Major League Soccer's returning MLS Cup finalists have both endured disappointing starts to the 2019 season, but Atlanta United and the Portland Timbers are starting to heat up, and they each received stellar performances from star midfielders to record their latest victories.
Atlanta United's Darlington Nagbe and Portland Timbers winger Sebastian Blanco were outstanding in their team's respective victories on Saturday, and each earned a place in Goal's latest MLS Best XI for their efforts. Nagbe set up Julian Gressel's game-winning goal with a wonderful dribble and pass, while Blanco set up Jeremy Ebobisse's winner on the road against Toronto FC.
The San Jose Earthquakes didn't manage a victory in either of their two matches this week, but after coming through with a pair of draws against tough competition in Seattle and FC Dallas, the Earthquakes saw two players make the Best XI cut this week.
Who else made the cut? Here is this week's Goal MLS Best XI for Week 9:
San Jose goalkeeper Daniel Vega had a busy week, recording a collective 10 saves across the Earthquakes two matches. He made six stops in San Jose's 2-2 draw with the Sounders, then registered four more to record the shutout in Saturday's 0-0 road draw against FC Dallas.
D.C. United's Bill Hamid put in a strong shift in Wednesday's 1-0 win against the Columbus Crew, while Montreal's Evan Bush deserves some credit for posting a pair of shutouts, even if he only had to make two combined saves in the process.
Portland Timbers defender Bill Tuiloma scored the best goal of the week in MLS, hitting a perfect volley finish off a corner kick in the Timbers win against Toronto FC. The goal, coupled with his defensive contributions, helped Portland had TFC its first home loss of 2019.
— Portland Timbers (@TimbersFC) April 27, 2019
The Montreal Impact recorded a pair of shutout victories, and Zakaria Diallo was instrumental in both matches. The French defender put in complete performances in both victories, narrowly edging out teammate Daniel Lovitz for a place in this week's Best XI.
New York Red Bulls defender Connor Lade shifted into a wingback role against FC Cincinnati and delivered a big goal, hitting a perfect left-footed blast that served as the winner in New York's win against FC Cincinnati.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) April 27, 2019
Minnesota United's Romain Metanire was pivotal in the Loons' perfect defensive week, playing well in each of his team's shutouts while also contributing to the attack by setting up the winning goal against D.C. United.
No defender in MLS had a better all-around individual performance than Doneil Henry's match in Saturday's 1-1 draw against the Philadelphia Union. The Canadian center back was dominant defensively and also delivered a powerful header for Vancouver's goal.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) April 27, 2019
There were several impressive defensive performances in week nine, with Minnesota United's Ike Opara, Atlanta United's Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Houston's Maynor Figueroa and LA Galaxy's Diedie Traore earning honorable mention this week, along with Montreal's Daniel Lovitz.
Atlanta United's Darlington Nagbe is enjoying a good run of form in recent weeks, and his work in Atlanta's 1-0 win against the Colorado Rapids helped the Five Stripes avoid an embarrassing result against the worst team in MLS, with his game-winning assist serving as the play of the game.
— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) April 27, 2019
LA Galaxy midfielder Jonathan Dos Santos is quietly putting together an all-star season and he was the lone repeat selection to the Best XI this week after another outstanding week. He was the Galaxy's best player in Wednesday's 0-0 draw with Minnesota United, then turned in a steady shift in Sunday's win against Real Salt Lake.
Portland winger Sebastian Blanco has begun rounding into form, and it's no coincidence that improvement has come as the Timbers have started to heat up. His picture-perfect assist on Jeremy Ebobisse's winning goal against TFC on Saturday capped a stellar performance.
San Jose winger Shea Salinas had a quiet day in Saturday's 0-0 draw with FC Dallas, but his two-goal effort in Wednesday's 2-2 draw against Seattle was one of the best individual performances of the week.
— San Jose Earthquakes (@SJEarthquakes) April 25, 2019
There were several other midfielders who delivered Best XI-caliber weeks, including Houston's Tomas Martinez, Sporting Kansas City's Felipe Gutierrez, Minnesota United's Osvaldo Alonso and Montreal's Samuel Piette.
New York City FC's Heber has made a smooth transition to MLS, and his contributions in both of his team's matches last week earned him the striker spot on this week's Best XI ahead of a deep cast of contenders. Heber set up the winning goal in NYCFC's 1-0 victory against the Chicago Fire, then he headed home the equalizer in NYCFC's draw with Orlando City on Saturday.
— Heber dos Santos (@Heber__Araujo) April 28, 2019
Minnesota United's Angelo Rodriguez, New England's Juan Caicedo, LA Galaxy's Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Portland's Jeremy Ebobisse earned Honorable Mention nods this week.