Sometimes a week of MLS action will play like an anthology of the brightest stars' biggest hits. Robbie Keane clinically places a one-time finish into the bottom corner; Sebastian Giovinco bends a 25-yard free kick into the net; Nick Rimando posts yet another shutout peppered with "How did he do that???" saves.
Other times... other times you get weeks like this. The stars shine, but in the bright lights you get to see their flaws. No, Andrea Pirlo will not track that runner; Fabian Castillo will take that extra, unnecessary touch; Chris Wondolowski will head an open look three feet over the bar.
The most influential players are the ones who power through those lulls and keep on performing.
Onto the games:
For the third straight year I wrote off D.C. United before the season even began, and for the third straight year I was probably wrong to do so. I say probably instead of definitely because it's still not clear just where this D.C. team fits in the grand scheme of the Eastern Conference's grand race toward the middle.
They're on 16 points from 13 games, and while that's not great it's also not that bad, given their surroundings. The first-place Union have 20 points, and the eighth-place Revs have 16, just like United -- who technically sit fifth place thanks to the total wins and goal differential tiebreakers. This is fine. Their heads are above water and they're all still kicking in unison, even if they've had to A) replace significant pieces through the spine of the team, and B) rotate players into and out of crucial attacking spots due to a rash of injuries.
The latest injury -- the one I really thought would seal the deal -- was to winger Patrick Nyarko, who suffered his sixth concussion in eight years last week. Nyarko has been the team's best player this season, and one of the league's best attackers. When he got sick and was subbed out against NYCFC three weeks back, it was apparent how much United missed him. When he returned and almost single-handedly eviscerated the Red Bulls the following week, it was apparent how much they needed him in the lineup every game.
Except... apparently not. United, sans Nyarko, went to Sporting KC on Friday night and came away with a 1-0 win. It was a typical United game in that it was ugly and hard-fought, and new signee Alhaji Kamara got the winner after KC goalkeeper Tim Melia came out too aggressively for a cross that he couldn't quite reach.
That kind of opportunism has defined D.C. for several years. So has rugged play in central midfield...
He is absolutely devastating when playing north-south soccer, and everybody at Stade Saputo got a reminder on that particular play. Oduro is not just speed anymore, even if he's probably still the fastest man in the league. He's banged home four goals and added five assists -- that equals a career high -- in his 1058 minutes so far in 2016, and in Ignacio Piatti he has a running-mate who smells transition opportunities from 90 yards away.
This is probably not quite what Mauro Biello had in mind when he looked at this roster in the preseason. Montreal have a bunch of technical midfielders and, in Didier Drogba, a No. 9 who is superb in possession.
But so far the fastest route to three points has been a straight, direct one. Opponents must keep up with Oduro, or they'll be chasing the game.
A few more things to ponder:
7. There is a bit of a Pirlo Problem with NYCFC. Putting Andrea Pirlo into the XI means occasional genius, as he provided two assists in Sunday's 2-2 draw against Orlando City. But it also means stunning defensive lapses, as happened on the laaaaaaate OCSC equalizer:
This was a good result to kick off the post-Owen Coyle era, and in the 42 minutes of data we got before Alex and Pedro Morales were given matching red cards it seems pretty clear that the interim regime were determined, first and foremost, to add a little bit of extra protection to the backline. Collen Warner came in as a true defensive midfielder as the 4-2-3-1 flipped to a version of a 4-3-3.
I think that was the right call in the short-run. In the long run, they'll have to figure out if Warner -- a career back-up -- can fill that spot on a permanent basis.