MLS Player Rankings: Dominant Red Bulls Duo Work Their Way to the Top

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistAugust 16, 2016

MLS Player Rankings: Dominant Red Bulls Duo Work Their Way to the Top

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    Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

    One of the best attacking duos in Major League Soccer features Sacha Kljestan and Bradley Wright-Phillips of the New York Red Bulls.

    In recent weeks, the midfielder and forward have dazzled with their skills in the final third and climbed up the league goal and assist charts, respectively. Thanks to their recent displays for Jesse Marsch's side, both players are high up in the Bleacher Report MLS Player Rankings after Week 23.

    Our player rankings take into account the last four performances, with the most recent carrying the most importance.

    Continue reading to see which players landed where in our latest MLS Player Rankings. 

On the Way Out

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    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    A few rough outings combined with a less-than-impressive collection of statistics over the last month forced these four players out of the top 20 after Week 23. 

    Players Dropped from Rankings

    Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy; Previous Ranking: 14) 

    Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers; 17) 

    Thomas McNamara (New York City FC; 18) 

    Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas; 19) 

20. Kevin Molino, AM, Orlando City

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    Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

    Previous Ranking: 15

    Kevin Molino's stats from the last month kept him in the top 20 for one more week.

    The Trinidad and Tobago international has played 26 minutes in the last two Orlando City games due to an injury, but his last four games have been impressive, unlike the players who dropped off the list after Week 23. 

    Molino has three goals and three assists in his last four contests, and we expect him to continue that form once he fully recovers. 

    In addition to Molino's hot run of form recently, the Lions are starting to get contributions every week from Cyle Larin and Kaka. The massive, three-headed monster of Molino, Larin and Kaka in attack could help Orlando sneak into the sixth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. 

19. Axel Sjoberg, CB, Colorado Rapids

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    Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

    Previous Ranking: 13 

    A week after preserving their perfect home record, the Colorado Rapids picked up a vital road point at StubHub Center against the LA Galaxy. 

    Axel Sjoberg and the Rapids defense conceded six shots on target against a dangerous Galaxy attack that was unable to significantly test Tim Howard for the entire match. 

    The draw was the sixth on the road in 2016 for Pablo Mastroeni's side, and more importantly, it moved the Rapids within three points of FC Dallas in the race for the top spot in the Western Conference and the Supporters' Shield standings. 

    Colorado still has a grip on the best defensive record in the league, as it has let in 20 goals in 23 matches. Only five other teams have given up less than 30 strikes. 

18. Kaka, AM, Orlando City

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    Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

    Previous Ranking: Not Ranked

    Kaka may not have been in the spotlight over the last few months, but he's finally working his way into impressive form at the right time for Orlando City. 

    The 34-year-old Brazilian produced one of his best showings of 2016 in the Lions' 2-2 draw with the Chicago Fire on Sunday, picking up a goal and an assist. 

    Sunday marked just the third time this season Kaka has played a role in more than one Orlando goal in a game. The last one came on May 21 against Montreal, when he handed out two assists. 

    In addition to his output on Sunday, Kaka recorded an assist in the two previous matches to move his season total up to eight. He also has four goals in 2016. 

17. Jordan Morris, FW, Seattle Sounders

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Previous Ranking: Not Ranked

    The Rookie of the Year award appears to be Jordan Morris' to lose during the final two-and-a-half months of the season.

    Morris has broken out over the last two weeks with one goal and two assists in 173 minutes of play, including his tally in Seattle's Week 23 win over Real Salt Lake. 

    The uptick in form has been helped by the addition of Nicolas Lodeiro to the Seattle lineup. With Lodeiro playing in a central role, Morris and Clint Dempsey have been able to work into more space to create scoring opportunities. 

    Expect to see Morris' goals and assists totals rise in the coming weeks as the Sounders make a desperate chase for the postseason. 

16. Dom Dwyer, FW, Sporting Kansas City

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    Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

    Previous Ranking: Not Ranked 

    Two near-identical stat lines have put Dom Dwyer back into the top 20 halfway through August. 

    Dwyer bagged his second brace in four games on Saturday in Sporting Kansas City's 2-2 draw with FC Dallas at Toyota Stadium. The strikes came five minutes apart for the 26-year-old, who was scoring sporadically before his two-goal performance against Seattle on July 24. 

    As long as Dwyer continues to create chances in the final third for Sporting, they should remain far from the red line as they look to lock down a playoff place. 

