MLS Player Rankings: Villa Rises over Crowded Field to Earn Top Spot
As the calendar flips from July to August and the races for the Supporters' Shield and the six playoff spots in each conference heat up, the league's top players are rounding into form.
After Week 21, seven players had a legitimate case to be the top man in the MLS Player Rankings. Four forwards in the Golden Boot race and three impressive midfielders who have played well for their respective sides were in consideration for the No. 1 spot.
Following a long process where the small details were considered, David Villa edged out Sebastian Giovinco and Robbie Keane for the top spot based on his form in front of net over the last month.
Our player rankings take into account form over the last four matches, with the player's most recent performance holding more stock than the other three.
Continue reading on to see who landed where in the MLS Player Rankings.
On the Way out
Due to some rough outings in Week 21 and consistent play from those entering the top 20, four players fell out of the MLS Player Rankings.
Players Who Dropped Out of Rankings
Sebastian Jaime (Real Salt Lake; Previous Ranking: 15)
Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers; 18)
Soni Mustivar (Sporting Kansas City; 19)
Ignacio Piatti (Montreal Impact; 20)
20. Darwin Ceren, CDM, Orlando City
Previous Ranking: Not Ranked
Despite coming out on the losing end of the 5-3 thriller at Yankee Stadium, Darwin Ceren still put in his normal work rate for Orlando City on Sunday.
The defensive midfielder made six tackles and six interceptions on the small pitch in the Bronx while only committing a pair of fouls.
The 25-year-old from El Salvador is fourth in the league with 3.8 tackles per match.
19. Kellyn Acosta, CDM, FC Dallas
Previous Ranking: Not Ranked
We all know FC Dallas has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to young prospects, and Kellyn Acosta drove that point home with his strong work on the club's third goal against Portland.
The goal was the second in two weeks for Acosta, who has formed a terrific combination at the pivot next to Victor Ulloa. The 20-year-old also contributed an assist in the 4-1 win over the Portland Timbers.
Since making the shift from left back, Acosta has handed the Hoops plenty of security in front of the back four, especially when the dynamic quartet of attackers in front of him gets caught on the counter.
18. Bradley Wright-Phillips, FW, New York Red Bulls
Previous Ranking: 14
Despite not playing in MLS this week, Bradley Wright-Phillips and the New York Red Bulls were busy on their home pitch.
After losing to the Philadelphia Union on penalties in the U.S. Open Cup, the Red Bulls defeated Chelsea and Benfica in the International Champions Cup.
When Wright-Phillips takes to the pitch on Saturday against Philadelphia, he will have the chance to play with his brother Shaun, who signed with the club on Monday, according to a Red Bulls press release.
17. Krisztian Nemeth, FW, Sporting Kansas City
Previous Ranking: 10
After contributing to a goal in each of the last three league contests, Krisztian Nemeth did not record a goal or an assist in Sporting Kansas City's 2-1 loss to Real Salt Lake on Friday.
In his 14th start of 2015, the Hungarian made just 33 touches and attempted a pair of shots against his side's top rival.
In Week 22, Nemeth will face a Houston side he scored against on April 25.
16. Matias Laba, CDM, Vancouver Whitecaps
Previous Ranking: Not Ranked
Before we say anything about Matias Laba, let's acknowledge the fact that he should have been on the list a long time ago.
The tenacious defensive-minded central midfielder continued his impressive form in Vancouver's 3-1 win over San Jose in the final match of the weekend.
After Week 21, Laba is the league leader in tackles with 5.3 per game, which is almost a full tackle better than Alvas Powell in second place.
15. Kendall Waston, CB, Vancouver Whitecaps
Previous Ranking: Not Ranked
The highest debutante this week is Vancouver center back Kendall Waston, who scored one of the three Whitecaps goals on Sunday at BC Place.
On top of his prowess in the box on set pieces, Waston is also a key presence in the back four for Carl Robinson's side.
Waston is averaging 7.5 clearances and 3.7 interceptions per game for a Whitecaps side that has won four of its last seven.
14. Matt Miazga, CB, New York Red Bulls
Previous Ranking: 12
Due to his club's commitments in other competitions this week, Matt Miazga was unable to extend his lead in two important statistical categories.
Entering Week 22, the United States U20 international leads MLS in aerials won per contest with 4.9 and clearances per match with eight.
13. Kaka, AM, Orlando City
Previous Ranking: 16
Kaka was one of a few living legends on the pitch at Yankee Stadium for New York City FC's 5-3 win over his Orlando side on Sunday.
In the defeat, the Brazilian dished out four key passes and an assist on one of Cyle Larin's three goals for the Lions.
The Brazilian mastermind will look to end the Lions' three-game losing streak on Saturday against a Columbus side susceptible to letting a few goals into the back of the net in key moments.
12. Juninho, CM, LA Galaxy
Previous Ranking: 11
While it may seem like the Galaxy took the week off because they were out of the headlines, they actually did play at BBVA Compass Stadium on Saturday.
In the 3-0 loss to Houston, Juninho did his best to create something through the engine room of midfield. The Brazilian made 89 touches and completed 86.7 percent of his passes in his side's first league loss since June 27.
Since Steven Gerrard has lined up in a more forward position since his arrival, Juninho still takes on the majority of the defensive pressure in the middle of the park. Once Gyasi Zardes returns from international duty, it will be interesting to see how Bruce Arena shapes his starting lineup.
