Chelsea’s latest canter points to record-breaking title win

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LONDON — 10 points clear with 11 games to play. That says it all.

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“We’re going to win the league!” said Chelsea’s fans towards the end of their 2-1 win at West Ham United in the Premier League on Monday.

It’s not quite time to start tying some blue ribbons on the Premier  League trophy or planning a parade route around west London, but it’s not far off that time either as they became just the seventh team to rack up 66 points or more through the opening 27 games of a PL season.

Chelsea’s ruthless, composed display in their 2-1 win proved just how dominant they have become. Don’t look at the scoreline. It doesn’t tell the full story.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Antonio Conte‘s side have won 21 of their 27 Premier League games this season, but few were as easy as this.

“I think we played good football,” Conte said. “We created many chances to score the other goals. It is a pity to give away the other clean sheet at the end of the game. It is the second after Arsenal. We must work a bit on this aspect. I am pleased. It is not easy to play after your opponent played and won, when you know that if you drop points in these type of games, you give hope to your opponent to chase you. We played with a good pressure today but our answer was very good. I am very pleased for my players because we played very well and we controlled the game. We conceded not a lot. Our central defenders played very well against these long balls for Carroll, we defended very well. Good compact.”

That pressure will only mount in the coming weeks as Chelsea edge towards the title. With 11 games to go, everyone is waiting for Chelsea to stumble and their tricky games remaining come against Manchester City on Apr. 5 and Manchester United on Apr. 16. By the time the latter game is over, the race to win the league title may be as good as over.

Between now and then Conte knows the pressure is on.

“I think this period has started,” Conte said. “For me 11 games are a lot. Now, this period is very important to relieve the pressure in the right away. When you play the game after, you know your opponent won the game the day before. I am pleased for the commitment, the right mentality of my players. Very focused. They showed me great will to win the game and to suffer in the first half but stayed compacted but didn’t concede great chances to West Ham. Then we scored the goal, controlled the game. In some situations it is better to score more when you have the chances to better the result. I am very happy for the game because today it was.”

The reason Conte is so happy is because every single Chelsea player knew what they were doing from start to finish. They were confident, had a swagger in their step and a ruthless streak to continuously launch rapid counters as well as being able to dictate play and force opponents into mistakes.

Such has been their dominance since their 3-0 defeat at Arsenal back in September — they’ve lost just one PL game in their last 21 — there’s no reason to believe they won’t win all 11 of their remaining PL games.

If they did that they’d finish the season on 99 points, four more than the record points tally they hold from their title win in the 2004-05 campaign. They’d also set the record for most PL wins in a single-season with 32.

It seems absurd to suggest that but it is absurd how strong this Chelsea side is. They simply don’t have a weakness.

Just as much as their counters, continuity has been the key in Chelsea’s stylish canter towards the Premier League title. They’ve used 21 players in the Premier League this season, the fewest in the PL, and Conte has made just 24 team changes to his team.

We all saw last season how keeping things simple led to Leicester City’s incredible success. Chelsea have had the luxury of being able to follow that model with no European games leaving their starting lineup fresh and ready each week. It’s almost as if Conte studied Leicester’s playing style and told his Chelsea team to follow it.

It may not be easy between now and the end of the season (if it takes that long to seal the title) but they look unstoppable.

“It is not an easy ride but they aren’t going to become casual. That is 100 percent. They look very, very serious,” West Ham’s manager Slaven Bilic said. “I can see them staying on top with the quality up top but also with how solid they are and concentrated they are and most of all how physically, the shape they are in… They are 10 points clear at the top of the Premier League table for a reason.”

Conte is trying to stay calm, keeping away from praising individuals despite being asked about stunning displays from the likes of Eden Hazard and N'Golo Kante.

He was asked if he trusts his players to see this job through and deliver a title in his opening season in England?

“I must have confidence in this because I think until now we deserve to stay on top of the table and now that we stay it is important to continue to keep this position,” Conte said. “For sure it won’t be easy because Tottenham and [Manchester] City, also Liverpool, two take two points from Arsenal and two points from United today was important. The game started to be less. I think this league will be very tough until the end. I listen to the other coaches of the other teams. They trust to win. This is right to have the ambition. It is important for us to know the others have this ambition, this hunger, this will to fight and stay on top of the league. It won’t be easy. We know this.”

“For sure, I trust my players,” Conte continued. “Because my players show me commitment not only during the games but during the week, in every training session, great will to working very hard to improve our work. I trust. Absolutely.”

It’s easy to trust your players when they’re 10 points clear at the top with 11 games to go.

