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MLS Week 18 Power Rankings: Zakuani makes emotional return

Three stars make their long-awaited returns, a host of scoreless draws occur and MLS' 2012 All-Stars are initially unveiled. That and more from MLS Week 18:

1. Steve Zakuani makes his emotional return. Sports have long produced moments that transcend the action on the field. Some are forced, made-for-TV moments driven by hype. Others are genuine, goose bump-inducing ones that fans of any team can fully appreciate. What transpired at CenturyLink Field in Seattle on Saturday most definitely fell into the latter category.

Seattle Sounders midfielder Steve Zakuani, whose career was threatened after a horrific tackle by Colorado Rapids midfielder Brian Mullan broke his leg last April, took to the field with the Sounders' for the first time since the incident. He entered as a late substitute against Mullan's Rapids and received perhaps the loudest roar from a raucous crowd known for its boisterous noise. That was enough of a spectacle, but Zakuani and Mullan then embraced on the field and exchanged jerseys after the match. That showed everything that fans need to know about the level of character and maturity of both players.

At the time of the tackle, Zakuani was one of the rising attacking stars in MLS, one primed for a move to Europe. Mullan was known for nothing other than being a pure winner, a player with five MLS Cup titles to his name and a reputation as a hard-working winger with a knack for coming through in the clutch. That changed forever after the tackle, which undoubtedly linked the two of for the remainder of their careers, even though the apologies, forgiveness and healing process have all happened behind closed doors. If nothing else, their public embrace provided a clinic on compassion that should allow all parties -- from the players to their teammates to the fans of both teams -- to finally move forward from the incident.

"I've said from Day 1 I had no issues with [Mullan]," Zakuani said following the match. "I had forgiven him a long time ago. There was no problems, but I think it was good to have that public moment for closure. I have a long road ahead of me still in terms of just getting back to playing consistently and consistently well. So that's good. He takes my shirt home. I'll take his shirt home, and I think that chapter's closed."

Aside from the moment's emotional windfall, Zakuani's return gives Seattle a major morale boost at a time when it needs one the most. Mired in a franchise-worst nine-game winless stretch, the Sounders capped off Zakuani's comeback with a victory, perhaps a sign that they, too, are on the verge of closing their own tough chapter.

2. David Ferreira and Omar Gonzalez's comebacks loom large, too. Zakuani's return to the field was the moment of the weekend (and maybe the season), but the returns of two of his Western Conference counterparts were just as significant to their respective teams.

2010 MLS MVP David Ferreira made his long-awaited return, playing 32 minutes off the bench for FC Dallas on Wednesday before starting and going the distance on Saturday night. Dallas has been sorely missing a linking, attacking presence in the middle of the field since Ferreira's replacement, Ricardo Villar, also went down earlier in the year. As a result, Dallas -- a team with so much promise heading into the season -- is stuck in last place in the West and needs a minor miracle simply to reenter the playoff discussion. With Brek Shea seemingly stuck in neutral and a never-ending host of injuries and suspensions making Schellas Hyndman's life difficult, Ferreira's return, at the very least, has the potential to bring the 2010 MLS Cup finalists back to respectability in the coming few months.

As for the defending champion Los Angeles Galaxy, 2011 MLS Defender of the Year Omar Gonzalez returned well ahead of schedule from a torn ACL, going 45 minutes as a starter against Philadelphia before sitting as an unused substitute against Chicago. The fact that Gonzalez, who was injured while training with FC Nurnberg in January, is already back on the field and in game shape is nothing short of remarkable. His return was not expected until September at the earliest, and even then, he was expected to take a handful of weeks to get back into game rhythm and peak fitness before the playoffs. Instead, Gonzalez has ample time to reassert himself as a dominant player in the back at a time when the Galaxy seem to be figuring things out. The summer transfer window is a time for teams to acquire impact players in hopes of a bolstering their chances down the stretch. But the additions that Dallas and L.A. made this week should prove to be just as pivotal as any potential player signing.

3. The surging Revs add a proven scorer. There are a number of teams to monitor in the second half of the season that didn't exactly impress through the first 17 games. The New England Revolution, however, may be the most intriguing team of all.

Unbeaten in the last five matches, the Revolution added another proven commodity by signing Honduran national team staple Jerry Bengtson, a forward with a nose for the goal and an international pedigree, to a Designated Player deal last week. The move eliminates the unpredictability surrounding Jose Moreno and puts Blake Brettschneider, who has done an admirable job when called upon, into more of a supporting role. A league-leading scorer in his native Honduras, Bengtson should also serve as an ideal complement for Saer Sene up top.

The acquisition of Bengtson, who scored in his debut off the bench on Sunday, once again demonstrates the Revs' growing flexibility with their checkbook and their commitment to bringing in international talent. But it is worth noting that Bengtson's impact will be limited over the next month. As one of the overage players on Honduras' Olympic team, he likely will only be able to participate in another two games before departing for Olympic duty. Depending on how Honduras fares -- Los Catrachos are in a pretty stacked group with gold medal favorite Spain, Japan and Morocco -- Bengtson will have no more than 12 games after the Olympics with which to leave his mark as the Revs seek a return to the postseason for the first time since 2009.

At the very least, it appears that the Revs' never-ending quest for a reliable front line partnership has finally come to a successful close.

4. The All-Star XIs are announced. The convoluted process that selects the MLS All-Star team has begun to churn out results, with the First XI (not to be confused with the players who will actually start the match) announced on Sunday. Fan voting across multiple platforms accounted for the First XI, with Sporting Kansas City supporters stuffing the ballot box to get goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen, center back Aurelien Collin and playmaker Graham Zusi on the squad. The others voted in include now 12-time All-Star Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Chris Wondolowski, Dwayne De Rosario, Heath Pearce, Jay DeMerit and Steve Beitashour.

All 11 players are having All-Star worthy seasons (in the sense that 32 players receive All-Star distinction), so the fans did a decent job of choosing deserving players. If the First XI were determined solely by merit however, who would get the nod? How about a 4-4-2 (from right to left) along the lines of:

GK - Dan Kennedy; D - Beitashour, Jamison Olave, Collin, Alain Rochat; M - Donovan, De Rosario, Kyle Beckerman, Chris Pontius; F - Henry, Wondolowski

As for the XI who would give Chelsea the best battle, I'd take the below 3-5-2, placing plenty of responsibility on the two wingers to get forward while being mindful of tracking back, the two central midfielders to break up the Blues' possession and De Rosario to pull the strings behind the Henry-Wondolowski tandem:

GK - Nick Rimando; D - Geoff Cameron, Olave, Pearce; M - Donovan, Beckerman, De Rosario, Osvaldo Alonso, Brad Davis; F - Henry, Wondolowski

5. Team of the Week

Goalkeeper: Joe Cannon (Vancouver Whitecaps)

Defenders: Chris Wingert (Real Salt Lake), Hernan Pertuz (FC Dallas), Jermaine Taylor (Houston Dynamo), Kevin Alston (New England Revolution)

Midfielders: Freddy Adu (Philadelphia Union), Mauro Rosales (Seattle Sounders), Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution), Michael Farfan (Philadelphia Union)

Forwards: Alvaro Saborio (Real Salt Lake), Robbie Keane (Los Angeles Galaxy)

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