MLS Team 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 Team of the Playoffs — Stars of MLS Cup Playoffs 2015

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That’s it. It’s all over. MLS Cup 2015 was won by the Portland Timbers on Sunday, bringing to end the 2015 Major League Soccer season.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Not without one final MLS Team of the Week Playoffs, though. Unsurprisingly, this year’s Team of the Playoffs is heavy on players from the Timbers and Columbus Crew SC, Sunday’s finalists, with a few conference semifinalists sprinkled throughout.

[ MORE: Timbers top Crew SC to lift first MLS Cup trophy ]

Kei Kamara‘s four goals scored during the 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs were twice as many as any other player — one of which was Portland’s Fanendo Adi. Diego Valeri bagged four assists in five games played, which is mighty impressive until you read on and realize Mauro Diaz hit the same mark in just four games played. And then there was the two-way midfield work of Diego Chara, whose work rate was otherworldly en route to Portland’s first MLS title. Throw in defenders Nat Borchers and Jorge Villafana, and it becomes clear just why Portland were crowned champions.

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 — MLS Cup playoffs

Goalkeeper: Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls)

MLS Goalkeeper

Defenders: Harrison Afful (Columbus Crew SC), Nat Borchers (Portland Timbers), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Jorge Villafana (Portland Timbers)

MLS Defenders

Midfielders: Diego Chara (Portland Timbers), Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers), Mauro Diaz (FC Dallas), Andreas Ivanschitz (Seattle Sounders)

MLS Midfielders

Forwards: Kei Kamara (Columbus Crew SC), Fanendo Adi (Portland Timbers)

MLS Forwards

MLS Team of the Week — Stars of conference semifinals leg no. 2

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I don’t know about you, but some 15 hours after the conclusion of four second legs of the 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs conference semifinals, my head is still spinning. I’m still trying to process what happened in the last seven minutes of Dallas 2-1 AET (3-3 agg., 4-2 PKs) Seattle; Kei Kamara’s amazing header to put Columbus past Montreal, 3-1 AET (4-3 agg.); how in the world D.C. United were so toothless over 180 minutes.

[ MORE: MLS Player of the WeekAll of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Simply put, it was the most thrilling, intense, heart attack-inducing nine straight hours of soccer my poor ticker has ever been forced to endure. And, you know what? I’m deeply saddened to be forced to wait until this time next year to (hopefully) experience something just like it once again.

[ LEG 2: FCD 2-1 (4-2 PKs) SEA | CLB 3-1(aet) MTL | VAN 0-2 POR | NY 1-0 DC ]

Chances are, if you make nine saves in a playoff elimination game, you’re going be to chosen the goalkeeper for the ensuing Team of the Week — that’s Columbus Crew SC ‘keeper Steve Clark. 20-year-old Matt Miazga anchored the Red Bulls defense for 180 scoreless minutes and seamlessly navigated the treachery of losing his center back partner for the season. Wil Trapp was beyond magnificent against Montreal on Sunday, acting as the lone central midfielder for 45 minutes, playing both ways with an engine that never stopped. Kamara scored twice and earned an ocean’s worth of redemption (missed penalty in the second half) with his extra-time winner.

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 — MLS Cup playoffs (so far)

Goalkeeper: Steve Clark (Columbus Crew SC)

MLS Goalkeeper

Defenders: Matt Miazga (New York Red Bulls), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Waylon Francis (Columbus Crew SC), Nat Borchers (Portland Timbers)

MLS Defenders

Midfielders: Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Diego Chara (Portland Timbers), Mauro Diaz (FC Dallas)

MLS Midfielders

Forwards: Kei Kamara (Columbus Crew SC), Fanendo Adi (Portland Timbers)

MLS Forwards

MLS Team of the Week — Stars of MLS Cup Playoffs (so far)

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Don’t look now, but after last week’s knockout round games and the first legs of the conference semifinals on Sunday, we’re very nearly at the halfway point (47 percent, to be exact) of the 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs.

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

This is the time of year where “big-game players” so often step up and will there side to victory, to advancement and in some instances, championships. We never have any clue who’s going to step up and show out once the playoffs begin, but it’s a chance for anyone and everyone to cement their status as a club legend with a strong showing in November and December.

[ LEG 1: DCU 0-1 RBNY | SEA 2-1 FCD | MTL 2-1 CLB | POR 0-0 VAN ]

Through on week of the 2015 playoffs, the following players have stood head and shoulders about the crowd: Patrice Bernier (two goals, one assist in two games), Andreas Ivanschitz (one goal, one assist in two games), Fabian Espindola (two assists in the knockout round) and Kendall Waston (one clean sheet in one game).

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 — MLS Cup playoffs (so far)

Goalkeeper: David Ousted (Vancouver Whitecaps)

MLS Goalkeeper

Defenders: Kendall Waston (Vancouver Whitecaps), Donny Toia (Montreal Impact), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), Nat Borchers (Portland Timbers)

MLS Defenders

Midfielders: Patrice Bernier (Montreal Imapct), Andreas Ivanschitz (Seattle Sounders), Ignacio Piatti (Montreal Impact), Dax McCarty (New York Red Bulls)

MLS Midfielders

Forwards: Fabian Espindola (D.C. United), Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution)

MLS Forwards

MLS Team of the Week — Stars of Week 34

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Decision Day’s Team of the Week is decidedly Ohioan.

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

Three Columbus Crew members made our XI after a 5-0 thrashing of DC United, while Montreal and Vancouver both put a pair of players into the mix.

As for one-offs, New England, Portland, Seattle and Dallas fans will have to appreciate the individual nature of their contributions to our team.

[ MORE: 2015 MLS Team of the Week archive ]

We start in the back, where David Ousted made a number of solid saves to assure the Whitecaps will see a bye and a playoff match in Vancouver. Kendall Waston helped at both ends (MLS Defender of the Year, anyone?).

Over in Columbus, it may’ve been about the offense but that doesn’t mean the Crew didn’t see good work from each part of the field. Waylon Francis was a force at the back and up the flanks, while mid Ethan Finlay scored a pair and Jack McInerney picked up a goal and an assist up top.

He’s joined by Clint Dempsey, who blew away Real Salt Lake, and Didier Drogba, who was Didier Drogba.

[ MORE: Knockout round kickoff times set for Weds. & Thurs. ]

The Ivorian sees one of his teammates in the midfield, as bulldog Marco Donadel helped harass Sebastian Giovinco in Montreal’s 2-1 loss. Would he be on our team if yellow cards came at a better pace is a decent question, but Donadel may’ve had his name mentioned as many as any non-goal scorer in the league on Sunday.

Darlington Nagbe is our player of the week after boosting Portland into the No. 3 seed, while our team is completed by FC Dallas goal scorer Victor Ulloa and New England defender Jose Goncalves, the latter coming close to blanking NYC if not for a late penalty.

MLS Team of the Week — Week 34

Goalkeeper: David Ousted (Vancouver Whitecaps)

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Defenders: Kendall Waston (Vancouver Whitecaps), Jose Goncalves (New England Revolution), Waylon Francis (Columbus Crew),

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Midfielders: Ethan Finlay (Columbus Crew), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Victor Ulloa (FC Dallas), Marco Donadel (Montreal Impact)

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Forwards: Didier Drogba (Montreal Impact), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Jack McInerney (Columbus Crew)

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