MLS Player Rankings: Kamara, Giovinco Fight for Top Spot, Finlay Rises
With a plethora of attacking stars shining on a weekly basis in Major League Soccer, choosing the top player in our weekly MLS Player Rankings is no easy task.
After Week 17, two worthy contenders had reasonable cases to claim the No. 1 position. The closest race for the top spot this season was eventually determined by production in front of the net over the last seven days.
On top of the battle for No. 1, a few rising stars of the league surged up the rankings based on their recent production, while a few guys finally made their worthy debuts on the list of the top 20 players in MLS for their body of work and great play this week.
Continue reading to see who earned spots in the latest MLS Player Rankings.
On the Way Out
Red cards and a lack of activity up top cost four players their respective spots in the latest list of the league's 20 best players.
Players Dropped Out of Rankings
David Accam (Chicago Fire; Previous Ranking: 12)
Javier Morales (Real Salt Lake; 17)
Fabian Espindola (D.C. United; 18)
Liam Ridgewell (Portland Timbers; 20)
20. Matt Miazga, CB, New York Red Bulls
Previous Ranking: Not Ranked
Matt Miazga announced to the entire league he is ready to take the next step in the developmental process in Sunday night's Hudson River derby against New York City FC.
The United States U20 international, who struggled at times last season, has earned the trust of New York Red Bulls boss Jesse Marsch and is thriving in his starting role.
Fans outside of New York witnessed Miazga's strong play in the 3-1 victory as he helped shut down David Villa, and he scored the club's final goal on a header at the far post.
19. Darlington Nagbe, AM, Portland Timbers
Previous Ranking: Not Ranked
If you pay attention to only statistics, you can sometimes lose track of a player's influence on his team.
That statement applies to Darlington Nagbe, who caught everyone's attention on Sunday with a goal and an assist against the Sounders.
Despite having one goal and three assists through 18 matches, Nagbe has been a massive part of the Portland attack all season, thanks to his incisive runs and stellar passing ability.
18. C.J. Sapong, FW, Philadelphia Union
Previous Ranking: Not Ranked
Raise your hand if you were aware of C.J. Sapong's dominance up top for the Philadelphia Union recently.
Now go ahead and put it down because you are probably lying if you are outside of Philadelphia.
Sapong's production in the goal department in the last seven games has flown far under the radar. The former Sporting Kansas City man has netted five strikes since returning to the Union lineup on May 24.
On top of that, Sapong notched his second assist of the season on Saturday in Philadelphia's 2-2 draw with Montreal on Eric Ayuk's opener.
17. Juninho, CM, LA Galaxy
Previous Ranking: Not Ranked
The LA Galaxy's blazing-hot run of form may have been cut short on Saturday by the San Jose Earthquakes, but Juninho's current personal run did not slow down.
The 26-year-old Brazilian midfielder scored for the third consecutive game in the 17th minute of the 3-1 defeat at Stanford Stadium.
The offensive spurt came at the perfect time for Juninho, who may end up in a more defensive-minded role in the coming weeks with Steven Gerrard entering the fray.
Because of Gerrard's attacking prowess, his new central midfield partner may see his chances limited in the final third as the two adjust to playing next to each other.
16. Charlie Davies, FW, New England Revolution
Previous Ranking: 9
A combination of zero shots on goal in 135 minutes in Week 17 and a few big risers in the rankings dropped Charlie Davies seven spots this week.
In his last six games, Davies has put two of his three shots on target into the back of the net. But the problem is he's only recorded three shots on goal in his last 462 minutes of action.
The Revolution as a whole are also struggling at the moment, as they have one win since May 2.
15. Will Bruin, FW, Houston Dynamo
Previous Ranking: 7
Another scorer of seven goals experienced a similar drop to the one of Davies because of the same issue.
Since the Houston Dynamo returned from a 15-day break, Will Bruin has failed to attempt a single shot in two matches.
