MLS Player of the Week

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

MLS Rewind: Goals galore, Magic Mike, irreplaceable Espinoza + TotW & PotW

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DEFENDING OPTIONAL AS OFFENSES RUN WILD

Over the last few years, MLS has been trending in this direction — as the financial investment in players has increased year by year, most of the league’s teams have chosen to spend that additional cash on quality attacking talent, which means the amount of money spent on defenders has either remained unchanged or gone backwards in some cases. Why? Well, in short, scoring sells, and MLS needs to sell itself, both on TV and at the box office.

Major League Soccer – Week 1

Result Recap & Highlights
RBNY 0-2 Toronto FC Recap, watch here
Chicago 3-4 NYCFC Recap, watch here
Orlando 2-2 RSL Recap, watch here
Houston 3-3 NE Revs Recap, watch here
FC Dallas 2-0 Philly Recap, watch here
Quakes 1-0 Rapids Recap, watch here
Timbers 2-1 Crew SC Recap, watch here
Whitecaps 2-3 Impact Recap, watch here
Sounders 0-1 SKC Recap, watch here
Galaxy 4-1 DCU Recap, watch here

It’s undoubtedly made the league abundantly more entertaining year over year, even if you could construct a really strong argument that the overall quality of soccer remains largely unchanged (I would help you build this case). The likes of Sebastian Giovinco, Ignacio Piatti, Diego Valeri, Mauro Diaz, Robbie Keane, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Mike Magee, Cristian Maidana Pedro Morales have entered the league and each taken it by storm within their first six months in North America.

Sunday’s 2016 season-opening onslaught was a culmination of that trend, as 36 goals were poured in across 10 games — in part due to the immense quality the league now possesses in the final third, but also due in part to the severe lack of quality (see: Chicago 3-4 NYCFC) many of the league’s teams now possess in defense. From an entertainment perspective, it’s brilliant, and as a full-time MLS viewer, that’s just fine by me.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]


IT’S LIKE YOU NEVER LEFT LA, MAGIC MIKE

Los Angeles Galaxy forward Mike Magee, center, kicks the ball past D.C. United goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra, right, for a goal as defender Sean Franklin defends during the second half of an Major League Soccer match, Sunday, March 6, 2016, in Carson, Calif. The Galaxy won 4-1. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Mike Magee’s final partial season in LA saw him score six goals in the Galaxy’s first 10 games of 2013 before being traded to the Chicago Fire in late May as part of the deal that landed Robbie Rogers in his hometown upon returning to action as the first openly gay athlete in top-tier American team sports. Magee went on to score 15 goals in 22 games for his hometown Fire and was named the 2013 MLS MVP in a landslide voting process.

Long-term injuries reduced Magee to just 29 games and seven goals in his final two seasons with the Fire, thus his still-fresh pay raise ($400,000 against the salary cap) became too heavy a burden to bear and he was allowed to walk away as a free agent this winter. So it only made sense that Magee headed back to LA, where he won back-to-back MLS Cups (2011, 2012) and back-to-back Supporters’ Shields (2010, 2011). Sure, he’d be coming off the bench and without a true positional home again, but he’d have an important part to play at some point in 2016, given Robbie Keane’s advanced age and participation in the European Championship, and potential U.S. and Mexican national team call-ups for Gyasi Zardes and Giovani dos Santos this summer.

No one thought he’d be the star and savior for the Galaxy on opening night, dragging them back from a thoroughly despondent first-half performance against D.C. United and engineering a four-goal second-half rampage, but that’s exactly what happened on Sunday. Dos Santos was forced off through injury at halftime, at which point Magee made in 45 minutes the kind of impact GdS has been unable to make in his first six months with the Galaxy — not only was he a constant threat in the final third (two goals, one assist in 45 minutes) because of the dangerous areas he occupied and his quick circulation of the ball, but his work rate defensively gave the Galaxy midfield and defense the kind of stability they lacked down the stretch in 2015 and in the first half against D.C.

It’s still too early to definitively say, “Magee should be starting over GdS,” but I will be keeping a watchful eye on the two of them and mentally pitting them against one another in their every appearance for the next month.

