Another big step forward and the ending of some painful streaks paved the way in Week 24, at least when it comes to the Team of the Week presented by Audi.
Atlanta United head coach Gonzalo Pineda engineered a 3-0 win over Southeast rival Orlando City SC, all without arguably their top two players in striker Josef Martinez and center back Miles Robinson. That leaves “Gonzo” overseeing the 3-4-3 formation, which includes attacker Ezequiel Barco after he scored his career-high fifth goal of the year. It was Pineda's first victory since joining the Five Stripes midseason.
Houston Dynamo FC had reason to celebrate, ending a 16-game winless stretch behind a two-goal showing from forward Fafa Picault in a 3-0 leap past Texas rival Austin FC. And FC Cincinnati earned their long-awaited first win at TQL Stadium, a 2-0 dispatch of Toronto FC in which midfielder Luciano Acosta had two assists to pull the strings.
The forward line is rounded out by LAFC’s Cristian Arango, whose brace powered a crucial 3-2 win over Real Salt Lake in a Western Conference playoff six-pointer. The midfield group’s sole goalscorer is Seattle Sounders centerpiece Joao Paulo, with the Brazilian's first-half strike igniting a 1-0 victory against Minnesota United FC.
There’s also New England Revolution maestro Carles Gil, who notched the game-winning assist in a 2-1 win over New York City FC – giving him a league-leading 16 helpers this campaign. The quartet is completed by Portland Timbers star Sebastian Blanco, whose creativity and confidence paid dividends in a 1-0 win at Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
On defense, Justin Che (FC Dallas) and Daniel Steres (LA Galaxy) both served up pinpoint assists that rescued their group a point. Che’s curling cross to Ricardo Pepi salvaged a 1-1 home draw against San Jose, while Steres’ pinged pass to Samuel Grandsir clawed back a 1-1 tie at Colorado.
The backline’s hallmark, though, is Nashville SC center back Walker Zimmerman after his game-winning header during a 1-0 win at CF Montréal. As for the goalkeeper spot, it goes to Inter Miami CF’s Nick Marsman for his three-save shutout that preserved a 1-0 win over Columbus and stood as their third straight clean sheet.
Team of the Week (3-4-3, left to right): Nick Marsman (MIA) – Walker Zimmerman (NSH), Daniel Steres (LA), Justin Che (DAL) – Luciano Acosta (CIN), Joao Paulo (SEA), Carles Gil (NE), Sebastian Blanco (POR) – Fafa Picault (HOU), Cristian Arango (LAFC), Ezequiel Barco (ATL)
Coach: Gonzalo Pineda (ATL)
Bench: Stefan Frei (SEA), George Campbell (ATL), Gregore (MIA), Jose Mauri (SKC), Tajon Buchanan (NE), Michael Barrios (COL), Ricardo Pepi (DAL)
The Team of the Week presented by Audi is voted on by the MLSsoccer.com editorial staff.
Audi Goals Drive Progress
MLS Academies have been identified as one of the most important resources for building on-field talent in North America. Through the Audi Goals Drive Progress initiative, Audi has committed $1 million per season in an effort to advance academies league-wide, and to drive progress for the sport. For every goal scored in the regular season, Audi will contribute $500 into the Audi Goals Drive Progress fund to directly support each MLS Club Youth Academy.