5. Edgar Castillo (Monterrey)
Not even a broken nose suffered in training could keep Edgar Castillo out of a playoff match. While he didn't start the first leg of Monterrey's Liguilla Quarterfinal match vs. Tigres, he came off the bench at halftime sporting a protective face mask. With the Rayados protecting a 2-1 lead, Castillo helped seal the deal in the 84th minute:
Castillo's assist gave Monterrey a more comfortable two goal margin heading into the second leg. Monterrey would go on to a 4-3 aggregate win, advancing to a Semifinal clash this week vs. 4th place Club America. Castillo will report to USMNT camp for Copa America Centenario at the conclusion of the Liguilla.
4. Haji Wright (Schalke U19s)
His path to Europe may have been non-traditional, but Haji Wright is off to a soaring start since signing with Schalke last month. Last week Wright scored two goals for Schalke's U19s in a 5-0 win in the semifinals of the Westphalia Cup. He hit the ground running a month ago with a brace in his debut, and now has five goals in his first five games.
Last weekend Schalke's senior team clinched direct passage to the 2016-17 Europa League Group Stage. Could we see yet another American in European competition next season? If Haji Wright continues to bang in goals at the youth level, opportunities with the first team might follow a lot sooner than expected.
3. Bob Bradley (Le Havre)
Entering the final day of play in Ligue 2, Le Havre needed a miracle combination of results to earn promotion to Ligue 1. And they very nearly pulled it off.
Bob Bradley's club sat 4th on the league table with one game to play. They would not only need to win their own match, but hope for a Metz loss AND overturn a goal differential of 6. A tall motivational task for any manager, to be sure.
Metz did its part by losing 1-0 at Lens. Meanwhile, Bradley's side got off to an early lead, then benefitted from a 35' Bourg red card. They were then off to the races. Le Havre would pour in five goals, and desperately pushed for a sixth that wouldn't come, winning 5-0. The result left the two clubs level on points and level on goal differential. The second tiebreaker, goals scored, would be in Metz's favor. Le Havre had fallen one goal short.
Le Havre's supporters, however, were buoyed by the spirited performance. Fans streamed on to the pitch after the game, chanting and singing to thank the team for its effort. Despite falling short of the goal of promotion, a great moment for both Bob Bradley and Le Havre:
2. DeAndre Yedlin (Sunderland)
Sunderland will live on yet another season in the Premier League.
Just a few weeks ago, things began to look bleaker for the Black Cats, as a surging Newcastle United had gained the inside track on survival. Last week's shocking Sunderland upset vs. Chelsea had flipped that script. That result presented the opportunity to clinch at the Stadium of Light vs. Everton.
The home side prevailed 3-0 in convincing fashion, thanks again in no small part to American right back DeAndre Yedlin. Yedlin's improved play in recent months had long since locked down the starting job. Another superb effort would help keep a clean sheet for Sunderland, securing the club's short-term future in the top flight. The final moments, as you'd expect, featured an outpouring of emotion for both players and supporters alike:
It remains to be seen whether Yedlin returns to SAFC this fall. Sunderland will attempt to secure a permanent transfer. Yedlin, meanwhile, will consider his options after Copa America, which could be considerable with another strong performance in a high profile tournament.
1. Tim Howard (Everton)
Tim Howard said goodbye to Goodison Park this past weekend. On Sunday he started his final match for Everton, marking the end of a stellar ten years at the club. Later this summer, he'll suit up for the Colorado Rapids as he begins the next chapter in his storied career. On this day, he'd both go out on a winning note and reach a significant milestone in a 3-0 win vs. Norwich City.
Howard's 132nd clean sheet tied Brad Friedel for most shutouts by an American goalkeeper in the Premier League. It somehow seems fitting that the two will remain forever linked sharing that mark.
The day was one filled with heightened emotions for all. After the match, Everton honored Howard with an on-field tribute. Howard addressed the crowd and fought back tears as he thanked the club and supporters:
Copa America awaits, with the USMNT starting role very much unsettled. At age 37, it seems probable that this could be Tim Howard's final major tournament for the United States. If Howard has another 2014 left in him, it'll be one to remember.