Planet Fútbol MLS Best XI: Week 3
It's always tough to pick out 11 best individuals in such a team-dependent sport, but the third week of the Major League Soccer season presented its own challenge.
Unlike in the first two weeks, there was no clear choice for Player of the Week, despite Bernardo Añor's two-goal performance against the Philadelphia Union. Certainly, his left-footed thunderbolt is an early candidate for Goal of the Year, but other players had similar moments of brilliance or steady, 90-minute efforts.
So who were the best players of Week 3 in MLS? Here is Planet Fútbol's Best XI:
Planet Fútbol MLS Best XI — Week 3
• Goalkeeper: Bill Hamid (D.C. United)
Hamid made two early, important stops on Jermain Defoe that kept D.C. in the game with Toronto longer than it should have been. The home team was better than a one-goal win, but Hamid was just that good — and he even made the initial stop on the eventual goal, too. It was a mature, composed performance in a tough environment from a goalkeeper who has been known to lose his cool at times.
• Defender: Jair Benítez (FC Dallas)
MLS' fullbacks haven't been spectacular in 2014, and Benítez's play on Saturday wasn't the type that would inspire a kid to become a left back. However, he played steadily on the defensive side of the ball and made good decisions moving forward. He made a couple important interceptions and quickly sprung counterattacks off them, allowing Dallas to pressure Chivas all game.
• Defender: Djimi Traore (Seattle Sounders)
Traore cleared a shot off the line in the last 10 minutes to preserve the Sounders' second shutout of the season at Montreal. He made a couple other tough clearances and won both tackles he attempted, according to the Opta match statistics. The big Malian international nearly scored, too, but he put his overhead kick attempt straight into Troy Perkins' arms.
• Defender: Doneil Henry (Toronto FC)
The most inspiring thing about Henry's performances so far (plural — he also played well against Seattle) is that he's only 20 years old. He did all he was asked on Saturday against D.C. United once again, partnering with veteran Scotsman Steven Caldwell to keep a shutout in a one-goal game at home. That was the type of match Toronto would have lost last year, and Henry's game was one of the main reasons it won, although he was overshadowed by his higher-profile teammates.
• Defender: Raymon Gaddis (Philadelphia Union)
The initial ball on Leo Fernandes' goal for the Philadelphia Union on Saturday came off Gaddis' foot, overlapping down the right flank. He made some important defensive stops, including on speedy Crew forward Dominic Oduro to keep it a one-goal game. Although the Union lost narrowly, Gaddis' attack-minded play helped Philadelphia control most of the second half.
• Midfielder: Bernardo Añor (Columbus Crew)
Añor scored both of his team's goals in a 2-1 win, both in the first half. First, he put home a corner kick, and a couple minutes later, he unleashed a long-range strike that made it a two-goal deficit just before the halftime whistle. That proved to be the winning goal, sealing the result for Columbus before the second half began.
• Midfielder: Michael Bradley (Toronto FC)
Bradley got better from his first to second match, although his first game was also solid. However, the game against D.C. had more of the typical Bradley stamp, as he marshaled the central midfield with Jonathan Osorio. He was more influential in the attacking half than the first game, slipping a nice through ball to Álvaro Rey in the first half and clipping one over the top to Gilberto that led to Toronto's goal in the second.
• Midfielder: Leo Fernandes (Philadelphia Union)
Fernandes' performance in just 36 minutes off the bench was good enough to put him on this team for the second successive week. He scored Philadelphia's only goal and nearly tied the game with Columbus within 10 minutes of coming on. Substitutes are told they must make an impact on a game, especially considering their fresh legs, and Fernandes has stood out in a talented Union midfield so far this season.
• Midfielder: Harrison Shipp (Chicago Fire)
Shipp created two opportunities with his crossing on the right wing, including the corner service on Jeff Larentowicz's goal that gave Chicago an early lead on the Supporters' Shield holders. He also teed up Quincy Amarikwa for a diving-header effort with a perfectly measured, dipping cross through traffic. Not bad for a Homegrown Player making his second professional appearance.
• Forward: Robbie Keane (L.A. Galaxy)
Every year, we wait for Keane's play to drop off, and every year, we've been kept waiting. His tying goal at Rio Tinto Stadium was vintage Keane, running with the ball from midfield at a defender and creating just enough space to blast a shot past Nick Rimando.
• Forward: Gilberto (Toronto FC)
Toronto FC's strike partnership is going to be scary this year if Defoe keeps up his form and Gilberto plays as well as he did on Saturday. He has the physical tools to cope with MLS's attritional play, holding the ball up and waiting for support well against D.C., but he also displayed the touch and vision of a technical forward who has spent the entirety of his young career to this point in the Brazilian league. Were it not for another solid Hamid save, Gilberto would have been the one to score Toronto's winner, not Defoe.
Player of the Week: Michael Bradley
The question marks surrounding Bradley's return to MLS are slowly subsiding, unlike the ones around Clint Dempsey. In just two matches, Bradley has become his new team's most important player, the heartbeat of a re-energized Toronto FC team out to reverse seven seasons of misery.
Bradley has shown a little bit of everything that has made him the United States' most malleable and important player in international competition. In Seattle, he played a mostly defensive game while outnumbered by a Sounders' central midfield block of three or four. Against D.C., he displayed his vision with the ball, distributing well and creating three chances — half of his team's total and equal to United's total as a team, according to Opta.
He didn't receive an assist on Toronto's goal despite his sublime chip over the top to Gilberto sparking the play, but arguably the most important aspect he will bring to Toronto is an intensity that has been missing. After a head clash with Davy Arnaud that would eventually be closed with 13 staples in his head, Bradley soldiered through the rest of the game with a bandage wrapped around his bald dome. Bradley has made it clear that he expects to win with his new team, and he shows it through the way he carries himself on the field. Just as on the national team, he might not wear the captain's armband, but it's still clear who pulls the strings.