A 3-4-3 this week to make room for some of the league's better playmakers and goal scorers...
GK Steve Clark (Columbus Crew): Perhaps the most important clean sheet of the week was the one Clark kept for Columbus to ensure the Crew parlayed one goal into three points at home against New England. It wasn't just the significance of a win over a rival for a playoff spot (this week saw the first of two run-in encounters between the Crew and the Revs), nor that the Revolution was the hottest team in MLS until this week (the loss snapped a five-game winning streak), but largely the fact that the win was essential to keep Columbus ahead of Toronto (who also won this week) and Philadelphia (who drew, but remain just two points behind the fifth-placed Crew).
DEF Wandrille Lefevre (Montreal Impact): L'Impact's seventh clean sheet in MLS this season provided the foundation for its sixth win. It is too little too late (the team was officially eliminated from even a mathematical chance of making the playoffs once the Crew and RBNY dragged the playoff line three points forward this week), but it speaks to the area the club most needs to improve next season: defense. All Montreal's league wins this year have been built on shutouts. Few players worked harder to contain San Jose than Lefevre, who finished the game with 10 clearances (Montreal made 15 total) as L'Impact successfully restricted the visiting Quakes to just one shot on target.
DEF A.J. Cochran (Houston Dynamo): In the greater scheme of things, a point in Philadelphia didn't do the Dynamo much good - the team slipped to seven points outside the playoff places in the Eastern Conference, with just six games left to play. But a gritty defensive performance suggests the team's morale is in good shape. A great many players chipped in with last ditch tackles and blocks to secure a 0-0 draw on the road. But Cochran led the way with four blocks in the penalty area. He should have been called for a penalty for tripping Vincent Nogueira in the box, but his good fortune reflected that of his team, who would have been blown out had the Union been better at finishing. Retaining concentration and focus in a match in which you are consistently being outplayed is difficult; Cochran embodied the necessary qualities for the task.
MID Maurice Edu (Philadelphia Union): While the Dynamo scrapped and scrambled to keep the Union from scoring, Philadelphia was a little cooler at the back, keyed by Edu, who spent time in midfield and defense and helped his team to keep their visitors from registering any shots on target.
MID Federico Higuain (Columbus Crew): Pass after pass after pass created opportunities for teammates, but the Crew didn't have great shooting this week - even Higuain missed a penalty. But he scored the one that counted for three points to keep Columbus on track for the playoffs.
MID Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers): He's doing his damnedest to lead the Timbers to the playoffs. This week, Valeri guided his team past the only serious threat to its post-season ambition - the Whitecaps. He opened the scoring for Portland with an extremely well timed and well taken volley in front of goal; then set up Fanendo Adi for the Timbers' second of the game by stripping Matias Laba of possession in midfield and rolling a through ball into space for the big forward to chase and pick his spot.
MID Javier Morales (Real Salt Lake): His set-piece delivery brought RSL four of the five goals scored against Colorado this week. First, Morales was credited with a goal direct from a corner. Next, Rapids' 'keeper Joe Nasco dropped a curling free kick into Chris Schuler. The one goal Morales contributed to from open play was a neat combination with Joao Plata that was ruled an own goal for luckless "keeper Nasco. Finally, one more corner wasn't handled cleanly by Nasco and the Rapids defense, allowing Carlos Salcedo to shoot for RSL's fifth. The score sheet says Morales scored one goal in the 5-1 rout, but he had a hand in all but the very first.
FWD Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls): His third hat-trick of the season, scored from three shots - all on target. The Red Bulls needed three points at home against the best team (even when banged up) in the league and BWP won them with three essential goals (you cannot trust the RBNY defense to protect a narrow lead). Efficient, clinical, and invaluable - these are the hallmarks of BWP's effect on the Red Bulls' season so far.
FWD Marco Di Vaio (Montreal Impact): L'Impact was struggling to contain San Jose, holding on to a clean sheet but having some difficulty making any mark on the other side of the score line. Then Di Vaio came on for the last 30 minutes. He forced Jon Busch to parry a save into Jack McInerney for Montreal's opener, and helped Dilly Duka get into position to score L'Impact's insurance goal.
FWD Quincy Amarikwa (Chicago Fire): If his team could defend, Amarikwa would have won this week's game for Chicago. He scored the opening goal, won a penalty to help his team establish a two goal lead, watched the Fire concede three goals, then dragged the defense toward him before sliding a pass over to Matt Watson to bounce in an equalizer from distance.
Coach Mike Petke (New York Red Bulls): RBNY's head coach mailed in his team's midweek CCL game in the name of giving key players rest for the Week 28 clash with Seattle Sounders. It worked. A tired Seattle (having just won US Open Cup four days earlier) was forced to play a great many reserves; Petke's fresh-legged first team ran rampant.