[ MORE: MLS roundup — A few late-night thoughts after First Kick 2016 ]


ESPINOZA PROVEN SKC’S IRREPLACEABLE FIGURE

Sporting KC midfielder Roger Espinoza (27) breaks away from Real Salt Lake midfielder Luke Mulholland, back, during the first half of an MLS soccer match in Kansas City, Kan., Saturday, April 11, 2015. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
(AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

When Roger Espinoza went down for the remainder of the 2015 season with a broken foot in August, it was the beginning of the end of Sporting Kansas City’s season. Sure, they would go on to win the U.S. Open two months later, but they were never close to the same team without the Honduran patrolling the midfield and wreaking havoc on some of the league’s top attacking talent (see: a handful of names from the above list). With Espinoza in the lineup: 18 goals conceded in 17 games (1.06 per game) last year; without Espinoza in the lineup: 26 goals conceded in 17 games (1.53 per game). They also scored fewer without him (22) than they did with him (25).

Those are the numbers. This is an observation based on the eye test: the lives of every one else in the Sporting KC lineup is easier with Espinoza on the field. Through an immense work rate, through intelligent and controlled pressing that’s criminally underrated, through a directness on the ball that puts opponents on their back foot… the Sporting machine hums along with Espinoza roaming box to box.

Espinoza’s numbers remain unspectacular throughout his career (3 goals, 15 assists in nearly 10,000 minutes). Even some of the more finite numbers (2 tackles, 1 interception, 0 clearances) don’t tell the story of how he’s the irreplaceable figure in one of MLS’s top midfield trios (Espinoza, Benny Feilhaber and Soni Mustivar), but Espinoza’s impact was on display in Sunday’s 1-0 away win over the Seattle Sounders, evident as ever through the marked improvement of everyone around him in comparison to those final three months of 2015.


TEAM OF THE WEEK

Goalkeeper: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes)

MLS Goalkeeper

Defenders: Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Victor Bernardez (San Jose Earthquakes), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Daniel Steres (LA Galaxy)

MLS Defenders

Midfielders: Ignacio Piatti (Montreal Impact), Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC), Mauro Diaz (FC Dallas), Mike Magee (LA Galaxy)

MLS Midfielders

Forwards: Joao Plata (Real Salt Lake), Cyle Larin (Orlando City SC)

MLS Forwards


PLAYER OF THE WEEK

Ignacio Piatti was the only MLS player to receive a match rating of 10.0 on soccer stats website WhoScored.com, which is great, because this is one of the increasingly rare instances where the stats match up perfectly with the eye test.

In short, Piatti was unplayable against on Sunday, and it was clear for all to see. His opening goal — the one where he skated past four defenders and curled his eventual striker inside the far post — was pure class. On his day, when healthy, when fully engaged mentally — yes, that’s a lot of qualifiers — Piatti’s one of the top-five most terrifying players in MLS. Sunday was his day, he was fit and he was up for it. In part because of Piatti, Montreal are MLS Cup contenders with or without Didier Drogba.

Montreal Impact's Ignacio Piatti, left, of Argentina, scores a goal as Vancouver Whitecaps' Kendall Waston, of Costa Rica, defends during first half MLS soccer action, in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Sunday, March 6, 2016. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
(Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)

MLS Player of the Week: Columbus Crew SC’s Kei Kamara

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Kei Kamara‘s failed penalty kick attempt in the 68th minute of Sunday’s Eastern Conference semifinal second leg — his first from the spot all season — stood as the decisive moment in Columbus Crew SC’s season for 10 excruciating minutes after Montreal Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush read his run-up and poor attempt all the way.

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

Kamara had already scored a potentially semifinal-winning goals for Crew SC — first in the 4th minute for a 2-2 (away goals) aggregate lead (below video) — something he would have to do once more to erase his own mistake, and did — a wonderfully lobbed header in the 111th minute for the 4-3 aggregate victory (above video).

[ MORE: Latest MLS Team of the Week — conference semifinals leg no. 2 ]

The 31-year-old Sierra Leonean striker scored 22 goals during the regular season — double that of his previous career-high — yet managed to come up even bigger for his team in the playoffs, when it mattered most, when it was his own wrong needing to be set right.