Jamaica upset Mexico to reach 2nd straight Gold Cup final, face USMNT

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For the second straight tournament, Jamaica are headed to the final of the Gold Cup after knocking off Mexico, the side which beat them in the 2015 final, in the 2017 semifinal on Sunday.

New York Red Bulls defender Kemar Lawrence scored the game’s only goal in the 88th minute, making the most of Andre Blake’s man-of-the-match goalkeeping performance which spanned the entirety of 90 minutes.

[ RECAP: Super-sub Dempsey propels USMNT past Costa Rica ]

Blake put forth a stellar display of goalkeeping in the game’s opening 45 minutes, facing three shots on target and denying El Tri’s attackers on each and every occasion.

The pick(s) of the litter came in the 12th minute, when the Philadelphia Union ‘keeper pulled off a stunning double-save to deny Jesus Dueñas and Erick Torres. Dueñas fired first, aided by a wicked deflection, but Blake pulled off the reflexive kick-save, followed by Torres’ powerful strike through traffic seconds later.

15 minutes later, Torres earned himself a yellow card for what was undoubtedly, unquestionably a red-card, lunging “challenge” against Damion Lowe.

[ USA 2-0 CRC: Player ratings | Three things we learned ]

The second half consisted of much the same things as the first, as Blake continued his clinic in the 65th minute. Jesus Gallardo fired a free kick through the Raggae Boyz’ wall, a knuckling shot which Blake didn’t see until very late but managed the put two fists behind the ball and punch it anyway anyway.

Blake’s counterpart, Jesus Corona, joined the fun in the 78th minute. Lowe rose highest to get to Owayne Gordon’s free kick, heading it inside Corona’s right-hand post, but the Cruz Azul ‘keeper was quick to scramble across his goal and palm the ball away at full-stretch.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Gold Cup coverage ]

Two minutes before full-time, Lawrence produced the game’s only piece of purge magic, a curling peach of a free kick from 24 yards out. Corona went one way, Lawrence went the other and Jamaica are headed to their second straight Gold Cup final.

Jamaica will take on the U.S. national team in Wednesday’s final, at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.

MLS: Rookie Ebobisse stars as Timbers win in Vancouver

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The game in 100 words (or less): The Portland Timbers, thanks to a standout performance in rookie striker Jeremy Ebobisse’s first MLS start, put to bed a six-game winless skid with a 2-1 win away to the Vancouver Whitecaps on Sunday. The run of poor form stretched back to early June, and saw Caleb Porter’s side slip from contention for the Western Conference’s top spot, into the jumbled mess surrounding the playoff cut line (four teams separated by one point, either side of sixth place, coming into Sunday). Ebobisse scored the opening goal less than a quarter-hour into the game, and delivered the beautiful backheel assist to Sebastian Blanco to restore the Timbers’ lead four minutes into the second half, after watching it disappear just before halftime. The victory sees Portland leapfrog Vancouver to move into fourth place in the West, just four points off the top spot once again.

[ RECAP: Super-sub Dempsey propels USMNT past Costa Rica ]

Three moments that mattered

14′ — Ebobisse touches home his first MLS goal — Sometimes you don’t really have to do much beyond simply existing in the right place. Ebobisse existed in the right place.

45′ — Jacobson heads home before halftime — Update: Portland still have issues defending set pieces.

49′ — Blanco slots past Ousted for 2-1 — No one really stepped up to deny Blanco’s marathon dribble, and Ebobisse did so much more than simply existing on this one.

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

Man of the match: Jeremy Ebobisse

Goalscorers: Ebobisse (14′), Jacobson (45′), Blanco (49′)

FOLLOW LIVE: Mexico vs. Jamaica — who’ll face USMNT in final?

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It’s Mexico versus Jamaica in the second semifinal of the 2017 Gold Cup on Sunday, facing off for the right to play the U.S. national team in Wednesday’s final.

When: 9 p.m. ET
Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California

[ LIVE: Gold Cup scoreboard ]

It’s the second time these sides have met this summer, having already played to a scoreless draw in the second game of Group C play, en route to Mexico finish top of the group, besting Jamaica by two points on the final day of the group stage.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Gold Cup coverage ]

Hit the link above, or click here, to follow along with Sunday’s semifinal action.

Gonzalez follows heart in switch from Mexico to USMNT

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) Jesse Gonzalez started in the 2015 Under-20 World Cup for Mexico, his parents’ homeland. Then last month, the 22-year-old FC Dallas goalkeeper switched his affiliation to join the United States, his home country.

Gonzalez just felt more comfortable in the red, white and blue.

