Even as more and more teams fall by the wayside with the regular season entering its closing months, MLS has continued to throw up plenty of even contests, a fact readily apparent in looking at the Week 26 results and Team of the Week honorees.
Only three out of Week 26's 12 games were decided by more than one goal (San Jose's rout of Chivas USA and two-goal wins for LA and Chicago), so it is no surprise that this weeks honorees come from 10 different teams.
Still, even in some of the closely contested matches, certain players' ability provided that little edge necessary to grab a win, as reflected by the abundance of quality midfield performances that handed teams like Columbus, Portland and SKC with important wins.
Who exactly provided that extra difference? Read on to find out....
GK: Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake) – Came up with four quality saves in a 1-0 shutout of D.C. United that keeps RSL’s slim Supporters’ Shield hopes alive and stood out amidst a crop of strong goalkeeping performances in Week 26.
DF: Arne Friedrich (Chicago Fire) – Chicago weren’t always pretty in their win over Houston, but they were defensively sound thanks to another strong performance from the German World Cup veteran, who led the Fire defense by example as they kept a clean sheet up until the 90th minute.
DF: Wilman Conde (New York Red Bulls) – The defender excelled in New York’s lone game of the week, a 2-2 midweek draw with D.C. United. Took to an unfamiliar role at left back with ease and provided a late equalizer with a top-drawer finish from outside the area.
DF: Ramiro Corrales (San Jose Earthquakes) – The MLS original still has plenty of magic left and took his solid August form with him into September. Scored two fantastic free kicks in San Jose’s 4-0 romp over Chivas USA and would’ve had an assist if not for Dan Kennedy’s spectacular stop on Steven Lenhart.
MF: Sal Zizzo (Portland Timbers) – The right winger continues to be a force for the Timbers, who strung together two consecutive wins for the first time in 2012. Set up Bright Dike’s goal and was impressive throughout the match as Portland edged out Colorado 1-0.
MF: Paulo Nagamura (Sporting Kansas City) – Has stepped up admirably as Sporting continue to hang in the Supporters’ Shield race. Contributed a goal and the game-winning assist on top of a ferocious performance in the middle in SKC’s tough 2-1 win over Toronto.
MF: Brian Carroll (Philadelphia Union) – You won’t see him put up gaudy numbers, but there can be no doubting Carroll’s importance to the Union. Provided a sturdy shield for the defense in a narrow loss to the red-hot Crew and a goalless draw with New England.
MF: Juninho (LA Galaxy) – The in-form midfielder put in a dominating, high-energy performance in LA’s win over Vancouver and got himself on the scoresheet with a fine strike from distance to boot.
MF: Patrick Nyarko (Chicago Fire) – No Pappa, no problem. Scored in the opening minute of a crucial 3-1 win over Houston and never let up, putting in a Man of the Match performance before coming out in the 77th minute.
FW: Dwayne De Rosario (D.C. United) – Made history by scoring his 100th MLS regular-season goal in a midweek draw against New York and was D.C.’s best player in a narrow loss to RSL, pushing the United attack forward and coming oh-so-close to a goal on a couple occasions.
FW: Federico Higuaín (Columbus Crew) – While the Quakes are busy blowing teams away, the Crew have taken up the "never say die" mantle, and Higuaín is the biggest reason why. The Argentine enganche not only assisted on all four goals in a pair of 2-1 Crew wins, but had a stoppage-time, game-winning setup in each as well.
Coach: Bruce Arena (LA Galaxy) – It may have taken longer than they would have liked, but there is no doubt that the Galaxy are playing like champions. Arena has gotten the Galaxy playing the brutally effective soccer that characterized their 2011 dominance
Honorable Mention: Juan Agudelo (Chivas USA), Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle Sounders), David Beckham (LA Galaxy), Steven Beitashour (San Jose Earthquakes), Víctor Bernárdez (San Jose Earthquakes), Jon Busch (San Jose Earthquakes), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Bright Dike (Portland Timbers), Michael Farfan (Philadelphia Union), Eddie Gaven (Columbus Crew), Ned Grabavoy (Real Salt Lake), Michael Gspurning (Seattle Sounders), Hector Jimenez (LA Galaxy), Ryan Johnson (Toronto FC), Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy), Shalrie Joseph (Chivas USA), Dax McCarty (New York Red Bulls), Justin Meram (Columbus Crew), Blas Pérez (FC Dallas), Matt Pickens (Colorado Rapids), Matt Reis (New England Revolution), Emilio Rentería (Columbus Crew), Nelson Rivas (Montreal Impact), Saër Sène (New England Revolution), Steve Zakuani (Seattle Sounders)