it’s still anyone’s guess as to whose will be demoted to the Championship next season.

To watch the latest relegation struggles play out, and all the other goals, the video below gives you everything you missed from Week 31.

Premier League Playback takes an alternative look at all the weekend’s action from the PL, it comes out every week.

Ligue 1: Neymar sent off, Cavani saves PSG in draw with Marseille

AP Photo/Claude Paris
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ARIS (AP) Neymar was sent off shortly before Edinson Cavani rescued league leader Paris Saint-Germain with an injury-time free kick in a 2-2 draw at rival Marseille on Sunday.

Cavani won the foul after being knocked over by forward Bouna Sarr, and stepped up to curl the ball in off the underside of the crossbar with goalkeeper Steve Mandanda slightly slow to cover.

“It’s an important goal,” said Cavani, after netting his ninth of the campaign. “It was difficult to play here in a tough atmosphere.”

It was down to Cavani to take the free kick because Neymar, the world’s most expensive player when he joined from Barcelona for $260 million, was sent off after picking up a second yellow card in the 87th minute.

The Brazil striker reacted angrily to a cheap challenge from behind from Lucas Ocampos, and sent the Argentine winger tumbling to the ground at Stade Velodrome in retribution.

Shortly before, winger Florian Thauvin acrobatically volleyed home in the 78th minute from substitute Clinton Njie’s pass from the byline to put host Marseille ahead.

“You always have to make the run to the front post,” Thauvin said. “It was a great pass from him.”

Despite conceding the late goal, it was a confidence boost for Marseille after being routed 5-1 at home by PSG last season.

Marseille is fifth, four points behind second-place Monaco and eight behind PSG — which needed an injury-time goal to win 2-1 at Dijon in its previous league game.

“It’s bitterly disappointing, because we thought we’d done enough to win,” Mandanda said. “By the time I saw Cavani’s shot coming it was too late. But we should be happy and proud of our performance.”

PSG was heavy favorite, but Marseille twice took the lead.

Roared on by 60,000 home fans, Marseille scored in the 16th minute. Holding midfielder Luiz Gustavo was given too much room, and the former Bayern Munich midfielder advanced to hit a swerving 30-meter shot into the bottom left corner.

After Cavani missed a chance immediately after, Neymar collected a pass from midfielder Adrien Rabiot just inside the penalty area and drilled a low shot in off the right post in the 33rd.

There were no PSG fans present due to security concerns but Marseille fans clashed with riot police before the game.

La Liga: Asensio leads Madrid past Eibar; Atleti end slump

AP Photo/Francisco Seco
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Marco Asensio scored and helped force an own-goal to lead Real Madrid to a 3-0 win at home over Eibar in the Spanish league on Sunday.

The 21-year-old forward got Madrid going in the 18th minute when his well-placed cross meant for Sergio Ramos was headed into the net by Eibar defender Paulo Oliveira.

Asensio put the result beyond doubt 10 minutes later at the Santiago Bernabeu when he drove Francisco “Isco” Alarcon’s cross under goalkeeper Marco Dmitrovic.

Marcelo rounded off the victory in the 82nd after substitute Karim Benzema set him up.

Following a rocky start with only two wins in the first five rounds, Zinedine Zidane’s team has now won four straight in the league as it remained in third place. Barcelona leads by four points over Valencia, with Madrid another point behind.

“Not everything went perfectly, but we are happy for the win,” Zidane said. “It was important to get the three points and to score that many goals.”

The goal was Asensio’s fifth of the season, and his third in the league to go with two from the Spanish Super Cup.

Dmitrovic could have done more to keep out Asensio’s goal, but the Eibar `keeper also denied Isco and Cristiano Ronaldo their chances to add to the lead.


Atletico Madrid broke a four-game winless streak across all competitions after eking out a 1-0 win at Celta Vigo. Diego Simeone’s side is fourth – a point behind Real Madrid.

Striker Kevin Gameiro scored his first goal of the season in the 28th when he swept home a poor clearance of a corner kick by Celta’s Sergi Gomez.

The much-needed victory came after back-to-back draws in the league along with a 2-1 loss to Chelsea and a 0-0 draw at Qarabag in Azerbaijan in the Champions League.

Atletico did little more than cling to the advantage as Celta tried to equalize.

“They made us wait a long time to get this win, and that was why we worked as hard as we did today,” Simeone said. “The team showed that it can dig in, and that it doesn’t mind holding up in its area if it has to protect a result.”

Celta played with a large section of its Balaidos Stadium closed due to safety concerns regarding the structure of the stands. Club president Carlos Mourino said that Celta will refund the cost of the tickets for the seats that had to be left empty.

MLS: FCD really missed the playoffs; LA finish dead last

Photo credit: Houston Dynamo / Twitter: @HoustonDynamo
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FC Dallas 5-1 LA Galaxy

The standings: FC Dallas finish 7th in the West; LA Galaxy finish bottom of the West, and all of MLS

The game: It was too little, too late for FC Dallas, who on Sunday managed just their second win during the months of August, September and October. That’s a stretch of 15 games which saw last year’s Supporters’ Shield winners tumble out of the West’s playoff places and ultimately finish seventh, behind the San Jose Earthquakes on the wins tiebreaker. Roland Lamah scored twice on the day, to go with single tallies from Mauro Diaz, Matt Hedges and Michael Barrios. Oscar Pareja’s side began the season with treble aspirations for a second straight season (the Hoops also won the U.S. Open Cup in 2016), but will be watching this year’s playoffs from the comfort of their own couches. On the other hand, 2017 could have been worse — say, FCD could have been LA, who finished last in MLS for the first time ever. Sigi Schmid, should he remain in the job next season, has quite the rebuilding task on his hands. Let us not forget: LAFC arrive in March.

