It's a 4-5-1 this week.
GK Tim Melia (Sporting Kansas City): Might KC's trip to Orlando have ended differently if Melia - the seven-save hero of the team's midweek clean sheet in Portland - had been fit to play? We'll never know. But we do know KC played twice on the road in Week 28, and conceded 0 goals with Melia in the lineup and three without him.
RB Harrison Afful (Columbus Crew): The league is going through a phase of aggressively touting its player development programs. "Play your kids" is becoming almost as common in MLS circles as Steve Zakuani's thoughts on Windows 8 were a few seasons ago. But the Crew - not shy about playing the kids - is currently showcasing the benefits of experience as a quality that can help a team execute its game plan at the level required for success. Afful - 29 years old; 50+ caps for Ghana - was only signed at the end of July, but he seems to have slotted into the Columbus lineup without missing a beat. This week, he contributed directly to both the goals Kei Kamara scored to give the Crew a 2-1 win on the road in Philadelphia. Small sample size notwithstanding (he's played just four games for Columbus), Afful belongs in the conversation about the best attacking right back in MLS 2015.
CB Bobby Burling (Colorado Rapids): Center backs are not supposed to score goals like this - delicately-placed, left-footed shots that require a somewhat awkward contortion of the body to get boot on ball are not generally part of the skill-set a team considers when sizing up a central defender. Against D.C. United, Burling also gave the Rapids the more traditional contribution of a player in his position: six clearances, four interceptions, two tackles and two blocks. He was similarly active against Vancouver in midweek: eight interceptions, seven clearances, one tackle and one block. Colorado only got a point out of two games this week, but it wasn't for want of trying on Burling's part.
CB Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United): The reason the Rapids only got a draw for their effort against DC was largely Birnbaum - who scored an entirely orthodox center back's goal to deliver his team a late equalizer. That plus six clearances, five interceptions and three tackles helped DC to stop its losing skid at three games, and pick up a point on the road that keeps the team from conceding yet more ground to the other front-runners in the race for a regular season title.
LB Michel (FC Dallas): Something of a forgotten man in Dallas this season as Oscar Pareja has advanced a crowd of younger players in most of the positions the versatile Brazilian can play. But he got a start this week - against NYCFC - and demonstrated that he still might have the best left foot in MLS. He lined up as a central midfielder, but we're sliding him as left back in this lineup. Wherever he plays, he has a cannon shot, can play a nice long ball out of the back, and - if the 'keeper gets completely muddled - he can hook a ball straight into goal from the corner flag.
CM Dax McCarty (New York Red Bulls): Once A Metro's Lester Townsend has already let the light shine on McCarty's impressive and quick-thinking distribution in RBNY's 3-2 win over Chicago Fire. It was a match in which the Red Bulls fell behind to much the same press-and-counter tactic the Fire had used to beat them back in August. Turning a two goal deficit into three points required a captain who could lead by example and unite the team in its focus on finding the three goals it needed to get itself out of difficulty. Dax delivered.
CM Javier Morales (Real Salt Lake): It remains the case that whenever RSL puts together a compelling attacking performance, Morales seems to be at the center of it. He scored this week, and played a part in the build-up for RSL's second. But it was his pass to set up Juan Manuel Martinez for the third that really showed the 35-year-old's continuing class with the ball at his feet. Watch it: Morales convinces the entire Houston defense he's thinking of shooting or passing toward goal, then dinks a pass out wide into open space for Martinez to get in behind the back line and tee up his shot.
CM Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution): Another playmaking masterclass from Nguyen this week, who was the first New England player to record three assists in one game last week. He got two more this week, but he contributed to all three goals the Revs' scored in their win over Toronto. His running with the ball focused TFC's attention on him, creating couple of pockets of space - one of which he found Jermaine Jones in, and the other in which Jones found Teal Bunbury, who bounced his cross off Damien Perquis for the opener. Next, Nguyen once again kept Toronto's eyes on him, then released the ball into space for Diego Fagundez to pick out a shot: 2-0 to the Revs. Finally, he embarrassed Michael Bradley, stripping the USMNT star and (somewhat inadvertently) creating the chance Kelyn Rowe converted into New England's third.
LM Adrian Winter (Orlando City): Picked a very opportune moment to score the first and second goals of his debut MLS season. In Kaka's absence, OCSC needed someone to step up and try to get the team a win for the first time since August 1. Winter obliged.
FWD Kei Kamara (Columbus Crew): Took his tally for the season to 20 goals with two against Philadelphia Union. Kamara still has five games to make an unlikely but not impossible run at the league's single-season scoring record (27 goals), and his reliable finishing has his team poised to challenge for the Eastern Conference title should RBNY slip up over the next couple of weeks.
COACH Adrian Heath (Orlando City): OCSC is still very much a long shot to make the playoffs - a point behind Montreal in the Eastern Conference, but L'Impact has four games in hand, Didier Drogba, and possibly a more resolute defense than we had previously thought. Still, Orlando would at least like to stay in the hunt for a playoff place for as long as possible, and one win from 11 games is not usually good enough to challenge for a post-season berth. OCSC needed a win this week, and Heath delivered. Our friends at the Mane Land have found evidence to suggest Orlando has suffered more from injuries than other Eastern Conference teams. Case in point: no Kaka this week. But Heath shuffled his deck, and shuffled it again decisively when needed. Bryan Rochez hasn't been much of an attacking force for Orlando all season, but he entered the game before 60 minutes had been played, and delivered the game-winning goal shortly after KC"s equalizer threatened to tilt the match in its favor. And he was assisted by Brek Shea, Heath's second substitution of the game. A big win for a team, and coach, who desperately needed three points - and we'll give the coach maximum credit for it.