The Western Conference playoff picture became a lot clearer on Week 31. Thanks to a number of star performers – eight of them honored in this week's selection – we can now make a few educated guesses about how the West will play out.
Courtesy of wins from RSL and Seattle (two honorees each) over LA and Portland, respectively, those two teams could very well claim the number two and three seeds. Of course, with Seattle hosting RSL on Oct. 17 and the Sounders making a trip to LA on the final day of the season, it is far from a forgone conclusion.
Over in Colorado, the San Jose Earthquakes (two honorees) crushed the Rapids to clinch the top spot in the West, meaning they will face off against the winner of the play-in round between the fourth and fifth seeds, one of whom will almost certainly be the Vancouver Whitecaps. The 'Caps routed Chivas USA 4-0 and FC Dallas subsequently drew 1-1 with the Goats, leaving the Texas outfit four points adrift of the playoffs with only two games to play.
The Eastern Conference, where there is still plenty of jostling for position to be done, is not entirely forgotten. Most notably, the Chicago Fire posted an impressive 2-0 win at Red Bull Arena, for which two of their players were honored. Over in Ohio, Columbus stayed well in the hunt thanks to a late goal, and can thus boast a representative in this week's selection as well.
Which players had the biggest influence on their teams' playoff fortunes? Read on to find out...
GK: Kevin Hartman (FC Dallas) – The 16-year MLS veteran still has a few moves. "El Gato" came up with several top-drawer saves to help Dallas earn a draw at Chivas USA.
DF: Adam Johansson (Seattle Sounders) – The right back’s high-energy performance put Portland on the back foot, as evidenced by his storming run and cross that forced Mamadou "Futty" Danso’s own-goal opener.
DF: Arne Friedrich (Chicago Fire) – The World Cup veteran was calm and composed as ever in dealing with the league’s third-best attack. Made a huge block in the opening minutes to deny Thierry Henry a surefire goal and ended the match with an impressive nine interceptions, eight clearances and nine recoveries.
DF: Nat Borchers (Real Salt Lake) – Let very little get by him after RSL jumped ahead, rekindling memories 2010's record-setting defense.
MF: Marvin Chávez (San Jose Earthquakes) – A menace on the flanks in San Jose’s 4-1 thrashing of Colorado. Blasted home the Quakes’ opener from the top of the box, assisted on Wondolowski’s first of the game and had a key dribble that set the team’s fourth and final goal in motion.
MF: Christian Tiffert (Seattle Sounders) – A nightmare for the Timbers in midfield. The German DP made the Sounders a more cohesive unit with his ball movement and contributed strongly in regaining possession, with seven recoveries and two interceptions.
MF: Barry Robson (Vancouver Whitecaps) – Picked up a goal and an assist in the Whitecaps’ 4-0 demolition of Chivas USA, ably directed traffic in the midfield and recovered the ball with regularity.
MF: Eddie Gaven (Columbus Crew) – His complete two-way performance against one of the league’s best teams in Sporting KC was rewarded with an injury-time goal that kept the Crew squarely in the hunt for a playoff place.
FW: Sherjill MacDonald (Chicago Fire) – He not only scored both goals to give the Fire a playoff spot, he showed why he has firmly established himself as one of the league’s premier target forwards, evidenced by his ability to not only score, but hold up the ball well and bring his teammates into the fold.
FW: Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes) – What more is there to say? At his lethal best against Colorado, scoring a hat-trick that all but sewed up the Supporters’ Shield for the Earthquakes and put him within two goals of tying Roy Lassiter’s single-season scoring record.
FW: Fabián Espíndola (Real Salt Lake) – Did it all in RSL’s impressive win over the Galaxy. Took advantage of the space afforded him by LA’s defense to score twice in the space of a few minutes, but also linked up well with his teammates and worked hard tracking back throughout the game.
Coach: Jason Kreis (Real Salt Lake) – This was RSL at their best. Kreis made the right adjustments after immense early pressure from the Galaxy yielded Robbie Keane’s opener, as RSL retained the ball, attacked from multiple angles, and defending strongly when they needed to en route to a touchstone 2-1 win over the defending champs.
Honorable Mention: Corey Ashe (Houston Dynamo), Miller Bolaños (Chivas USA), Calen Carr (Houston Dynamo), Marco Di Vaio (Montreal Impact), Dilly Duka (Columbus Crew), Roger Espinoza (Sporting Kansas City), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders), Gabriel Gómez (Philadelphia Union), Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy), Steven Lenhart (San Jose Earthquakes), Jack McInerney (Philadelphia Union), Fredy Montero (Seattle Sounders), Javier Morales (Real Salt Lake), Blas Pérez (FC Dallas), Troy Perkins (Montreal Impact), Dane Richards (Vancouver Whitecaps), Camilo Sanvezzo (Vancouver Whitecaps), C.J. Sapong (Sporting Kansas City), Josh Saunders (LA Galaxy), Carlos Valdés (Philadelphia Union), Jorge Villafaña (Chivas USA)