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ProSoccerTalk MLS Team of the Week – Week 6

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Forwards

Clint Dempsey, Seattle Sounders – One jaw-dropping blast, a game-winner, with a forced own goal in between. Dempsey’s Saturday was better than his hat trick in Portland. That he somehow managed to top a three-goal performance against Seattle’s arch rivals with a better performance in Dallas has to rank as one of the best eight-day runs in MLS history. He was our Player of the Week.

Robbie Keane, LA Galaxy – It was a typical day for Robbie Keane; and by typical, I mean he was probably the best player on the field. His second half run to put home Stefan Ishizaki’s cross is the type of movement we’re starting to take for granted, though his first half blast at David Ousted’s net nearly left the Ireland international with his first multi-goal game of the season.

We could be wrong about: Obafemi Martins, Seattle Sounders, Chris Wondolowski, San Jose Earthquakes

Midfielders

Federico Higuaín, Columbus Crew – San Jose’s two-man shield forced Higuaín to drop deep to pick up the ball, a roll the Argentine is accustomed to assuming in Columbus’s set up. Just before half time, however, neither of those midfielders could prevent Waylon Francis from finding Higuaín just in front of the defense, with the No. 10’s quick finish giving Pipa his fourth goal of the season.

Lloyd Sam, New York Red Bulls – Saturday was another in a strong of strong performances from Sam, whose consistently strong service from the right has only highlighted New York’s shortcomings up top. If Red Bulls had even average finishing on Saturday, the chances Sam created would have given New York its first win of the season. That Mike Petke’s team became the second straight victim at RFK can’t cost Sam a spot in this team.

Maurice Edu, Philadelphia Union – Another strong performance from the Union’s midfield anchor allowed Jack Hackworth’s trio to go toe-to-toe with RSL’s diamond, with Edu’s presence in the middle serving as the team’s greatest asset. His late header inside Jeff Attinella’s left post allowed Philly to take a deserved point, earning the U.S. international a place in this week’s squad.

Kyle Beckerman, Real Salt Lake – It’s tempting to make an Edu versus Beckerman comparison, given the increasing (but misguided) notion the midfielders are competing for a spot in Brazil. In reality, the two are very different players who went about their Saturday excellence in different ways. Beckerman’s anchored, disruptive presence helped RSL take a point in Chester, with his late second half goal nearly delivering full points.

We could be wrong about: Kyle Bekker, Toronto FC; Will Johnson, Portland Timbers; Javier Morales, Real Salt Lake; Vincent Nogueira, Philadelphia Union

Defenders

Kevin Alston, New England Revolution – Alston’s first Major League Soccer goal was a memorable one, with the fill-in left back bursting in from the flank to fire home Saturday’s winning goal. Part of a defense that held Houston without a shot on target, the former Hoosier this week’s the easy choice at left back.

Giancarlo Gonzalez, Columbus Crew – It wasn’t a perfect day for the Costa Rican, but it was close, with quick reads and decisive clearances allowing him to keep the space in front of Steve Clark as clear as possible. His 13 clearances were more than the rest of Columbus’s defense combined, making Sunday his most convincing performance since moving to Major League Soccer.

Clarence Goodson, San Jose Earthquakes – If you think Goodson could have done more on Columbus’s goal (he was the closest man to Higuaín), then the U.S. international doesn’t deserve this spot. Give it to Gonzalez, and consider this my tacit concession. You may be right.

If you’re inclined to think Goodson was right to keep dropping back with the rest of the San Jose line, Sunday becomes one of his best this season. A number of strong first half reads allowed the Earthquakes to thwart most of Columbus’s early incursions, keeping his team close enough to claim a point with its early second half breakthrough.

Dan Gargan, LA Galaxy – A strong run at the end of Saturday’s first half nearly saw Gargan assist on Landon Donovan’s record-setting goal, though the Galaxy attacker ended up pushing his header wide. Still, the ball was an example of the consistently strong crosses the journeyman defender has provided since assuming a spot in the starting lineup. Along with Baggio Husidic, Gargan’s become one of the latest examples of Bruce Arena salvaging veteran talent.

