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Three RSL, two Sporting players highlight PST’s MLS Team of the Week

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Forwards

João Plata, Real Salt Lake – Major League Soccer’s Player of the Week, Plata scored twice in Real Salt Lake’s comeback from in Chicago. When healthy, he’s been RSL’s best attacker, and after providing the team’s first and last goals on Saturday, the Ecuadorian’s up to five in six appearances this season.

We could be wrong about: Álvaro Saborío, Real Salt Lake; Patrick Mullins, New England Revolution; Giles Barnes, Houston Dynamo

Midfielders

Diego Valeri, Portland Timbers – The Portland number 10 played a key part in all three goals during the Timbers’ first win of the season: from his cross for Gastón Fernández on the first minute opener; his corner for Futty Danso on Portland’s second; to his ball to the near post for Maxi Urruti’s 94th minute winner. Portland may be struggling to recapture its 2013 form, but Diego Valeri is not.

Kekuta Manneh, Vancouver Whitecaps – The Vancouver winger only played 57 minutes, but in that time he scored one of the weekend’s best goals, fed Darren Mattocks ahead of Vancouver’s penalty kick, and assisted on Pedro Morales’s second goal. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to justify keeping the 19-year-old out of the starting XI.

Javier Morales, Real Salt Lake – Though he was overshadowed by Plata’s exploits, Morales was his typical, brilliant self, with his ability to make himself available for his teammates — be it wide, or dropping deep — particularly valuable. Morales assisted on the team’s opening goal, led his team in passes (77, at an 89 percent clip), and, per Opta, set up five chances for his teammates.

Pedro Morales, Vancouver Whitecaps – It took his three tries, but on the third he had from just beyond San Jose’s penalty area, he made the Earthquakes pay, burying what would become the day’s game-winning goal. Before that, the Chilean had converted from the spot as well as resumed the dominant, tempo-pushing form we saw from the Designated Player before his back problems. Combined with BC Place’s field, Morales may be the most entertaining player in Major League Soccer. Let’s hope the leg injury that hobbled him in Saturday’s second half isn’t serious.

Kyle Beckerman, Real Salt Lake – Like left backs, right backs … goalkeepers, fullbacks, and strikers … we’re committed to keeping a defensive midfielder in this team, since almost every team uses one. This week, however, wasn’t a stand-out week for destroyers (holders, anchors, sitters, what have you), which allowed a typically solid Beckerman week to snare this spot. After a somewhat slow start, Beckerman’s distribution was key to RSL maintaining pressure on the Fire, pressure that eventually produced a 3-2 win.

We could be wrong about: Boniek Garcia, Houston Dynamo; Darlington Nagbe, Portland Timbers; Lee Nguyen, New England Revolution; Harry Shipp, Chicago Fire

Defenders

Chance Myers, Sporting Kansas City – The ball Myers played in ahead of Jacob Peterson’s opening goal was the right back’s highlight package contribution, but a series of smaller contributions made the former first overall pick an easy choice at fullback. Be it with good reads that helped Sporting maintain possession or smart switches of play, Myers even exceeded his normal, solid self. Relative to his competition, this was one of the clearer picks on the board.

Chad Marshall, Seattle Sounders – We already sang Marshall’s praises in our Player of the Week post, so it should be no surprise he ends up here again. As Seattle has struggled to work out its midfield and adjust to a new goalkeeper, Marshall’s experience has helped limit the damage at the back. Through nine weeks, he’s been Major League Soccer’s best defender.

Matt Besler, Sporting Kansas City – Four days after we noted the ever-solid Besler had yet to have a stand-out performance (or, yet to be asked to give one), the Sporting captain played his best game of the season, making up for the absence of partner Aurèlien Collin. His switch of play before the defending champions’ first goal garnered the gasps, but his four defensive plays between the 45th and 55th minutes may have been more important. Chris Schuler had a more prolific day, but Besler still snared our honor.

Raymon Gaddis, Philadelphia Union  – Every time we note the competition at a position wasn’t strong in a given week, it feels like a put-down to the player we select, but often those weeks give us a chance to recognize a player whose steady performances have kept him under the radar. This week, an almost error-free performance from Raymon Gaddis gives us a chance to sing his praise. The versatile Philly defender had a down moment in Saturday’s 75th minute, around which he was his typical, reliable self. Despite the presence of DeAndre Yedlin and Sheanon Williams, he was the day’s best fullback.

We could be wrong about: Josh Williams, Columbus Crew; Chris Schuler, Real Salt Lake; Drew Moor, Colorado Rapids

Goalkeepers

Luis Robles, New York Red Bulls – Goalkeepers for teams playing 11-on-10 shouldn’t be put in a position to make Team of the Week. Good thing for New York they have one of the league’s best shot stoppers, with Robles coming up with a huge second half penalty to keep the Red Bulls even (they would go on to win, 1-0).  Robles finished with three saves, enough to give him the nod in a week where no number one stole the show.

We could be wrong about: Steve Clark, Columbus Crew

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.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

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.