11. Sebastian Lletget, LM, LA Galaxy
Previous Ranking: 9
Unfortunately for the Galaxy attack, Sebastian Lletget wasn't the only player who suffered from a rough night in the Texas heat.
The former West Ham United man attempted a single shot on target during his 90-minute shift on the left side of midfield.
Lletget and his teammates will get a chance to recover from the loss to Houston on Saturday against Colorado.
10. Fabian Castillo, LM, FC Dallas
Previous Ranking: 8
Keeping his name in the headlines during FC Dallas' five-game winning streak has been a difficult task in a crowded attack for Fabian Castillo.
In his 83 minutes on the field at Toyota Stadium, Castillo only took two shots and touched the ball 45 times.
Although he is still active in the Hoops' attack, Castillo has been overshadowed by Mauro Diaz and a few others since his three-match scoring run that ended July 4.
9. Javier Morales, CAM, Real Salt Lake
Previous Ranking: 17
The ageless wonder of MLS continued to work his magic for Real Salt Lake in Week 21.
Javier Morales produced a nice bit of skill on RSL's first goal of the 2-1 win over Sporting KC as he cut through the Sporting back line with ease in the 34th minute.
In addition to scoring his fifth strike of the season, Morales handed out three key passes and recorded a game high in touches with 92.
8. Laurent Ciman, CB, Montreal Impact
Previous Ranking: 13
The league's best defender at the moment secured three points for Montreal in the 88th minute of the Impact's 1-0 win over struggling Seattle.
Laurent Ciman's headed goal capped off a strong night at the back against a Sounders side that didn't put a shot on goal.
The 29-year-old ended the contest with five clearances, four interceptions and three aerials won.
7. Benny Feilhaber, CM, Sporting Kansas City
Previous Ranking: 4
Although he did score the lone Sporting KC goal of Week 21, Benny Feilhaber fell three spots due to his short 45-minute shift and the production of others ahead of him on the list.
To level the match with RSL, Feilhaber hit a beautiful shot from the middle of the pitch into the left side of the net. The goal was the seventh of the season for the 30-year-old.
As for those of you wondering about Feilhaber's United States men's national team stock, don't expect to see him in red, white and blue in September now that the friendlies against Peru and Brazil will be used as preparation for the one-game Confederations Cup play-off on October 9 against Mexico.
6. Mauro Diaz, CM, FC Dallas
Previous Ranking: 6
Very few midfielders are in better form than FC Dallas' Mauro Diaz right now.
The 24-year-old continued his destruction of opposing defenses on Saturday with four key passes and a goal from the spot against Portland.
Diaz will receive a chance to shine on the national stage in Week 22 as FC Dallas visits Chicago in the second game of the Sunday night doubleheader.
5. Kei Kamara, FW, Columbus Crew
Previous Ranking: 3
Before his defense let a three-goal lead slip away on Saturday, Kei Kamara nodded in his 15th goal of 2015 to open the scoring at Mapfre Stadium.
The Sierra Leone international finished off a quick game of head tennis in the box after he received a pass in the air from Federico Higuain in the 17th minute.
Despite scoring, his teammate's production and a two-goal showing from another forward forced Kamara down two spots after Week 21.
4. Ethan Finlay, RM, Columbus Crew
Previous Ranking: 5
For the third time this season, Ethan Finlay earned a goal and an assist in a Columbus Crew match.
In the 3-3 draw against Toronto, Finlay picked up his 12th assist of the season on Tony Tchani's 36th-minute goal. Eleven minutes later, the winger scored his seventh goal of the year from the right side of the box.
If Jurgen Klinsmann were to take a look at new players in September, Finlay would be a wise choice given his current form. It has to be noted Klinsmann handed Lee Nguyen an opportunity during his hot 2014 campaign.
3. Robbie Keane, FW, LA Galaxy
Previous Ranking: 1
To be fair to Robbie Keane, he can't score a hat-trick every single week.
Keane's mortal side appeared in Houston on Saturday as he only put one of his two attempts on goal in the defeat to the Dynamo.
The Republic of Ireland international, who scored three goals in each of his last two games prior to Week 21, has not played against Week 22 opponent Colorado since August 20, 2014, when he produced a goal and an assist.
2. Sebastian Giovinco, FW, Toronto FC
Previous Ranking: 2
Sebastian Giovinco may have only scored once against Columbus, but it was an absolute beauty of a strike.
The Atomic Ant started Toronto's three-goal comeback with a superb right-footed volley that bounced straight into the right side of the net.
The strike came on one of Giovinco's three shots on goal in the thrilling 3-3 draw at Mapfre Stadium. Through 19 matches, the Italian has scored 13 goals on 47 attempts on target.
1. David Villa, FW, New York City FC
Previous Ranking: 7
With Keane and Giovinco scoring at will recently, we have forgotten a bit about the exploits of David Villa up top for NYCFC.
Villa reminded us all not to forget about him in the Golden Boot discussion as he bagged a brace for NYCFC in the club's 5-3 win over Orlando City. The Spaniard also picked up his fourth assist of the year on Mix Diskerud's goal in stoppage time.
Villa has doubled his goal total from the end of the June thanks to a trio of two-goal performances in his club's last four contests.
Joe Tansey covers MLS for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @JTansey90.