“The U.S. has given me a lot. I’m grateful for what they have given me and the opportunity they have given me,” he said after joining the U.S. roster for the knockout rounds of the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

[ RECAP: Super-sub Dempsey propels USMNT past Costa Rica ]

Tim Howard, now 38, remains the top U.S. goalkeeper as the Americans try to qualify for next year’s World Cup. Brad Guzan, who will be 33 in September, is entrenched as the No. 2.

After that, no keepers have emerged at the top level in the next generation. Gonzalez, and fellow 20-somethings Sean Johnson, Bill Hamid, Cody Cropper and Ethan Horvath all figure to compete with Guzan for the starting job in the 2019-22 World Cup cycle.

“I don’t have any doubt that he will be one of the best keepers in America,” Dallas coach Oscar Pareja said of Gonzalez after discovering the teen prospect when he was playing in a youth tournament.

Gonzalez’s parents emigrated from Mexico, and he was born in Edenton, North Carolina.

“My parents didn’t really find anything around North Carolina,” Gonzalez said. “They thought it was a lonely state, so they got out of there.”

His family moved to Houston and then on to Dallas when Gonzalez was a child. After spotting Gonzalez on a recreational team, Pareja persuaded the family to switch the keeper to the FC Dallas youth academy. He played there alongside midfielder Kellyn Acosta, who has broken into the U.S. starting lineup this year.

“They taught me how to be more responsible,” Gonzalez said. “It was almost like a job at the time, just waking up early and being on time to training.”

[ USA 2-0 CRC: Player ratings | Three things we learned ]

Pareja, a Colombian national team midfielder in the early 1990s, said the 6-foot-4 Gonzalez’s long arms and quick reflexes immediately reminded him of late Colombian keeper Miguel Calero. Gonzalez debuted for Dallas’ under-16 team in September 2010 and was signed to a professional homegrown player contract in March 2013. Just more than two years later, he became the youngest keeper to start in team history: at 20 years, 89 days.

By then, Mexican team scouts had noticed Gonzalez at a showcase in Sarasota, Florida, and asked whether he had interest in playing for El Tri.

“Richard Sanchez, one of my old teammates, he was there. He talked very well about them,” Gonzalez recalled.

Gonzalez started Mexico’s first four matches at the 2015 CONCACAF Under-20 Championship, then had a pair of saves during penalty kicks to lift Mexico over Panama in the final. At the Under-20 World Cup in New Zealand, he played in Mexico’s second and third games,

The following January, Gonzalez turned down an invitation from U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann to attend a national team training camp in Carson, California. Instead, Gonzalez went to a Mexican Under-23 team camp ahead of the Olympics, but he was not picked for El Tri’s Rio de Janeiro roster.

Gonzalez spent a long time before deciding this spring to apply to FIFA for a change of affiliation. Because he had not played a competitive match for Mexico’s senior national team, he was allowed a one-time switch.

“Whatever you decide, you’re going to be right, because that’s going to be your heart,” Pareja recalled telling him.

“Any time a soccer player is making a choice, whether it’s club or country, it’s important that they analyze the options carefully, they seek input from people they trust, and that they come to a decision that they’re happy with,” said Gonzalez’s agent, Richard Motzkin. “That’s the process Jesse took in making his decision and, rest assured, it wasn’t done lightly or without a lot of forethought. Ultimately, Jesse was fortunate in that he had two very good choices.”

After the switch was announced, Gonzalez received text messages from surprised friends.

“They were funny,” he said without going into detail.

[ MORE: Mexico blocking out drama during deep run at Gold Cup ]

Howard is the U.S. starter as the Americans head into Wednesday’s Gold Cup championship against Mexico or Jamaica, and Hamid is the backup while Guzan settles in with Atlanta. For now, Gonzalez’s role is limited to training and pushing others on the practice field.

“We just want to see what he’s about,” U.S. coach Bruce Arena said.

Gonzalez is with the national team to learn. A full international debut might take a while.

“He’s not much of talker, which is good. I think young guys talk too much nowadays,” Howard said. “You’re naive in a good way and you think you know it all, and really it’s the opposite. You have it all to learn. At this age they’re using their athletic ability and their raw talent to keep their head above water, and through that process you learn. It is a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week operation. It’s got to be everything to you. You’ve got to make a lot of sacrifices to get there.”

Gonzalez is willing to wait. He just hopes his absence from Dallas doesn’t cost him playing time in Major League Soccer.

“My backup could come in and have great games. He could stay there,” he said. “It’s difficult for me. I want to be over there, but I want to be here because this is an amazing opportunity for me.”