We could be wrong about: Waylon Francis, Columbus;  Jámison Olave, New York Red Bulls; Omar Gonzalez, LA Galaxy; Andrew Farrell, New England Revolution

Goalkeeper

Jaime Penedo, LA Galaxy – Of the four big saves the Panamanian international made on Saturday, his 32nd minute stop on Kekuta Manneh was our favorite. On a ball moving from left-to-right across his goal, Peneda quickly got off his line to cut down Manneh’s angles, charging toward the Vancouver attacker before he even turned toward goal. The Whitecaps eventually lost 1-0, with Penedo keeping a clean sheet in his return to Arena’s starting XI.

We could be wrong about: Andrew Dykstra, D.C. United

Three takeaways from the Red Bulls CCL draw against the Whitecaps

New York Red Bulls forward Bradley Wright-Phillips, left, trips over Vancouver Whitecaps defender Kendall Waston inside the Whitecaps box during the first half of a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal soccer match, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, in Harrison, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
AP Photo/Julio Cortez
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With 90 more minutes to play up in Vancouver, this tie is far from over. However, Wednesday night’s clash at Red Bull Arena surely presented intriguing storylines ahead of leg two.

The Vancouver Whitecaps picked up a critical away goal in their 1-1 draw against the New York Red Bulls in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal meeting.

While their CCL clash was the first competitive action for either side since 2016, both clubs showed glimpses of brilliance in the first of their two encounters in the competition.

Here’s a look back at three important takeaways from the Red Bulls’ draw against the Whitecaps.

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Red Bulls still working out kinks up front

Bradley Wright-Phillips has been one of Major League Soccer’s most prolific goalscorers since joining the Red Bulls, but even the star striker struggled to find the ball in dangerous positions on Wednesday. The Red Bulls striker netted the game’s equalizer after 62 minutes, but chances were far and few between on the night for Wright-Phillips.

Despite dominating the possession for long spells of the match (as is the case much of the time), the Red Bulls found difficulty breaking down the Whitecaps when it mattered most.

Jesse Marsch’s side managed just two shots on target throughout the 90 minutes, while Sacha Kljestan’s penalty kick miss voided the host side from leveling up the first leg just after the halftime break.

The Red Bulls have wanted to toy with a two-striker set since early 2016, and Marsch finally got his wish with Argentine DP Gonzalo Veron match fit for the start of the campaign. Veron looked solid at times with his quality first touches and quick pace, but it was the final ball that was often lacking.

Sacha Kljestan and Daniel Royer interlinked well with one another behind the two strikers, and with Mike Grella and Alex Muyl also tabbed as rotational players in the midfield, Marsch will have a solid group to pick from to help his attack develop moving forward.

Manneh is coming into his own

He scored, facilitated and just looked all around dangerous against the Red Bulls. Kekuta Manneh has become one of the most intriguing MLS players over the past 12 months in large part because of his success in the league as well as the opportunity to represent the U.S. Men’s National Team.

While his goal wasn’t the prettiest six minutes before halftime, the Whitecaps attacker was in the right spot, just as he was for much of the night. His three shots on target led all players involved, but it was Manneh’s confidence under pressure that was most impressive.

The Whitecaps didn’t throw too many numbers forward on the night — with the second leg being north of the border — but Manneh and the Whitecaps attack thrived on the counterattack on several occasions.

With a number of players unavailable for Carl Robinson’s side, including Yordy Reyna, Christian Bolanos and Fredy Montero, the visitors played a strong opening leg, particularly after playing the final 20 minutes down a man when Cristian Techera was dismissed for a high tackle on Red Bulls defender Sal Zizzo.

Youngsters show out for both sides

Experience is still the name of the game for both the Red Bulls and Whitecaps, but Wednesday night also provided a glimpse into the future with several stellar performances from the youngsters on the pitch.

