MLS Team of the Week — Stars of Week 27

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It’s been quite some time since we’ve discussed the New England Revolution in this space, and with pretty good reason, to be fair: a five-game losing streak from late-June to mid-July had Jay Heaps’ side looking like a team destined to miss the 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs. In true MLS fashion, the Revs have followed up their month-long losing skid with a six-game unbeaten run, which includes five wins and four in a row.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Week 27 MLS coverage | Standings | Stats | Schedule ]

Their latest, a 3-0 hammering of a Kaka-, Larin- and Ceren-less Orlando City SC side Saturday night, was enough to earn four places in this week’s MLS Team of the Week (granted, only half the league’s teams played last week). Four saves and a clean sheet? Bobby Shuttleworth is there. Eight interceptions, three tackles and a clean sheet? Andrew Farrell is there.

[ MORE: Drogba’s first MLS goal, hat trick in his first start for Montreal Impact ]

Three assists on three goals scored? Lee Nguyen is there. One of those three goals and an assist of his own? Diego Fagundez is there as well. It was this time last year that the Revs got hot, finished the regular season strong and made their run all the way to MLS Cup. Given their recent form and the return of Jermaine Jones, would you bet against them to do exactly that again this year? I wouldn’t.

Thoughts? Questions? Agreements? Disagreements? (Of course not.) Leave them in the comments section, as always. I’m not afraid to defend my picks.

[ MORE: 2015 MLS Team of the Week archive ]

MLS Team of the Week — Week 27

Goalkeeper: Bobby Shuttleworth (New England Revolution)

MLS Goalkeeper

Defenders: Andrew Farrell (New England Revolution), Zach Loyd (FC Dallas), Atiba Harris (FC Dallas), Nigel Reo-Coker (Montreal Impact)

MLS Defenders

Midfielders: Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution), Diego Fagundez (New England Revolution), Justin Mapp (Montreal Impact)

MLS Midfielders

Forwards: Didier Drogba (Montreal Impact), Obafemi Martins (Seattle Sounders), Conor Casey (Philadelphia Union)

MLS Forwards

MLS Snapshot: San Jose Earthquakes 1-2 Philadelphia Union (video)

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The game in 100 words (or less): MLS is so unpredictable, that it’s actually pretty predictable at this point. On Friday, I called this a really big game for the San Jose Earthquakes, who strode into Saturday’s meeting with the hapless, bottom-of-the-league Philadelphia Union riding a four-game winning streak. I noted that this was the quintessential “MLS gonna MLS” game, in which the league’s worst team would crop up and possibly shock the league’s hottest team. The game ended in a 2-1 loss for the Earthquakes. Chris Wondolowski scored his 13th goal of the season (106th of his career, 38 short of Landon Donovan’s all-time record — yes, that’s something we’re tracking now), but Conor Casey’s second-half brace off the bench took all the good vibes out of Avaya Stadium and proved once again that MLS is the most predictably unpredictable league in the world. The ‘Quakes, it should be noted, were without their savior signing, midfielder Anibal Godoy, in this one due to an international call-up. MLS strikes again.

[ MORE: Drogba’s first MLS goal, hat trick | Previewing the rest of Week 27 ]

Three moments that mattered

64′ — Fabinho’s mindless handball leads to Wondo PK — What in the world is Fabinho thinking here? His hand is head-high and he’s in all kinds of space, thus the referee has an unobstructed view of him slapping the ball inside the penalty area.

74′ — Casey heads home to equalize at 1-1 — Charles Boehm is right: Conor Casey will outlive us all. Raymon Gaddis’s cross arrived to a place only Casey got reach and strike, and strike home he did.

86′ — Casey heads home — surprise! — the winner — Here’s a really poor strategy for you to consider, ‘Quakes: Don’t mark one of the best big men in MLS history. Just leave him un-marked, in his own world at the near post on a free kick. Let me know how that one works out for you. Not good? Yeah, not good.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Conor Casey

Goalscorers: Wondolowski (PK – 64′), Casey (74′, 86′)

VIDEO: Philly has two 1st half header goals; Toronto’s just a mess

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Somewhere, Ryan Nelsen is looking over a new vintage of his wine and thinking, “This is a preferable Saturday.”

