A reasonably well-balanced 4-4-2 is the framework for presenting this week's best 11 in MLS...
GK Bill Hamid (D.C. United): Pulled off one of the saves of the week, kept a clean sheet, and registered an assist on his team's first (and winning) tally of a not-as-comfortable-as-the-score-suggests 2-0 win over the New York Red Bulls.
RB Alvas Powell (Portland Timbers): The young right back contributed 74 minutes to a solid defensive performance that kept Vancouver off the score sheet in its own stadium. More importantly, given Portland started the week traling the Caps on points, Powell scored the Timbers' first goal, pointing the way to a 3-0 win and three points that elevated the team into the Western Conference's top five.
CB Bakary Soumare (Chicago Fire): Led a determined Fire defense to a clean sheet, which laid the foundation for the team's late 1-0 win over FC Dallas. Seven clearances, four tackles, two interceptions, two blocks, and one yellow card for an intelligent, tactical foul - Soumare played as though determined to prevent his 'keeper, Sean Johnson, from having too work too hard. Dallas got two shots on target for the game, so his plan worked.
CB David Horst (Houston Dynamo): Just after half-time against Sporting KC, Houston coughed up its 1-0 lead and started to look a lot like the ninth-placed team in the East visiting the defending MLS Cup champs. Then a free-kick into the six-yard box found Horst: 6' 4" and completely unmarked. He didn't miss, and the Dynamo never looked back.
LB Krzystof Krol (Montreal Impact): Despite being generally abject, L'Impact has kept six clean sheets this season, and won five of the games in which it did not concede a goal - including this week's 2-0 win over Columbus. The Montreal defense wasn't perfect, but the Crew did not score and L'Impact did. All the team's win this season have been built on shutouts - clearly, it's a group that gets a little thrown off its game when it concedes. So For a hardworking performance that included four tackles and five interceptions, Krol picks up a Team of the Week appearance on behalf of the entire IMFC back line.
LM Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo): Davis might end this season as the third-best assist-maker of all time in MLS, and he may yet finish his career at the top of that list. His short-term priority, however, is making the 2014 playoffs. It is a long shot for the Dynamo, but so was beating Sporting Kansas City at home. Davis bounced a couple of free kicks off his teammates and into KC's goal to make three points on the road look easy, and make the rest of the East just a little bit more respectful of Houston's effort to make the post-season.
CM Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy): It was a huge week for LA's 2014 - the Galaxy got six points and is first in line to profit should Seattle stumble in the Shield race. It was also a huge week for Landon Donovan. He's on his farewell tour of American soccer. His international swansong is officially booked for October, and he would appear to be motivated to stretch his time in MLS out to the very last possible moment - the MLS Cup final. He may also achieve an extraordinary personal milestone: 18 assists for the regular season and a share of the all-time MLS assist record. He might even get to 19, and set a new high for assists in a MLS career. This week, he picked up four more (two in the 4-1 win over DC and two in the 3-0 win over Chivas), as well as another goal (a penalty against DC). He is the playmaker in LA's set-up, the tactic has delivered 13 goals in the last four games, and neither he nor his team is showing any sign of slowing down.
CM Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution): The Revs needed a good performance in Toronto to show recent wins over Colorado and Chivas weren't just the fortuitous result of running into two of the worst teams in MLS on current form. TFC isn't a great side, but it was third in the East at the start of this week. Now Toronto is fourth, and getting used to life under new management. The change was precipitated by Nguyen. who scored inside the first 90 seconds of the match this week, and picked up an assist in what turned out to be a rout. The Revs left Canada with three points, and Nguyen has now scored more goals in 2014 than he managed in his prior two seasons in MLS combined.
RM Ignacio Piatti (Montreal Impact): The Crew know more about the talent to be found in Argentina than most MLS teams - Columbus has Guillermo Barros Schelotto in its past and Federico Higuain in its present - so it was fitting that Piatti chose this opponent to make his most significant contribution for his new team to date. In just his third league start for L'Impact, he scored his first goal for Montreal, and followed that with his second. Two goals brought his side three points and some much-needed confidence for a season that is largely about qualifying for next year's CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.
FWD Robert Earnshaw (Chicago Fire): Earnshaw has now scored twice for Chicago in two appearances, both off the bench. His first goal for the Fire helped his team get a point against Toronto. But this week, his second brought all three points - and snapped FC Dallas's 10-game unbeaten streak.
FWD Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy): Another couple of goals this week pushed Zardes into the top five of the league's scoring chart. Robbie Keane scores prettier goals for LA (see below), and shares the much of the burden of creating opportunities with Landon Donovan. But every teams needs a guy who can be trusted to run the channels and finish when the ball comes his way. Zardes seems very well suited to the role.
COACH Bruce Arena (LA Galaxy): He won this spot last week for keeping the Galaxy within five points of Seattle. This week, he guided his team to within two points of the Shield leaders by securing another two wins, which seems like an even better reason to be regarded as the coach of the week.