MLS Team of the Week: Meram, Kamara, Nagbe Star in Conference Final 1st Legs
The first legs of the Eastern and Western Conference finals produced a pair of surprising results as Columbus and Portland came out on top at home in their respective games.
Columbus used the fastest goal in MLS postseason history to jump on top of the New York Red Bulls. The early strike stunned the Supporters' Shield winners, and it allowed the Crew to dominate the match.
Over in Portland, the Timbers came out of the gates with the same attacking vigor, but they didn't find the back of the net until the 23rd minute. Although they conceded an away goal to FC Dallas in the second half, the Timbers scored three goals to take a two-goal advantage into the second leg.
Since Columbus and Portland were easily the better sides on Sunday, the majority of our MLS Team of the Week is comprised of players from those two teams.
Continue reading to see who made the best 11 from the conference final first legs.
GK: Steve Clark, Columbus Crew
Steve Clark was the only goalkeeper on Sunday to record a clean sheet.
Clark may not have delivered the best performance of the season at Mapfre Stadium, but he did make a few big denials when called upon.
His best save of the win over the New York Red Bulls came in the fifth minute, when he stopped a Sacha Kljestan shot from close range with his body.
Clark's clean sheet also prevented the Red Bulls from gaining any type of advantage on away goals, which could come into play in the second leg if the Crew score at Red Bull Arena.
RB: Harrison Afful, Columbus Crew
Harrison Afful was a part of a Columbus back four that silenced the Red Bulls attack for the majority of the match in Columbus.
The Ghanaian right back marked Mike Grella out of the game, and he cut off all of the supply lines to Bradley Wright-Phillips.
Afful held Grella to 40 touches and one shot on goal, and the entire Crew defense limited Wright-Phillips to zero shots on target.
CB: MIchael Parkhurst, Columbus Crew
There were some concerns entering Sunday about how Michael Parkhurst would perform without his regular partner in the middle of the defense. But with Gaston Sauro out, Parkhurst stepped up his game with Tyson Wahl next to him and produced a defensive masterpiece.
The 31-year-old American made 12 clearances, had five interceptions and blocked one shot in the Crew's 2-0 win over the Red Bulls.
The most important stat produced by the Crew defense was the two shots on goal they conceded over 90 minutes.
If the Crew play like they did on Sunday in the second leg, they will book their tickets to MLS Cup.
CB: Nat Borchers, Portland Timbers
The offseason acquisition of Nat Borchers once again reaped plenty of rewards for the Portland Timbers on Sunday.
The former Real Salt Lake man commanded the Portland back line while keeping the FC Dallas attack out of a rhythm. Borchers also adjusted well when Norberto Paparatto replaced Liam Ridgewell halfway through the second half.
On top of his stellar defensive performance, Borchers also scored late in the match as he tapped in a loose ball off a corner kick.
LB: Jorge Villafana, Portland Timbers
Both Portland full-backs deserve praise for their outings on Sunday, but Jorge Villafana displayed fewer weaknesses than Alvas Powell.
Villafana cut off Michael Barrios from the FC Dallas attack as the winger totaled 30 touches and one attempt off target in 84 minutes.
By taking away the distribution channels on the wing, Villafana and the Timbers forced FC Dallas to create attacks through Mauro Diaz. However, Diego Chara also thrived at Providence Park and took Diaz out of the contest for most of the 90 minutes.
AM: Dairon Asprilla, Portland Timbers
Dairon Asprilla unleashed the best goal of the postseason to date in the 53rd minute of Portland's 3-1 win over FC Dallas.
The Colombian winger curled a shot from the right wing into the top-left corner of the net. As the ball struck the back of the goal, all anyone in attendance at Providence Park could do was celebrate in disbelief.
Asprilla also contributed to the first Portland goal as he earned an assist on Liam Ridgewell's strike off a set piece.
With Diego Valeri and Rodney Wallace returning from suspension for the second leg, Portland boss Caleb Porter faces a tough decision when it comes to choosing his starting 11. Based off the first leg, it would be wise to give Asprilla one more opportunity on the wing.
CM: Felipe, New York Red Bulls
The New York Red Bulls took few positives away from the first leg in Columbus, but one of them was the play of Felipe in midfield.
While his fellow central players struggled with the pace of the game, the 25-year-old Brazilian impressed against a dangerous Crew midfield.
Felipe's biggest involvement came in the 33rd minute as he tracked back into the box and took the ball off the feet of Ethan Finlay, who was looking to score Columbus' second.
The central midfielder was active on almost every part of the pitch as he attempted five shots, albeit all were off target, and made six tackles.
CM: Darlington Nagbe, Portland Timbers
With Valeri and Wallace out of the lineup, Darlington Nagbe had to produce a consistent match in the final third in order for Portland to succeed.
In his 90 minutes on the pitch, the United States international orchestrated the Timbers attack by making five key passes and assisting on Ridgewell's opener. Nagbe also did plenty of little things right in order to open up space for other Portland players moving forward.
With a two-goal advantage and Valeri returning for the second leg, it is hard not to see Portland as the favorite at the moment to win the Western Conference final.
AM: Justin Meram, Columbus Crew
Justin Meram scored the fastest goal in MLS playoff history on Sunday as he struck the back of the net in nine seconds in the Crew's 2-0 victory over the Red Bulls.
Meram benefited from some strong aerial play by Kei Kamara and an assist from Ethan Finlay before he stunned the Red Bulls with his early strike.
The Iraq international was a constant threat on the left wing, and he helped expose plenty of deficiencies in the Red Bulls back line.
Since Meram and the rest of the Columbus attack had so much success in the first leg, expect the Red Bulls to throw out a different defensive configuration in the second leg.
FW: Kei Kamara, Columbus Crew
The main goal for Kamara on Sunday was not to score, but to put the Red Bulls center backs under pressure and try to get one of them suspended for the second leg.
Unfortunately, Kamara was unable to force Matt Miazga or Ronald Zubar into a yellow card, but he did dominate them in the air as he won 13 aerials in 90 minutes.
In the 85th minute, Kamara did what any hungry striker would do and pounced on a loose ball in front of goal to score a vital second tally for the Crew.
The goal was the third of the postseason for the Sierra Leone international, who also netted 22 in the regular season.
FW: David Texeira, FC Dallas
FC Dallas finally got some production out of David Texeira at the forward position on Sunday.
Texeira scored what could turn out to be a vital away goal in the 62nd minute of the defeat to Portland in the Western Conference final first leg.
The goal was the first for the Uruguayan since October 17, and it came on his second shot on goal in three postseason matches.
In order for FC Dallas to come back in the second leg and take advantage of the away goal, Texeira must turn into a consistent contributor from the first minute on.
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.