15. Chris Pontius, LM, Philadelphia Union

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    Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

    Previous Ranking: Not Ranked

    If someone asked you who the top-scoring American in MLS is at this point in the season, Chris Pontius wouldn't be your first or 10th answer.

    The Philadelphia Union midfielder has quietly recorded a tally of 10 strikes, the latest one of which came in the Union's blowout win over the Revolution on Saturday. 

    Pontius has climbed up the list of top American scorers in the league thanks to four goals in his last five matches. 

    The 29-year-old's career high for goals in MLS is 12 with D.C. United in 2012. Now that he's finally healthy for an entire season, Pontius should eclipse that number before the end of the regular season. 

14. Javier Morales, CAM, Real Salt Lake

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    Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

    Previous Ranking: 9

    Real Salt Lake's terrific form of late was halted by the surging Sounders on Sunday night at CenturyLink Field. 

    In the 2-1 defeat to Seattle, Javier Morales dished out five key passes, but none of the handouts were able to produce a goal. The lone strike for the Claret and Cobalt came off hard work from Yura Movsisyan. 

    Morales and his fellow attackers will have to improve their collective performance in the coming weeks in order to remain near the top of the Western Conference standings. 

    RSL's next three contests come at home against their three direct competitors for the top spot in the West, starting with a matchup versus FC Dallas on Saturday. 

13. Marlon Hairston, AM, Colorado Rapids

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    Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

    Previous Ranking: 8

    Marlon Hairston is a victim of other top performances this week, as he falls five spots despite picking up an assist in Colorado's 1-1 draw with the Galaxy.

    The 22-year-old, who has three goals and three assists in 2016, fell due to the larger impacts made by others above him on the top 20. 

    Hairston's handout on Shkelzen Gashi's 51st-minute opener gave the Rapids a one-goal advantage for 11 minutes until Giovani dos Santos equalized for the hosts. 

    The midfielder will look to continue his strong run of form on Saturday in his first contest against Orlando City. 

12. Mauro Diaz, AM, FC Dallas

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    Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

    Previous Ranking: 12 

    Mauro Diaz had an off night by his standards in FC Dallas' home draw with Sporting KC. 

    The 25-year-old Argentinian made 58 touches, but only handed out one key pass in the four-goal contest. 

    The inactivity in attack from Diaz was a rare performance in 2016 as he's usually been able to carve up an opposing defense for a few quality chances. 

    Diaz has a goal and an assist in his last four games and a pair of two-assist showings before that stretch. He'll need to replicate those numbers down the stretch as Oscar Pareja's men look to hold on to the top spot in the Western Conference. 

11. Maximiliano Urruti, FW, FC Dallas

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    Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

    Previous Ranking: 20

    Maximiliano Urruti opened his August account with his fourth goal in four starts for the top team in the Supporters' Shield standings. 

    Urruti's goal on Saturday came in the 76th minute on a bicycle kick from close range near the left post after the ball bounced off the crossbar and back into play. 

    The strike was the seventh of the season for the FC Dallas player, whose current career high in goals in MLS is 10 with the Portland Timbers in 2014. 

    Given his current form and the playmakers behind him, Urruti should join the growing group in the double-digit goal column sooner rather than later. 

10. Cyle Larin, FW, Orlando City

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    Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

    Previous Ranking: 11

    Larin continued to be one of the hottest scorers in the league in Week 23, knocking in his 12th goal of the season against Chicago. 

    The tally was the fourth in five matches for the 21-year-old Canadian forward, with three of the four strikes coming against Eastern Conference opposition. 

    Only two of Larin's 12 strikes have come against Western Conference foes, which bodes well for the club as they chase down a playoff spot. 

    Larin will have the rare chance to improve against the West in 2016 when the Lions visit Colorado on Saturday. 

9. Ignacio Piatti, CM, Montreal Impact

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    Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

    Previous Ranking: 10

    The first strike for Ignacio Piatti in three matches came in the 21st minute of the Impact's defeat to the New York Red Bulls. 

    In his previous two contests, the 31-year-old only put one shot on target in 180 minutes of action against D.C. and Houston. 

    Despite providing a goal, Piatti and the Impact dropped points in the tight Eastern Conference playoff hunt and now sit fifth on 33 points through 23 matches. 

    Piatti should be able to create a scoring run in Week 24 when Montreal plays the lowly Fire at Stade Saputo. 

8. Matt Hedges, CB, FC Dallas

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    Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

    Previous Ranking: 5

    Three days after helping FC Dallas earn a spot in the U.S. Open Cup final with a win over the LA Galaxy, Matt Hedges produced a decent performance against Sporting Kansas City. 

