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  • The teams atop their respective MLS conferences weren't impacted by playing through the international break, and they rise in this week's Power Rankings.
By Alexander Abnos
September 05, 2016

Much earlier this season, I wrote in this space about how MLS scheduling does the league a tremendous disservice every time an international weekend comes around. All around the world, teams are allowed to take a rest while their best players travel for international games. In MLS, not so. This creates an uncomfortable paradox for the league: On international weekends, the teams with the best players are punished for having those same players the league pushes so hard for the teams to get or develop in the first place. 

Week 26 in MLS should be remembered as a particularly good example of this problem. Yes, international absences robbed some teams of their best players. But in addition to that, some teams weren’t affected at all by the international break because they, by a quirk of scheduling, had the weekend off. 

In all, only 12 of the league’s 20 teams were in action in Week 26, meaning that some (like, for example, Toronto FC) were able to deal with the international break in the same way that clubs around the world do: By not playing, resting up, and hoping their internationals don’t come back with a case of the FIFA flu. 

For the other clubs, this week showed a multitude of ways how big absences can affect a performance. Or, in some cases, how it might not affect the performance at all. 

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New York City FC’s play in a comeback win over D.C. United was a good example of the latter. So many MLS teams seek Designated Player signings that sit right in the “sweet spot” between prime age (under 30), quality play, and a lack of an international future/conflict (Portland’s Diego Valeri is a good example). NYCFC’s own recruitment policy isn’t so different–it has just removed the age requirement. The result is three older DPs in David Villa (34), Andrea Pirlo (37), and Frank Lampard (38) that were all around to help the club get a comeback win over D.C. United, which replaced U.S. international center back Steve Birnbaum with the untested 20-year-old Jalen Robinson to mixed results. 

In New England, Kei Kamara’s absence for Sierra Leone duty removed a big piece of the Revs’ regular lineup, but instead of letting that get them down the team used that as an opportunity to try something a little different. Playing with two up top (one of which was regular midfielder Lee Nguyen), the reeling Revs looked better than they have in a while in a 2-0 win over Colorado, which missed goalkeeper–and Tuesday's U.S. starter–Tim Howard. 

The Union, playing without two vital parts of their spine (goalkeeper Andre Blake and central midfielder Alejandro Bedoya), looked spineless in a 3-0 loss to Chicago. Reigning MLS Cup champion Portland played without its reliable force in central midfield (Darlington Nagbe), and looked disjointed in a loss to Dallas. 

And as for FC Dallas...well, it proved immune to the international break challenge. Despite missing five players (including four that could be considered regular contributors), the league leader looked every bit the team it has been all season, extending its lead in the race for the Supporters' Shield. 

Offensive player of the week: Frank Lampard, NYCFC

Good luck finding anybody willing to argue that Frank Lampard is MLS’ worst-ever signing now. The Englishman scored on both of his efforts on goal, and they came in classic Lampardian fashion: scrappy, well-timed, and finished with deft technique. The fact that Lampard scored both goals, including this stoppage-time winner on “Frank Lampard Day” will only increase his legend at Yankee Stadium. 

Luckily for Lampard he didn’t punctuate it with a painful slip during the celebration. 

Honorable mention: The LA Galaxy’s Baggio Husidic, just for this ridiculous goal against Columbus:

Defensive player of the week: Walker Zimmerman, FC Dallas

Zimmerman was a rock in the back next to the perpetually underrated Matt Hedges, and he punctuated his performance with a towering header off a set piece in the club's win over Portland

Yes, this was a Timbers team missing Nagbe, but they still had Valeri, Fanendo Adi, and Lucas Melano on the field. It's not an easy team to play, and Zimmerman was constantly in the right place at the right time to frustrate the visitors and maintain Dallas’ unbeaten home record. 

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