MLS Players of the Week

Week 1: Tyler Deric, Houston Dynamo

Week 2: Chris Wondolowski, San Jose Earthquakes

Week 3: Bradley Wright-Phillips, New York Red Bulls

Week 4: Kaka, Orlando City SC

Week 5: Harrison Shipp, Chicago Fire

Week 6: Jaime Penedo, LA Galaxy

Week 7: Fabian Castillo, FC Dallas

Week 8: Ethan Finlay, Columbus Crew SC

Week 9: Fabian Castillo, FC Dallas

Week 10: Mauro Diaz, FC Dallas

Week 11: Chad Barrett, Seattle Sounders

Week 12: Kei Kamara, Columbus Crew SC

Week 13: Krisztian Nemeth, Sporting Kansas City

Week 14: Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC

Week 15: David Villa, New York City FC

Week 16: Matias Perez Garcia, San Jose Earthquakes

Week 17: Darlington Nagbe, Portland Timbers

Week 18: Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC

Week 21: Cyle Larin, Orlando City SC

Week 23: Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC

Week 24: Robbie Keane, LA Galaxy

Week 25: Robbie Keane, LA Galaxy

Week 26: Bradley Wright-Phillips, New York Red Bulls

Week 27: Didier Drogba, Montreal Impact

Week 28: Kei Kamara, Columbus Crew SC

Week 29: Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC

Week 30: Cyle Larin, Orlando City SC

Week 31: Tim Melia, Sporting Kansas City

Week 33: Mauro Diaz, FC Dallas

Week 34: Darlington Nagbe, Portland Timbers

MLS Player of the Week — Week 34: Portland’s Darlington Nagbe

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They needed that.

Yes, Darlington Nagbe’s Portland Timbers would’ve made the playoffs even without his heroics on “Decision Day”, but this club needed to avoid “backing in” to the postseason.

But so much was on the line before the 25-year-old midfielder recorded a brace to help Portland into the West’s No. 3 seed with a 4-1 win over Colorado Rapids. The Timbers missed the playoffs last year, and largely disappointed during their rebound attempt.

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

Now they get a home game at Providence Park, just a couple of weeks after their last trip outside the Top Six. Considering that San Jose’s loss would’ve allowed the Timbers the make the postseason, Nagbe’s brace may’ve just saved some jobs.

Nagbe scored a wonderful free kick for Portland, and wasn’t deterred when the Rapids tied it up moments later. He made it 2-1 with a second goal.

USMNT, anyone?

MLS Players of the Week

Week 1: Tyler Deric, Houston Dynamo

Week 2: Chris Wondolowski, San Jose Earthquakes

Week 3: Bradley Wright-Phillips, New York Red Bulls

Week 4: Kaka, Orlando City SC

Week 5: Harrison Shipp, Chicago Fire

Week 6: Jaime Penedo, LA Galaxy

Week 7: Fabian Castillo, FC Dallas

Week 8: Ethan Finlay, Columbus Crew SC

Week 9: Fabian Castillo, FC Dallas

Week 10: Mauro Diaz, FC Dallas

Week 11: Chad Barrett, Seattle Sounders

Week 12: Kei Kamara, Columbus Crew SC

Week 13: Krisztian Nemeth, Sporting Kansas City

Week 14: Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC

Week 15: David Villa, New York City FC

Week 16: Matias Perez Garcia, San Jose Earthquakes

Week 17: Darlington Nagbe, Portland Timbers

Week 18: Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC

Week 21: Cyle Larin, Orlando City SC

Week 23: Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC

Week 24: Robbie Keane, LA Galaxy

Week 25: Robbie Keane, LA Galaxy

Week 26: Bradley Wright-Phillips, New York Red Bulls

Week 27: Didier Drogba, Montreal Impact

Week 28: Kei Kamara, Columbus Crew SC

Week 29: Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC

Week 30: Cyle Larin, Orlando City SC

Week 31: Tim Melia, Sporting Kansas City

Week 33: Mauro Diaz, FC Dallas

Week 34: Darlington Nagbe, Portland Timbers

MLS Player of the Week — Week 33: FC Dallas’ Mauro Diaz

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No side in Major League Soccer had a bigger Week 33 than FC Dallas, who knocked off the Vancouver Whitecaps, 2-0 on Wednesday, and Real Salt Lake, 1-0 on Saturday, to finish top of the Western Conference and secure home-field advantage during the upcoming 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs through, at least, the Western Conference finals.

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

At the center of everything that went right for FCD last week — and is typically the case — was their midfield magician, Mauro Diaz. The Argentine playmaker notched a goal and two assists to account for all three of FCD’s goals on the week.

