Clint Dempsey, center, has had plenty to smile about in recent weeks after a goal-scoring barrage. (Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
Besides Clint Dempsey’s two-goal follow-up to his hat trick against Portland, in-your-face individual performances were sparse in Major League Soccer last weekend. On the attacking side, no other player scored more than one goal in a game.
At the same time, a couple of the league’s more creative midfielders shined with the ball at their feet. Vincent Nogueira tallied an assist, and Yannick Djaló provided San Jose with a much-needed boost off the bench. Perhaps the Earthquakes have finally found a way to replace Simon Dawkins, although Djaló is also property of another club, on loan from UEFA Europa League semifinalist Benfica for now.
Here is Planet Fútbol’s MLS Best XI for Week 6:
Planet Fútbol MLS Best XI — Week 6
• Goalkeeper: Zac MacMath (Philadelphia Union)
MacMath started the game against Real Salt Lake by saving his second penalty in two weeks, and he continued to stop big shots all game. Usually, other parts of his game aren’t up to the same standard, but he also came off his line well and handled crosses all game.
• Defender: Karl Ouimette (Montreal Impact)
The first Impact academy player to sign with the first team back in 2012, Ouimette put in a Man of the Match performance in a 1-1 tie against Chicago. He made multiple important defensive interventions, but he also completed 40 of 48 attempted passes to carry the back line on both sides of the ball as a player who rarely starts.
• Defender: Bobby Boswell (D.C. United)
Boswell had an early assist on Davy Arnaud’s goal with his flick to the back post on an early D.C. corner kick. His positioning and play in front of second-string goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra was solid all game, and he nearly scored a goal of his own at the start of the second half on another set piece.
• Defender: Chris Schuler (Real Salt Lake)
Schuler played his usual hard-nosed style on Saturday in Philadelphia, and the way the game played out suited him well. His most important intervention came on Andrew Wenger in the 30th minute, preventing him from getting a shot on frame from inside the six-yard box by putting a body on him.
• Defender: Carlos Bocanegra (Chivas USA)
Despite Portland’s slow start to 2014, opponents still need a steady defensive presence against Caleb Porter’s system to come out of Providence Park with a point. Bocanegra provided that leadership for Chivas, even after going down an early goal.
• Midfielder: Luke Mulholland (Real Salt Lake)
Early in the Union-RSL game, Mulholland followed up MacMath’s penalty save to put home the rebound, reacting quicker than three Philadelphia defenders in the same area. On the defensive side, he got a crucial foot on the ball as Leo Fernandes lined up an open shot inside the penalty area in the 71st minute (Penalty shouts were rightly declined, as Mulholland got the ball).
BIRD: Unbeaten RSL stays atop MLS Power Rankings
• Midfielder: Vincent Nogueira (Philadelphia Union)
Nogueira again showed his composure on the ball and technical ability, lifting a cross over the RSL back line and onto Wenger’s foot for an easy finish in the 55th minute. He completed the highest number of passes (53) in a game featuring two talented sets of midfielders.
• Midfielder: Yannick Djaló (San Jose Earthquakes)
The Benfica loanee provided an immediate spark off the bench, coming on when San Jose trailed Columbus 1-0 at halftime. His ingenuity and comfort on the ball will be a treat to watch all year, as he's not afraid to find the most creative possible way to get from Point A to Point B.
• Forward: Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers)
Nagbe has an ability to make tough plays look simple and a way of putting teammates in position to succeed. He did just that on his assist to Will Johnson, executing a neat pullback away from a defender and a short pass right into Johnson’s run — allowing him to hit it in stride and at full speed — on the Timbers’ goal.
• Forward: Robbie Keane (L.A. Galaxy)
The Irishman was a focal point for the Galaxy attack all night, and after a few chances in the first half, he put one away early in the second to seal a 1-0 win over Vancouver. Keane had a number of chances in the second half after he scored, although he was active and a part of almost every build-up L.A. had all night.
• Forward: Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders)
For the second week in a row, Dempsey was the easiest selection to any Team of the Week. He scored twice, including a ridiculous free kick from distance, and created Seattle’s other goal with a cross that Stephen Keel turned into his own goal.
WATCH: Dempsey follows hat trick with two-goal showing
Player of the Week: Clint Dempsey
If last week’s hat trick in Portland didn’t state it clearly enough, a two-goal performance in Dallas did: Clint Dempsey is back. His free-kick goal should be a candidate for Goal of the Year by the time the season ends, and he almost had another one with an audacious side-volley in the second half that cracked off the crossbar.
His partnership with Obafemi Martins is really starting to click, too, and they seem to be getting a good sense for each other’s movement patterns and passing preferences. Dempsey played his third role of the season in the Sounders’ lineup on Saturday, pairing with Martins up top.
In the end, the biggest difference seems to be the confidence that Dempsey has when he gets around the 18-yard box. That aspect was missing as he struggled through a shaky 2013 MLS season, and he looked frustrated more frequently than he displayed any other emotion.
But after five goals in the last two games and six so far in 2014, the swagger has returned.