Team of the Week (Wk 31): Eastern Conference stars take the stage as playoff race tightens
The playoff race didn't get any simpler over Week 31, and nowhere more so than in the Eastern Conference, where eight of 10 teams remain in postseason contention. As all these teams battled to stay alive, it was only natural to see a select few players go above and beyond to aid their team's playoff push, and that's partly why we see 10 of the 11 spots in this week's best XI come from the East.
Perhaps no two teams got bigger wins than the Columbus Crew and Philadelphia Union, who stayed squarely in the playoff picture with vital road wins and combined to send five players to the best XI. Further up the table, one New York Red Bulls player stood out above the rest as that team took a big step forward in their pursuit of the Supporters' Shield and a No. 1 seed with a big road result in Seattle.
Over in the West, the LA Galaxy and Portland Timbers played the vital game in their conference's playoff race, and though the result didn't create much separation between the two teams, one player in particular shined bright enough to claim the West's lone spot in the best XI this week, while two others did well enough to get an honorable mention.
Which Eastern Conference stars made their presence felt in Week 31? Read on to find out...
SAVE: MacMath denies Zusi
GK: Zac MacMath (Philadelphia Union) – Was simply unbeatable in the Union goal on Friday night against Sporting Kansas City, making five saves on the night and commanding his area with ease to lead the Union to a shutout and first-ever win in Kansas City.
DF: Amobi Okugo (Philadelphia Union) – The 22-year-old looked every bit the veteran as Philadelphia shocked Sporting, 1-0, at Sporting Park. Read the game well, distributed accurately out of the back and was strong in the air.
DF: Chad Marshall (Columbus Crew) – A rock in the back in the Crew's 4-2 win over FC Dallas, winning nearly everything that came his way in the air and making a crucial goal-saving tackle to prevent a Fabián Castillo equalizer in the first half.
GOAL: Oduro slots it home
MF: Dominic Oduro (Columbus Crew) – Stationed wide right, gave the Dallas defense nightmares with his speed and clever play, setting up a goal before scoring the all-important third Crew goal himself.
MF: Tim Cahill (New York Red Bulls) – Led the Red Bulls by example on a night they needed just that. Committed defensively and dangerous going foward, he netted his team's lone goal of the game to hand New York a 1-1 draw in Seattle and take a big step forward in the Supporters' Shield race.
MF: Diego Chará (Portland Timbers) – Put in a superb shift in defensive midfield against a first-string LA Galaxy unit, and played a big part in limiting Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan to a combined one shot all afternoon in Portland's 1-0 win.
GOAL: Rey shows off his footwork
MF: Álvaro Rey (Toronto FC) – The Spanish winger was an attacking force in Toronto's 4-1 win over a young D.C. United side. Played the cross that forced Conor Shanosky's own-goal and scored a fine goal of his own to round out the scoring.
FW: Federico Higuaín (Columbus Crew) – Opened the scoring in strange fashion (albeit with no lack of effort) as the Crew grabbed a potentially season-saving win, and was his team's main creative hub, eventually picking up as good an assist as any on Bernardo Añor's game-icing goal.
FW: Mike Magee (Chicago Fire) – Makes it into the selection for his two goals against the Montreal Impact and another busy night leading the Chicago attack, but will be left wondering what might have been as he spurned his chance at a hat trick (and a Fire victory).
Coach: Brian Bliss (Columbus Crew) – A repeat from last week, but there's no denying that the Crew are playing the best soccer of the season right now under bliss. Though he remains the star, the attack is no longer as Higuaín-dependent as it once was and the Crew can hit you from all over the field, as they did when they played Dallas off the park on Sunday evening.
Bench: Jeff Attinella (Real Salt Lake), Kofi Opare (LA Galaxy), Sebastián Velásquez (Real Salt Lake), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders), Mauro Díaz (FC Dallas), Cordell Cato (San Jose Earthquakes), Maximiliano Urruti (Portland Timbers)