Sean Davis was tasked with filling the hole in the central midfield after Dax McCarty was treaded away from the Red Bulls this offseason, and although the youngster has had experience in the past, he certainly didn’t disappoint for Marsch’s group. The 24-year-old looked confident in his distribution and defended well when called upon alongside Felipe.

Meanwhile, Whitecaps attacker Alphonso Davies continues to turn heads for a player that is only 16 years old. Davies only appeared in eight MLS matches last season for the Western Conference side, but looked like a seasoned veteran against the Red Bulls at times with his blazing strides and pinpoint passes.

The young attacker surely has room to grow, particularly in front of net, but hey, he’s 16.

New York Red Bulls 1-1 Vancouver Whitecaps: BWP saves a draw

New York Red Bulls' Aaron Long, top, climbs over Vancouver Whitecaps forward Erik Hurtado while competing for the ball during the first half of a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal soccer match, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, in Harrison, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
AP Photo/Julio Cortez
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  • ‘Caps nap road goal
  • Techera sent off in 71′
  • Return leg March 2

Kekuta Manneh and Bradley Wright-Phillips traded goals as the Vancouver Whitecaps and New York Red Bulls drew 1-1 in their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal first leg on Wednesday at Red Bull Arena.

Cristian Techera sent the ‘Caps down to 10 men in the 71st minute when he connected with a kick between Sal Zizzo’s legs.

A deft touch by Wright-Phillips set up Sacha Kljestan for a fifth minute chance, but two sliding Whitecaps helped pressure the captain’s shot wide of the near post.

Vancouver had a chance two minutes later when Alphonso Davies played Russell Teibert down the right wing, and the Whitecaps wide man curled a shot wide of the far post.

[ MORE: Amazing beach soccer bicycle kick goal ]

The Whitecaps beat Luis Robles before halftime. Kendall Waston flicked a ball toward the net, and Kekuta used his head to turn the ball off Justin Bilyeu and behind Robles. 1-0, 39′.

A foul outside the 18 nearly saw Kljestan level it up with a 45th minute free kick.

Kljestan should’ve tied it up with a PK just after the break. He didn’t, barely chipping his Panenka attempt above shin level. Woof.

Wright-Phillips made it 1-1 in the 62nd minute, when Zizzo’s cross dropped at his feet. A quick reaction had the ball in the back of the net.

Sacha Kljestan stars in “When Panenkas Fail” (video)

HARRISON, NJ - MARCH 22:  Sacha Kljestan #16 of New York Red Bulls heads the ball in front of Steve Birnbaum #15 of D.C. United during their match at Red Bull Arena on March 22, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
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When Panenkas don’t go well, players look foolish.

Sacha Kljestan looks foolish.

The New York Red Bulls captain strode to the penalty spot to level the score in Wednesday’s CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal first leg against the visiting Vancouver Whitecaps.

[ MORE: Leicester grabs away goal ]

Only he didn’t. Kljestan chipped his attempt barely a foot off the ground, allowing David Ousted to kick the chance away. Bradley Wright-Phillips blazed the rebound over the frame, and it remained 1-0 for the ‘Caps.

WATCH: Liverpool loanee nets hat trick for U.S. U-20 side

STEVENAGE, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 19:  Brooks Lennon of Liverpool celebrates his goal during the Premier League 2 match between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool at The Lamex Stadium on September 19, 2016 in Stevenage, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images
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If Brooks Lennon brings this sort of scoring prowess to Real Salt Lake, he may just walk away Rookie of the Year.

On loan from Liverpool, Lennon is first on duty with the United States U-20 men’s national team in Costa Rica.

The U.S. opened U-20 World Cup qualifying with a 1-0 loss to Panama, and was under the gun when it allowed an early goal to Haiti late Tuesday evening.

[ MORE: Rooney’s agent in China ]

But Lennon scored a trio of goals and sent in the corner that Luca de la Torre eventually finished as the Yanks won 4-1. The U.S. has St. Kitts and Nevis in the final group match on Friday.

The top two teams from each group of four advance to the next round, in which four teams will qualify for the U-20 World Cup. That tournament is set for May in South Korea.