Planet Fútbol MLS Best XI: Week 5
Major League Soccer's Week 5 was great for United States men's national team players. Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey returned to their respective clubs after playing against Mexico and thrived, rather than using travel and midweek minutes played as a crutch to take the weekend off.
Elsewhere, RSL goalkeeper Jeff Attinella took advantage of the knee injury Nick Rimando picked up in his U.S. appearance to stun Sporting Kansas City at the site of the teams' 2013 MLS Cup clash. He made several big saves to ensure Salt Lake would be the first team to have two goalkeepers make a Planet Fútbol Best XI.
Who else made the cut? Here is the our Week 5 Best XI:
Planet Fútbol MLS Best XI — Week 5
• Goalkeeper: Jeff Attinella (Real Salt Lake)
Attinella made several big saves in a scoreless draw with Sporting Kansas City. His highlight reel included tipping Seth Sinovic's shot over the bar in the first half, almost immediately followed by Chance Myers' volley from inside the six-yard box (although Myers was called offside, but the whistle blew after the shot and save). Shot-stopping alone isn't enough for a goalkeeper's performance to be considered praiseworthy, though, and Attinella also came off his line well. His only real mistake was overcommitting on a through ball to Dom Dwyer, but Nat Borchers bailed him out with a save on the line.
• Defender: Justin Morrow (Toronto FC)
Morrow's assist on Toronto's insurance goal was a worthy payoff for a night of hard work down the left flank. Columbus right winger Héctor Jiménez and right back Josh Williams were minimal factors in the Crew's attack, so they eventually focused the majority of their movement on the opposite side. Morrow sealed his side off well, and he still got forward at the crucial moment to put in his only cross of the game, which resulted in the second goal.
• Defender: Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (Chicago Fire)
Not a player known for his passing ability, Hurtado did well in keeping possession for the Fire on Saturday. He was also good on the other side of the ball, where he has established a more positive reputation, breaking up several Union attacks in numbers-down situations. Hurtado chased down a couple through balls and matched up well against Philadelphia's big forward, Conor Casey.
• Defender: Bradley Orr (Toronto FC)
Neither center back in Toronto's lineup on Saturday would crack the team's first-choice lineup, but Orr anchored the back line to a shutout against a previously perfect Crew team. His English soccer background showed in a performance that included 18 clearances, and he covered for and pulled rookie Nick Hagglund through the game (although Hagglund looked pretty good, too, especially for a first-year player). Orr capped his performance with a huge tackle on Jairo Arrieta, followed by another clearance, in the last 10 minutes, when it was still a one-goal game.
• Defender: Kosuke Kimura (New York Red Bulls)
Kimura ended up one-on-one with Marco di Vaio several times, sliding inside to cover his center backs, and came out on top every time. He put his body on the line in the process, including on a block inside the six-yard box that left him on the ground for a couple minutes. Going forward, Kimura connected all but one of his passes in the attacking half, and although the Impact countered to score their first goal when he pressed, he couldn't really be blamed for either goal New York conceded.
• Midfielder: Perry Kitchen (D.C. United)
Kitchen is consistently the best distributor on his team, but he is sorely underused and under-appreciated in Ben Olsen's non-possession system of play. He picked out some good passes again on Saturday and swept in front of the center backs defensively. Kitchen often goes overlooked because his passes don't lead to shots immediately; his passes are the ones that precede the assisting pass. He can thread balls through on his own, though, such as on Nick DeLeon's golden opportunity in the second half that he couldn't finish.
• Midfielder: Michael Bradley (Toronto FC)
It took Bradley just over 10 minutes on Saturday to score his first MLS goal since 2005 (granted, he was in Europe for eight years), slotting home from an impossible angle after a late run into the Columbus penalty area. Both Toronto's style on Saturday and the U.S.'s system on Wednesday gave him the freedom to go forward as he saw fit, and that made him a dangerous option making the late run from midfield. It was that kind of movement that thrust Bradley into the U.S.'s starting lineup, and the box-to-box role is one that he needs to be allowed to play. It allows his soccer IQ to shine through, as he knows when to attack and when to hold deeper, which he showed both against Mexico and Columbus.
• Midfielder: Diego Chará (Portland Timbers)
Chará celebrated his 28th birthday with two strikes from distance against the Timbers' biggest rival. Both were Goal of the Week material, but the second was particularly special, nestling into the top corner after Jalil Anibaba retreated until Chará decided to stop dribbling and pull the trigger. He was also one of three starters in the game to complete over 90 percent of his passes (the others were Osvaldo Alonso and Maximiliano Urruti).
• Midfielder: José Mari (Colorado Rapids)
Reflecting on Mari's game against the Vancouver Whitecaps, the focus will rightfully be on the two stunners he scored to secure a 2-1 win, but he was good all game before that in the distributor role in central midfield. He completed 72 of 76 attempted passes — 63 of 67 before Matias Laba was sent off — mostly spraying it wide for the wingers and overlapping fullbacks to move forward. He singlehandedly won the game for Colorado in the end, with his two goals coming in the last 15 minutes.
• Forward: Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders)
Dempsey started slowly against the Timbers but improved toward the end of the game in his involvement and influence. He scored twice in the last five minutes, including a pressure-filled penalty to secure his hat trick (yes, it's a penalty, but he still had to put it away or cost his team a vital point on the road). It was perhaps his best game in a Sounders jersey, as Sigi Schmid moved him onto the left wing in Seattle's 4-3-3.
• Forward: Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers)
Nagbe was the focal point of Portland's attack, turning DeAndre Yedlin inside-out on multiple occasions, including when he whacked a shot off the post in the 11th minute. Nagbe's greatest strength continues to be his soccer intelligence, personified by his run to drag Chad Marshall away as Chará advanced on the dribble to score his second of the game and the Timbers' third. Again, he also drew the most attention from his opponents, as he suffered four fouls in the first half alone, including three in the first 20 minutes of the game.
Player of the Week: Clint Dempsey
For the hat trick alone, Clint Dempsey deserves to be Player of the Week. What it symbolized and what it likely meant to him, no meaningless award could justify. He insisted after the game that he wasn't trying to make a statement, but he made one with his actions.
After scoring his first goal, he raised his arms in celebration as he ran toward the Portland fans, with an expression of borderline derision on his face. After his second and third, he quickly grabbed the ball and retreated toward the center circle stoically. He spoke after the game about building on the momentum and moving forward from the game positively, focusing on the future rather than the recent past.
It's something Dempsey has had to do a lot recently, forgetting the past. After a rocky start to his MLS comeback campaign, he has broken out of his shell in his last two appearances for Seattle, and he has become the player the Sounders paid for. Part of it is pure execution, but his role within the team has also played a part.
Instead of shoehorning him into the playmaking role at the point of a diamond midfield, as coach Sigi Schmid did at the end of 2013, he played Dempsey on the wing and allowed him the freedom to roam. His chemistry with Obafemi Martins is maturing every time they play together, and Martins' good play so far has taken some of the strain off Dempsey.
After all, Dempsey was never the main man at Fulham or Tottenham Hotspur. Even with the U.S. national team, the brunt of playmaking duties usually falls on Michael Bradley. Dempsey needs to be given space to maneuver and strike at the slightest opportunity. He plays more like a cobra than a boa constrictor, punishing opponents in one swift swoop rather than suffocating them all game. He fulfilled that role on Saturday. His first goal came off a defensive error from the Timbers, and Dempsey made the right run and finished well with his left foot. His second was similar, finding enough space to settle and shoot inside the 18-yard box, before burying the penalty to secure the draw.