Something will need to change soon for Bruin since Giles Barnes leaves to play for Jamaica at the Gold Cup this week.
14. Laurent Ciman, CB, Montreal Impact
Previous Ranking: 11
Even the best defenders in the league have rough weeks.
That is exactly what happened to Laurent Ciman in Week 17, but to be fair, everyone seems to be struggling with Sebastian Giovinco at the moment.
In the 27th minute of Montreal's 4-1 derby loss to Toronto on Wednesday, Giovinco torched Ciman on the right wing before passing the ball to Michael Bradley, who finished with a goal.
As a reward for losing to Toronto's three in-form designated players, Ciman had to play 90 minutes in awful weather at PPL Park on Saturday.
Ciman's job will not get any easier in Week 18 as David Villa and NYCFC come to Stade Saputo on Saturday.
13. Steve Birnbaum, CB, D.C. United
Previous Ranking: 15
It doesn't come as a total shock that the one team to hold Toronto FC to a minimal threat up top this week was D.C. United.
Steve Birnbaum and the D.C. defense limited the Reds to three shots on target in the 0-0 draw at BMO Field. That performance came three days after the defensive unit conceded one shot on goal against Chicago.
Thanks to its impressive recent defensive output, D.C. sits atop the Supporters' Shield standings with 35 points. It is the only Eastern Conference team in the top eight right now.
12. Michael Bradley, CM, Toronto FC
Previous Ranking: 14
Michael Bradley left the United States men's national team fans in awe on Wednesday with his superb ball to Jozy Altidore in the 56th minute of Toronto's win over Montreal.
We're sure Toronto FC supporters were amazed by one of the best passes of the season too, but Bradley's immediate goal is winning the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup with the USMNT.
With Bradley and Altidore out of the squad for close to a month, Toronto's depth will be tested. If the likes of Collen Warner and Robbie Findley can add quality minutes in place of the American stars, the Reds will be in good hands during the stretch run.
11. Matias Perez Garcia, CAM, San Jose Earthquakes
Previous Ranking: 19
Matias Perez Garcia has powered the San Jose Earthquakes to two wins over the top franchises in the Western Conference in the last two weeks.
After tearing apart a depleted Sounders defense in Week 16, Perez Garcia starred in the California Clasico against the LA Galaxy in Week 17.
The two victories have suddenly pushed the Earthquakes within one point of the final playoff place in the West. Next up for the Earthquakes is a Sunday clash with Portland, which is third in the West after a recent surge.
10. Krisztian Nemeth, FW, Sporting Kansas City
Previous Ranking: 16
Krisztian Nemeth scored his seventh goal of the season on his seventh shot on target in 2015 in Sporting Kansas City's 2-0 win over Colorado.
"I had the luck to find a good space to the goal. Wait, not lucky. It was a good shot," Nemeth remarked about his 32nd-minute goal to Sam McDowell of the Kansas City Star.
The goal helped Sporting KC stay above FC Dallas and San Jose in the race for the final two playoff spots in the West. The club that shifted conferences before the 2015 season will need to see more production out of Nemeth to remain above sixth place.
9. Omar Gonzalez, CB, LA Galaxy
Previous Ranking: 5
Omar Gonzalez and the LA Galaxy defense conceded three goals for only the second time this season in Saturday's loss to San Jose.
And since most of us see Orlando City's 4-0 thumping of the Galaxy as a game that didn't really count in the Galaxy's eyes because of their depleted lineup, Saturday marked the highest number of strikes let in by the first-team defense.
While we may not have to worry too much about the LA back four in the long term, one has to wonder how they will perform with Gonzalez at the Gold Cup.
8. Octavio Rivero, FW, Vancouver Whitecaps
Previous Ranking: 10
Octavio Rivero finally broke his dry spell in front of goal on Saturday in the 31st minute of Vancouver's 2-1 win over New England.
The Uruguayan marksman, who opened the season with five goals in six games, recorded his seventh tally of the season from the spot after a controversial call saw Andrew Farrell get sent off.
