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Let’s be frank: This Major League Soccer season has, to this point, been a bit of a drag.

The last few weekends have been better, and play will hopefully continue to improve. But goals have been down, most of the contenders have displayed notable flaws and defense has trumped offense more often than not.

That pall has caused the rare outbursts of skill to shine all the more brightly. Like Clint Dempsey’s backheel assist to Obafemi Martins in Yankee Stadium on Sunday, or Sebastian Giovinco jitterbugging through a static back line.

Like Fabian Castillo’s continued transition from a inconsistent winger of unrefined skill into one of the most feared attackers in MLS.

Few players in the league create something out of nothing quite as spectacularly as the 22-year-old FC Dallas winger, can turn a well-marked three-man trap into a broken pile of defenders strewn around the box.

Castillo was at it again on Friday night in Houston in the first Texas derby of the season. He notched a pair of assists and bagged the game-clinching goal himself, flicking the ball over Dynamo goalkeeper Tyler Deric and inside the back post to set the final score at 4-1.

“I think the most remarkable part of his game tonight is the way he worked defensively,” FCD coach Oscar Pareja said in his post-match press conference. “Fabian will score goals and he will (have) assists naturally, because that’s his talent. But now he’s learning how to play for his team. As happy as we are with the goals and with the assists, what I saw on the field today for Fabian defensively is amazing.”

Castillo already has four goals and five assists through nine games. He scored a career-high 10 goals last season, but faded down the stretch after battling through a series of injuries. He inked a new five-year deal this offseason and, so far, has more than lived up to it.

Castillo, at his best, is a player whose game is full of joy. The league could use more of it.

– D.C. United picked up another impressive result as it downed Columbus 2-0 at home on Saturday to improve its points per game average to 2.13, best in the league.

Pure DCU, the win against the Crew wasn’t all that resounding. Columbus outshot the hosts 14-10 and had nearly 57 percent of the possession. But D.C. will take the points. It has fought through injuries and uninspired halves of play to take 17 points from its first eight games.

United is unbeaten in six and is off to best eight-game start in club history.

“First and foremost, I liked our attitude,” forward Chris Rolfe told the Washington Post. “We haven’t necessarily shown the best attitude the first couple home games. The commitment was there from us. It set the tone for the game.”

– Speaking of grit before style, Sporting Kansas City recorded its fourth shutout in nine games when it blanked Chicago on Sunday. Jalil Anibaba assisted Paulo Nagamura for the game’s only goal as SKC picked up a 1-0 victory.

Kansas City’s attack has looked occasionally stagnant, and Benny Feilhaber has been a more consistent threat than Designated Player and U.S. men’s national team regular Graham Zusi.

But with the win and on the back of its steady defense, Sporting continues to keep pace in the Western Conference. It is even with L.A. on 13 points through nine games.

– Goal of the week: Obafemi Martins, Seattle. The build-up on the Sounders’ third goal was too good not to get the nod. 18 passes, innumerable flicks and one killer no-look feed from Clint Dempsey sent Martins through to net his league-high six goal of the season.

– Games to watch this coming week: Los Angeles at Salt Lake (Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. PST on MLS Live), New England at Orlando (Friday at 5 p.m. on UniMas Deportes), New York City FC at New York Red Bulls (Sunday at 4 p.m. on Fox Sports 1).

– Updated league standings courtesy of MLSSoccer.com: