Planet Fútbol MLS Best XI: Week 4
Major League Soccer didn't lack attacking firepower in Week 4 of the 2014 season. Only one team managed a shutout, and all but two games had at least three goals between the opponents.
At the same time, a couple defensive performances stood out, especially between the posts. The Columbus Crew's Steve Clark made a couple impressive saves in his team's last-gasp victory in Seattle, and Dan Kennedy came moments away from ensuring Chivas USA would leave New Jersey with three points.
Playmakers emerged supreme, as a host of central midfielders had good showings. Pedro Morales, Mauro Díaz, Luis Gil and Javier Morales were just a few of them.
Which of those players were the best of MLS last week? Here is Planet Fútbol's Best XI:
Planet Fútbol MLS Best XI — Week 4
• Goalkeeper: Steve Clark (Columbus Crew)
Clark narrowly gets the nod over Kennedy by virtue of the final result. Columbus picked up all three points on the road, while Chivas took one. Other than that, the two men's performances were similar, as both made outstanding saves to deny opposition forwards in several instances.
• Defender: Aaron Wheeler (Philadelphia Union)
This Union man used to be a forward, but he has played center back in every appearance for Philadelphia so far this season and performed well. On Saturday, Wheeler made a few timely interventions on Montreal attacks and finished the game with 10 loose-ball recoveries.
• Defender: José Gonçalves (New England Revolution)
Gonçalves had the task of marking physical forward Steven Lenhart in the Revolution's 2-1 win over the Earthquakes. He performed admirably, anchoring a back line that not only survived the late onslaught typical of a game at Buck Shaw Stadium, but also sprung a counterattack to win it in stoppage time.
• Defender: Carlos Bocanegra (Chivas USA)
Until the very last minute of the game on Sunday, Chivas looked as if it would beat the Red Bulls, due in large part to solid defensive work from Bocanegra. He pulled the inexperienced Eriq Zavaleta through a tough game, as the Sounders loanee is finding his feet on the back line after playing forward for the duration of his professional career so far.
• Midfielder: Vicente Sánchez (Colorado Rapids)
They were both penalties, but Sánchez scored both of the Rapids' goals in a 3-2 loss to Sporting Kansas City. His ball toward the back post created one of those penalties. From normal play, he ran the right flank well for Colorado, completing 13 of 16 passes, including one that led directly to a shot inside the six-yard box.
• Midfielder: Pedro Morales (Vancouver Whitecaps)
Without Nigel Reo-Coker, Vancouver needed somebody to provide the impetus in central midfield, and Morales answered the call brilliantly. He played well in the Whitecaps' home opener, and he continued that form on Saturday, threading passes through the Dynamo defense and earning a secondary assist on the opening goal for his efforts.
• Midfielder: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake)
RSL's defense wasn't too troubled despite shutting out Toronto FC due to Beckerman's thankless work in front of the center backs. In a game that also included Michael Bradley, Beckerman was the best ball-winning midfielder on the day, recovering 14 of them and intercepting six passes. He also covered ground from box to box as he usually does, completing 80 percent of his passes and earning an assist.
• Midfielder: Javier Morales (Real Salt Lake)
If Beckerman was the stopper, Morales was the creator for RSL on Saturday. His assist to Álvaro Saborío was sublime, the chip over Toronto's defenders sitting nicely for the Costa Rican to score his second of the game. However, Morales' genius is most appreciable on goals like Salt Lake's second, using a combination of skill on the ball and vision to spring players into open spaces.
• Midfielder: Harrison Shipp (Chicago Fire)
For the second week in a row, Shipp was the best player for the Fire. The first-year pro from Notre Dame was the ACC's Offensive Player of the Year his senior season, and he's brought that same ability to MLS. His set-piece service earned him another assist on a corner kick, and his four successful crosses were the most on his team.
• Forward: Federico Higuaín (Columbus Crew)
South American players are no strangers to performing in tough environments, and Higuaín delivered in the CenturyLink Field downpour against the Sounders. Besides stepping up to score the equalizing penalty kick, it was Higuaín's recognition in taking a stoppage-time corner kick quickly that set Justin Meram up with the time and space to score the winner.
• Forward: Marco Di Vaio (Montreal Impact)
There should be no question that di Vaio is Montreal's most important player, especially after the stamp he put on his first game of the season. With 10 minutes left, down a goal and a man after Andrew Wenger's red card, di Vaio singlehandedly drove at the Union defense and scored the tying goal, victimizing one of the league's best center backs in Amobi Okugo in the process.
Player of the Week: Pedro Morales
Pedro Morales' game started rather inauspiciously, as he gave the ball away off the kickoff, and Houston charged straight down the field. That turned out to be a rare moment for the Chilean, who rarely lost the ball after that.
He came off the bench in Vancouver's home opener against the New York Red Bulls, fresh off a plane from Spain and getting his immigration paperwork sorted out, but he immediately looked like he could be an impact player for the Whitecaps. On Saturday, he fulfilled that promise, at least for one night.
Morales can pick a pass like few players in the league, exemplified by his assist in the 14th minute. After he received a second chance on a cleared corner, he looped a one-time cross over the pile of players in the penalty area right onto Andy O'Brien's head. O'Brien easily nodded the ball into Jordan Harvey's path for a tap-in.
Moments earlier, he played a similar pass, from the middle to Kenny Miller on the left wing, who set up Darren Mattocks for what could have been the first goal if the Jamaican's finish was better. But not only did Morales play good passes; he also followed up with runs into dangerous supporting areas in the attack.
His feet never seem to stop moving, such as after threading a pass through two lines of Dynamo defenders to a streaking Mattocks in first-half stoppage time. Instead of standing in midfield to admire his initial ball, he got into position to receive a return pass on the cutback and put a shot on target from an unmarked position just outside the penalty area. That sort of playmaking ability will make Morales difficult to displace in the starting lineup, even when Nigel Reo-Coker regains his health.