Rivero should be grinning with joy all week in preparation for the Whitecaps' trip to Colorado in Week 18. The Rapids have been exposed at the back on numerous occasions this season, including in Saturday's loss to Sporting KC.
7. Chris Wondolowski, FW, San Jose Earthquakes
Previous Ranking: 8
All of the momentum in the California Clasico shifted to the side of the Earthquakes in the 28th minute, when Chris Wondolowski slammed home his ninth goal of the season.
Wondolowski connected perfectly with a Perez Garcia cross as he moved from left to right in the box to equalize the rivalry showdown.
San Jose went on to score two more goals in the contest, which was Wondolowski's final league match before leaving for the Gold Cup.
6. Ethan Finlay, RM, Columbus Crew
Previous Ranking: 13
With his assist in the 42nd minute of Columbus' 2-2 draw at Real Salt Lake, Ethan Finlay became the first player to hit double digits in the stat category.
Finlay's impressive numbers have flown under the radar a bit due to the Crew's lack of positive results in recent weeks, but no matter what the final score has been, the winger has delivered.
In addition to earning his 10th assist on Saturday, Finlay netted his third goal of the year. Since the start of the 2014 season, Finlay has 14 goals and 17 assists.
5. David Villa, FW, New York City FC
Previous Ranking: 1
The top forward in the NYCFC ranks disappointed in the first-ever Hudson River derby at Yankee Stadium.
In front of the boisterous blue support at the expansion side's home ground, Villa challenged Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles with one of his six shots.
The lack of efficiency up top was shocking for the Spaniard given his recent form. In the four games leading up to Sunday's contest, Villa had 23 shots, 12 of which were on goal.
4. Benny Feilhaber, CM, Sporting Kansas City
Previous Ranking: 4
Just like he has for most of the season, Benny Feilhaber commanded the Sporting KC midfield in front of the home supporters at Sporting Park on Saturday.
Feilhaber was third on the team in touches with 60, and he made two key passes in the club's seventh win of 2015.
Despite recording an assist in each of his last two games, Feilhaber is still one shy of Finlay in the race to be the league's top passer, which should be competitive until the final day of the season.
3. Fabian Castillo, AM, FC Dallas
Previous Ranking: 6
Fabian Castillo proved on Friday night why he can be one of the top five players in the league when at his best on a regular basis.
The dynamic Colombian was an absolute menace on the wing in FC Dallas' 2-0 Texas derby win over Houston at Toyota Stadium.
His best piece of skill came in the 42nd minute, when he played a clever give-and-go with Mauro Diaz before slotting the ball past Tyler Deric. Nine minutes earlier, Castillo forced an own goal by Jermaine Taylor, with a shot from the left side of the box.
2. Sebastian Giovinco, FW, Toronto FC
Previous Ranking: 2
If Giovinco netted a goal from the run of play in Week 17, he would've reclaimed the No. 1 position. The Italian only scored once this week from the spot in Toronto's win over Montreal.
The former Juventus player turned in one of the most impressive attacking stat lines for a single week in league history, as he recorded 22 shots, eight attempts on target, a goal and an assist. In Wednesday's match against Montreal, Giovinco took 13 of Toronto's 20 shots.
Even though Giovinco dazzled during his 178 minutes on the pitch against the Impact and D.C. United, he wasn't as successful in front of the net as our new No. 1 player.
1. Kei Kamara, FW, Columbus Crew
Previous Ranking: 3
Kei Kamara tops this list for having a massive impact on his team by producing in the final third.
The Sierra Leone international scored both of the Crew's goals at home versus the Revolution and added an assist in the draw with RSL.
Thanks to his brace on Wednesday, Kamara eclipsed his previous single-season high for goals in MLS, which came back in 2012 when he scored 11 for Sporting KC.
Entering the fifth month of play in 2015, Kamara leads the Golden Boot race with 12 goals, which is three more than Wondolowski in second place.
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.