Team of the Week (Wk 33): Dire circumstances bring out the best in this week's selection
Sometimes the most dire circumstances will bring out the best in players. We saw as much across the league in Week 33, when players from teams on their last playoff legs stepped up in a huge way to earn their squads at least a fighting chance in the final two weeks of the season.
In the Pacific Northwest, we saw an unlikely hat trick hero for the Vancouver Whitecaps, who stayed alive with a huge win, while further south the San Jose Earthquakes eked out a win over Colorado to stay in the race, again getting a strong offensive showing from one of their best players this year.
Whether it was out west, down in Dallas or further to the north in Montreal, we saw teams like the Quakes, 'Caps, Chicago and New England keep the pace in one of the most crowded playoff races in memory, in large part thanks to some superb individual efforts.
Which players made their mark when their teams needed it most? Read on to find out...
GK: Jimmy Nielsen (Sporting KC) – Was a brick wall straight from the start in Sporting's 0-0 draw with Houston, making a series of impressive early saves and holding on to keep a clean sheet and help his team gain a vital road point.
DF: Andrew Farrell (New England Revolution) – Another strong all-around game from the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2013, who came up big defensively in his right back decision and looked sound in his passing in New England's 1-0 win over Montreal.
DF: José Gonçalves (New England Revolution) – Put in a Defender of the Year-worthy performance against Montreal. Not only scored the Revs' lone goal in a vital road win, but kept things tight on the backline en route to a clean sheet.
DF: Amobi Okugo (Philadelphia Union) – Continued his strong run of form by anchoring the Union's backline in a 1-1 draw with D.C. United. Read the game well, distributed the ball accurately and was strong in the air as he helped keep Philly in the game before they managed a late equalizer.
MF: Nick DeLeon (D.C. United) – A strong presence for D.C. the right flank, troubling Philadelphia from that position while also drifting inside to good effect. Hit a superb strike that looked like it would stand up as the game-winner until the dying minutes of the game.
MF: Will Johnson (Portland Timbers) – Did the dirty work to great effect as Portland claimed a 1-0 victory over their fiercest rivals. His ability to win the second ball and relentlessness were unmatched on Sunday, and he clearly got in Osvaldo Alonso's head prior to the Cuban's ejection.
MF: Jeff Larentowicz (Chicago Fire) – The veteran midfielder showed off his excellent all-around ability in Chicago's 3-2 win over FC Dallas, both winning the defensive battles in midfield and distributing the ball accurately to his teammates.
MF: Shea Salinas (San Jose Earthquakes) – Continued to show why he is the Quakes' MVP this year, with most of the offense going through him as he kept Colorado on their heels in the season-saving 1-0 win over the Rapids.
FW: Kekuta Manneh (Vancouver Whitecaps) – What more is there to say? The 18-year-old Gambian was clinical in Vancouver's 4-1 midweek win at Seattle, torching the Seattle backline with his pace and netting three goals on the night.
FW: Kenny Cooper (FC Dallas) – Unfortunate to be on the losing end after a commendable two-goal effort against Chicago to make it three goals in two games for the big striker. His resurgence may have come too late to save Dallas this season, but it should bode well for his and the team's chances in 2014.
FW: Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers) – Stepped up as Portland's primary playmaker with Diego Valeri out against Seattle, and did not disappoint. Completed 42 of 46 passes on the day and was critical in keeping the Timbers attack cohesive.
Coach: Frank Klopas (Chicago Fire) – Got a true team performance out of the Fire on Saturday evening, as the team combined well, looked organized and played with confidence en route to a three-goal showing that lifted them just over the red line in an incredibly tight playoff race.
Bench: Clint Irwin (Colorado Rapids), Ike Opara (Sporting KC), Diego Chará (Portland Timbers), Hernán Bernardello (Montreal Impact), Daigo Kobayashi (Vancouver Whitecaps), Juan Luis Anangonó (Chicago Fire), Mike Magee (Chicago Fire)