[ MORE: MLS at Week 34 — it all comes down to this ]

The goals

2′ — Cian heads home an early opener Things started brightly for LA.

37′ — Lamah gets a lucky bounce, pulls FCD level — Right place, right time for Lamah, who’s endured quite the rough first season in MLS.

41′ — Hedges cleans up the mess, and it’s 2-1 — Clement Diop couldn’t hold on after making the initial save, and Matt Hedges was more than ready for the rebound.

49′ — Lamah makes it 3-1 — The rout has officially begun.

68′ — Barrios adds to LA’s misery with a fourth — LA’s 2017 season was over in May (maybe June, if we’re being kind). Every one of these defenders is on a beach right now.

73′ — Diaz makes it 5-1 from the spot — The season just will not end for LA.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Roland Lamah

Goalscorers: Cian (2′), Lamah (37′, 49′), Hedges (41′), Barrios (68′) Diaz (73′ – PK)


Houston Dynamo 3-0 Chicago Fire

The standings: Dynamo clinch the West’s 4-seed; Fire clinch the East’s 3-seed

The game: No one wanted to win the West, just like no one ever really wanted to claim a home game in the knockout round. In the end, the Houston Dynamo beat Sporting Kansas City to the 4-seed and the right to host the two sides’ opening-round game this week. Leonardo, Romell Quioto and Mauro Manotas bagged the goals for Wilmer Cabrera’s side which finishes the regular season unbeaten in its last six game (three wins). Chicago, recently resurgent, lose for just the second time in eight games, but in doing so fail to take advantage of New York City FC’s Decision Day draw with Columbus Crew SC. A win would have sent Chicago second in the East, allowing them a week’s rest and preparation before the start of the conference semifinals. Instead, they’ll host the New York Red Bulls this week.

[ MORE: MLS at Week 34 — it all comes down to this ]

The goals

2′ — Leonardo heads home from a long throw — They don’t have to be pretty (especially on Decision Day), which is good, because this one was anything but.

68′ — Quioto goes it alone to make it 2-0 — At some point, someone should probably drag Quioto to the ground rather than let him carry the ball 40 yards into the penalty area. It never happened, and Richard Sanchez couldn’t make the save.

75′ — Manotas adds the insurance a few minutes later — Andrew Wenger’s cross found Manotas at the back post, and the finish was easy for the Colombian.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Leonardo

Goalscorers: Leonardo (2′), Quioto (68′), Manotas (75′)

MLS: Timbers beat Whitecaps to top West; RSL out, SKC fall to 5th

Photo credit: Portland Timbers / Twitter
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Portland Timbers 2-1 Vancouver Whitecaps

The standings: Timbers clinch the West’s 1-seed; Whitecaps fall to West’s 3-seed

The game: For the entirety of the regular season, no one wanted to finish top of the Western Conference. That lasted until the final day of the season, as the Vancouver Whitecaps, who sat atop the West for the last two months, lost 2-1 to the Portland Timbers and fell all the way to the 3-seed (and the knockout round) on the back of the Seattle Sounders’ 3-0 victory over the Colorado Rapids. Kendall Waston put the visitors ahead on the half-hour mark, but Liam Ridgewell quickly equalized and Darren Mattocks came back to bite his old team with the game-winning goal in the 48th minute.

[ MORE: MLS at Week 34 — it all comes down to this ]

The goals

29′ — Waston heads home from a free kick for 1-0 — Waston has had himself a pretty good month or so, turning into a regular goalscorer for Vancouver and helping Costa Rica clinch their place at the 2018 World Cup.

32′ — Ridgewell responds quickly, and it’s 1-1 — The initial shot was saved by David Ousted, but the rebound didn’t fall very far and Ridgewell was quick to pounce.

48′ — Mattocks beats his former club, makes it 2-1 — Vytautas Andriuskevicius (Vytas) cut the ball back for Mattocks, and the Jamaican picked out the 40 square inches that weren’t completely obscured at the near post.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Darren Mattocks

Goalscorers: Waston (29′), Ridgewell (32′), Mattocks (48′)


Real Salt Lake 2-1 Sporting Kansas City

The standings: Sporting KC clinch the West’s 5-seed; RSL finish 8th in the West

The game: On the bright side, RSL’s revival, which began after three games when Jeff Cassar was fired and Mike Petke was named the new boss, is complete. On the not-so-bright side, so is their season. Petke galvanized a young RSL side over the course of six months and turned them into legitimate playoff contenders, only to come up short on the final day of the regular season. Luis Silva and Brooks Lennon each bagged a goal in Sunday’s 2-1 victory over Sporting KC. Speaking of not-so-bright sides, Sporting’s regular season ends with three losses and two draws from their final five games. In that span, they went from competing for the West’s no. 1 spot, to something of an afterthought with a trip to the Houston Dynamo in the knockout round on tap.

[ MORE: MLS at Week 34 — it all comes down to this ]

The goals

3′ — Silva slots past Dykstra for 1-0 — You could count the number of major mistakes made by Ike Opara this season on one hand, even after this early blunder.

41′ — Lennon gets two chances, makes it 2-0 — Silva drew the attention of four defenders and managed to move the ball wide to Lennon. Andrew Dykstra did well enough to make the initial save, but the rebound fell right back to Lennon, who left no doubt about it with his follow-up.

89′ — Opara heads home a free kick to the near post — Graham Zusi’s free kick was low and where only Opara could get to it. Opara’s header was low and where Nick Rimando couldn’t get to it.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Nick Rimando

Goalscorers: Silva (3′), Lennon (41′), Opara (89′)