    Hedges made seven interceptions and three clearances in the 2-2 draw with Peter Vermes' side at Toyota Stadium. 

    The 26-year-old American is averaging 4.1 interceptions and clearances per game for the top team in MLS. 

7. Ola Kamara, FW, Columbus Crew

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    Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

    Previous Ranking: 4

    Ola Kamara came up short in the goals department for the second consecutive week in Columbus' entertaining affair with NYCFC. 

    To make matters worse for the 10-goal scorer, he did not produce a single shot on target in the contest at Mapfre Stadium. 

    The 26-year-old will look to end his two-game scoring rut on Saturday at Gillette Stadium when the Crew face former forward Kei Kamara and the New England Revolution. 

6. Nicolas Lodeiro, CM, Seattle Sounders

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    Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

    Previous Ranking: 16

    Lodeiro has the potential to be one of the best signings ever in MLS.

    The Uruguayan designated player has been the main reason for Seattle's current resurgence, which has brought the club within five points of sixth-place Portland, which the Sounders play twice in the next month. 

    Since his arrival in Seattle, Lodeiro has contributed one goal and three assists, and he's also been able to open up space in the final third for Morris and Dempsey. 

    If Lodeiro continues to make a significant impact on the Sounders attack, he could turn out to be as important a signing to the league as Sebastian Giovinco.

5. Steven Gerrard, CM, LA Galaxy

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    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    Previous Ranking: 7

    Steven Gerrard is turning into the assist king in the LA Galaxy attack. 

    The 36-year-old former Liverpool man has provided his teammates with four assists over the last three matches, including one in the draw with Colorado on Saturday. 

    Thanks to his recent play in midfield for Bruce Arena's side, Gerrard has moved into a tie for second on the MLS assist chart alongside Giovinco. 

    It's unlikely Gerrard will catch Sacha Kljestan at the top of the chart, but he has a good chance of finishing in the top three of the category if he thrives more in the middle of the park. 

4. Bradley Wright-Phillips, FW, New York Red Bulls

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    Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

    Previous Ranking: 6

    It might be time to place Wright-Phillips' name in the Most Valuable Player discussion. 

    The New York Red Bulls forward extended his excellent form to five goals in four matches on Saturday. Four of those tallies have come on a pair of braces, including the one he notched against Montreal to become the all-time leading scorer in franchise history. 

    The 31-year-old Englishman is now one goal behind David Villa and Giovinco in the Golden Boot race and has a true chance of winning the award for the second time in three years. 

3. Frank Lampard, CM, New York City FC

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    Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

    Previous Ranking: 3

    One of the six goals netted in NYCFC's wild, six-goal fiasco with Columbus was netted by Frank Lampard

    The 38-year-old moved one goal away from double digits in the scoring column with his 41st-minute strike at Mapfre Stadium on Saturday. 

    Lampard's form has been a revelation for Patrick Vieira's men since the Copa America Centenario break ended, as all nine of his strikes have come during that time. 

    The first-place side in the East will have a big task on its hands in Week 24 when the Galaxy visit Yankee Stadium on Saturday. 

2. Sebastian Giovinco, FW, Toronto FC

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    Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

    Previous Ranking: 1

    Giovinco may not have added to his goal tally after his three-goal performance against New England, but he was able to distribute an assist in Toronto's 1-1 draw with the Houston Dynamo. 

    The Italian's 11st assist of the season came on Jozy Altidore's 24th-minute equalizer at BBVA Compass Stadium. 

    Giovinco's totals should increase even more as Altidore works his way back to full fitness for the Reds. Altidore's presence on the field should open up more space for Giovinco to work in and score as Toronto chases the top spot in the Eastern Conference. 

1. Sacha Kljestan, CM, New York Red Bulls

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    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    Previous Ranking: 2

    There's no question who the best American in MLS is right now. 

    Sacha Kljestan has been playing out of his mind since the start of the 2016 campaign and is one of two Red Bulls who deserve MVP consideration. 

    The latest example of the midfielder's exceptional presence on the ball came on the first Red Bulls goal against the Impact, as he threaded a perfect pass through the middle of the pitch to Wright-Phillips. 

    Kljestan is the league leader in assists with 14, and there's a solid chance he'll move over the 20-assist mark before the regular season concludes. 

               

    Joe Tansey covers MLS for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @JTansey90.

    All statistics obtained from MLSSoccer.com and WhoScored.com

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