Team of the Week (Wk 28): Playoff race brings out best
As the regular season winds down and we get a clearer picture of which teams will continue on to the postseason and which ones will have to watch from home, much of the stretch run becomes about jockeying for position, especially with this year's playoff format giving ample reward to teams with the best regular-season records.
No fewer than six of this week's Best XI honorees come from teams who now find themselves in the top three spots in their conference, ensuring they won't have to experience the stress of a wild-card game. A selection each comes from D.C. United and the Houston Dynamo, team's who could very well find themselves in the top three at the end of the season, and another two come from FC Dallas, a team with a good shout of getting in the playoffs, given their recent form and that of the teams around them.
Rounding out the group is the lone honoree from a team nearly out of the playoff hunt (though firmly in contention for the Cascadia Cup), as one Timbers defender in particular stood out in his team's rivalry clash with Seattle.
Which players helped their teams aspirations for silverware? Read on to find out...
GK: Tally Hall (Houston Dynamo) – Solid all night for the Dynamo in their 1-1 draw at Sporting KC. Made two huge stops on C.J. Sapong in keep the Dynamo in it and kept goal confidently throughout the game. Little he could do on Sporting’s late equalizer.
DF: Jalil Anibaba (Chicago Fire) – Put in two 90-minute shifts and looked solid throughout, contributed offensively on two of the Fire’s three goals in a 3-1 win over the Montreal Impact.
DF: David Horst (Portland Timbers) – Something about the Sounders seems to bring out the best in the 26-year-old. He excelled in the two teams’ earlier meeting of the year and did so again this time around, remaining solid in his positioning and ball-winning throughout the 90 minutes.
DF: Matt Hedges (FC Dallas) – A rock in defense as Dallas kept a clean sheet en route to a 1-0 win over the Whitecaps, denied Vancouver any way through and earned his team a penalty that David Ferreira was unable to convert.
MF: Chris Pontius (D.C. United) – D.C. needed him to step up after Dwayne De Rosario’s season-ending injury and he did so in a big way, scoring and assisting in a 2-1 win over New England that vaulted United back into the playoff places.
MF: Julian de Guzman (FC Dallas) – A solid shift from the Canadian international ended spectacularly, as de Guzman had a brilliant chest and volley from outside the area to keep FCD’s playoff hopes alive.
MF: Marcelo Sarvas (LA Galaxy) – Partnered superbly with countryman Juninho in the center of the LA midfield and showed a great range of passing in picking up two assists in the Galaxy’s 2-0 win over Colorado, not to mention his excellent goal-saving tackle on Conor Casey.
MF: Álvaro Fernández (Chicago Fire) – Came into his own as a Fire player, netting his first goal with a looping header in a midweek win at Toronto before sealing the win with a rasping finish in a home win over Montreal on Saturday.
FW: Fredy Montero (Seattle Sounders) – At the top of his game in one of the most hotly-contested matches of the year, showed some brilliant bits of skill, none more so than his turn and finish to give the Sounders the lead.
FW: Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes) – His streak without scoring from the run of play continues, but the Golden Boot leader still managed to score from the penalty spot and linked up well with his teammates, his layoff setting up Alan Gordon’s 12th goal of the season.
FW: Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls) – Back with a bang as he picked up two goals and an assist, including an olimpico for New York’s third, in the Red Bulls’ 3-1 victory over the playoff-challenging Crew.
Coach: Frank Klopas (Chicago Fire) – It’s clear now that Klopas has got it right with the Fire. His midseason acquisitions are not only meshing well with the team, but starting to contribute. The result? The Fire have moved up to second place in the East and are now one of the strongest, most balanaced teams in MLS.
Honorable Mention: Alex (Chicago Fire), Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle Sounders), Kevin Alston (New England Revolution), Sam Cronin (San Jose Earthquakes), Terry Dunfield (Toronto FC), David Ferreira (FC Dallas), Alan Gordon (San Jose Earthquakes), Andy Gruenebaum (Columbus Crew), Hector Jimenez (LA Galaxy), Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy), Perry Kitchen (D.C. United), Brad Knighton (Vancouver Whitecaps), Rafa Márquez (New York Red Bulls), Dax McCarty (New York Red Bulls), Justin Morrow (San Jose Earthquakes), Pável Pardo (Chicago Fire), Chris Rolfe (Chicago Fire), Luis Silva (Toronto FC), C.J. Sapong (Sporting Kansas City), Rodney Wallace (Portland Timbers), Sheanon Williams (Philadelphia Union)