In its second match under new manager Greg Vanney, Toronto FC looks absolutely terrible and is 45 minutes away from dropping back-to-back games to the Philadelphia Union after getting Nelsen fired with a 3-1 loss to New England last weekend.

With all due respect to the Union, who are playing well off set pieces, this is just miserable man-marking by Toronto. The defense looks like a crew being taught how to defend.

The first goal by Casey? Maybe it happens with an experienced striker from time-to-time, but look at the defending before the ball arrives to the Philly striker.

And the second? Goodness, gracious. That’s Andrew Wenger, Maurice Edu and company just heading the ball around for fun. How about leaving your feet, Reds?

Vanney’s got a lot of work to do.

Chicago trades Austin Berry to Philadelphia

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Oddly, Austin Berry was apparently odd man out in Chicago, which has recently reinforced its roster with two experienced center backs, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Patrick Ianni.

Chicago traded Berry today to Philadelphia, which is a bit of a head-scratcher. Berry, the 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year, is probably just as talented and every bit as dependable as the newest central defensive arrivals into Toyota Park.

Yes, both are more experienced, but that’s the one advantage they offer over Berry. Ianni, in fact, has been a part-time starter during most of his eight years at Houston and Seattle. Compare that to Berry, who got into the Fire lineup early last year and hasn’t missed a match since.

The Union sent an undisclosed amount of allocation money to Chicago, but John Hackworth’s club gets a lot in return. In fact, it’s a lot easier today to see Philadelphia as a playoff team.

There was already a lot to like about Philadelphia, where so much young talent (Zac MacMath, Amobi Okugo, Sheanon Williams and Jack McInerney for starters) is aligned with quite a few trusty vets (Sebastien Le Toux, Brian Carroll and the recently signed Maurice Edu for starters).

But the hole was at center back, where Okugo needed a quality partner. Now, you look up and down the lineup around PPL Park and find yourself nodding affirmatively. (There’s a good look at this post on the Union’s potential opening day lineup.)

There is one caveat here: Berry was better as a rookie, and it’s not so hard to sort that one out. He benefitted greatly from playing alongside Arne Friedrich, a talented and highly professional former German international. When injuries forced Friedrich into retirement last year, Berry wasn’t quite the same.

That doesn’t mean he can’t play without a seasoned vet leading the way alongside, it’s just something to watch and consider.

What went wrong Saturday for the Philadelphia Union?

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If we boil it down, the Union’s failure to make the playoffs was about an offense that simply doesn’t work. Alas for the young Union, Philadelphia’s entire season was there in microcosm on a chilly Saturday afternoon at PPL Park.

The Union needed a win Saturday at home over Sporting Kansas City. Obviously, that meant needing a goal – and that’s something of a problem around PPL Park. Consider that John Hackworth’s team had scored just 22 goals in 16 previous matches at PPL Park. That’s just not good enough. (Had Philly sneaked into the post-season, it would have gone in with the fewest goals at home.)

Hackworth’s team wasn’t bad on the road, where its grinding style earned points sufficiently for a club with post-season ambition. But at home, where teams generally feel better about attacking, Philadelphia’s offense was stuck in the mud way too often.

Even when Hackworth’s team did produce a goal or two in 2013, so much of that was simply about a hot striker. First it was spring scoring sensation Jack McInerney, and then Conor Casey took over for a spell in the summer. When the inevitable cooling off arrived, the Union output disappeared.

Why? Start with the lack of creativity; Michael Farfan simply isn’t there yet as a prime-time playmaker. And the Brazilian DP Kleberson just never panned out. (When your veteran DP playmaker has to come off after 64 minutes in a match you simply must win, as he did Saturday, something has gone terribly wrong.

There’s no discernible attacking plan at PPL Park, other than a general use of Casey as a hold-up target. And when the Union does get balls forward, there’s just not enough quality in the crossing, shooting and movement near goal.

Worst of all, perhaps, was watching the Union before the break. Again, this was a match where Philadelphia had to score. And yet, too many times, Hackworth’s team just didn’t get sufficient numbers forward, which seems inexcusable.

Get a few more players forward early, and perhaps the last 30 minutes Saturday at PPL Park would not have looked like such a fire drill, as the Union desperately played the hit-and-hope game.

Now they’ll have an entire offseason to sort it out. There is plenty of young talent around PPL Park  — but those youngsters need direction, a playmaker … and a plan.