[ MORE: Week 33 Team of the Week — Who joins Mauro this week? ]

What the above video (ignore the fact that David Ousted should have made the save), and marvel at Diaz’s 1) intelligent pressing, 2) nutmeg on Pa Modou Kah, and 3) inside-out move on Jordan Harvey. That’s beautiful attacking soccer from one of MLS’s very best no. 10s. Watch the below video, and marvel at the close control, the quick reading of the game and that exquisite first-time ball across the box to Michael Barrios. His game-winning assist against RSL was nothing to scoff at, either.

MLS Players of the Week

Week 1: Tyler Deric, Houston Dynamo

Week 2: Chris Wondolowski, San Jose Earthquakes

Week 3: Bradley Wright-Phillips, New York Red Bulls

Week 4: Kaka, Orlando City SC

Week 5: Harrison Shipp, Chicago Fire

Week 6: Jaime Penedo, LA Galaxy

Week 7: Fabian Castillo, FC Dallas

Week 8: Ethan Finlay, Columbus Crew SC

Week 9: Fabian Castillo, FC Dallas

Week 10: Mauro Diaz, FC Dallas

Week 11: Chad Barrett, Seattle Sounders

Week 12: Kei Kamara, Columbus Crew SC

Week 13: Krisztian Nemeth, Sporting Kansas City

Week 14: Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC

Week 15: David Villa, New York City FC

Week 16: Matias Perez Garcia, San Jose Earthquakes

Week 17: Darlington Nagbe, Portland Timbers

Week 18: Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC

Week 21: Cyle Larin, Orlando City SC

Week 23: Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC

Week 24: Robbie Keane, LA Galaxy

Week 25: Robbie Keane, LA Galaxy

Week 26: Bradley Wright-Phillips, New York Red Bulls

Week 27: Didier Drogba, Montreal Impact

Week 28: Kei Kamara, Columbus Crew SC

Week 29: Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC

Week 30: Cyle Larin, Orlando City SC

Week 31: Tim Melia, Sporting Kansas City

MLS Player of the Week — Week 31: Tim Melia

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Over 210 minutes in goal last week, Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper Tim Melia made 13 saves (plus two more in a penalty shootout) while conceding just one goal between Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup final victory over the Philadelphia Union and Saturday’s 1-0 victory away to the Portland Timbers in league play.

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

Melia was supposed to be the backup in Kansas City, with Chilean World Cup veteran Luis Marin the new no. 1, finally bringing stability to the position 15 months after the retirement of Jimmy Nielsen. Instead, Marin was gone after three months and Melia, an MLS pool goalkeeper in 2014, was thrust into the starter’s role.

[ MORE: Week 31 Team of the Week — Who joins Melia this week? ]

Since making his first start on May 3, Melia has put together nine clean sheets in all competitions (eight in league play) and started all five of Sporting KC’s Open Cup games en route to the 2015 title. On Saturday, Melia did again to the Timbers what he’s done once already this season: put in a man-of-the-match performance to keep the unlikeliest of clean sheets. For his heroics Saturday night, Tim Melia is this week’s MLS Player of the Week.

MLS Players of the Week

Week 1: Tyler Deric, Houston Dynamo

Week 2: Chris Wondolowski, San Jose Earthquakes

Week 3: Bradley Wright-Phillips, New York Red Bulls

Week 4: Kaka, Orlando City SC

Week 5: Harrison Shipp, Chicago Fire

Week 6: Jaime Penedo, LA Galaxy

Week 7: Fabian Castillo, FC Dallas

Week 8: Ethan Finlay, Columbus Crew SC

Week 9: Fabian Castillo, FC Dallas

Week 10: Mauro Diaz, FC Dallas

Week 11: Chad Barrett, Seattle Sounders

Week 12: Kei Kamara, Columbus Crew SC

Week 13: Krisztian Nemeth, Sporting Kansas City

Week 14: Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC

Week 15: David Villa, New York City FC

Week 16: Matias Perez Garcia, San Jose Earthquakes

Week 17: Darlington Nagbe, Portland Timbers

Week 18: Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC

Week 21: Cyle Larin, Orlando City SC

Week 23: Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC

Week 24: Robbie Keane, LA Galaxy

Week 25: Robbie Keane, LA Galaxy

Week 26: Bradley Wright-Phillips, New York Red Bulls

Week 27: Didier Drogba, Montreal Impact

Week 28: Kei Kamara, Columbus Crew SC

Week 29: Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC

Week 30: Cyle Larin, Orlando City SC