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MLS Player Rankings Week 29: Frederic Brillant, Ike Opara lead defensive-heavy list

In addition to anchoring a defensive unit that hasn’t conceded a goal in 324 minutes, Frederic Brillant scored in D.C. United’s 2-0 win over the Seattle Sounders Sunday.

Sep 22, 2019; Washington, DC, USA; D.C. United defender Frederic Brillant (13) celebrates with supporters after D.C. UnitedÕs game against Seattle Sounders at Audi Field. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Defenders often don’t get the love they deserve. 

That changes for the Week 29 edition of the Pro Soccer USA Major League Soccer Player Rankings. 

Six defenders and one goalkeeper are on the list because of their tremendous form, most of whom are building that up with the playoffs on the horizon. 

Some of the defenders listed have not been discussed on the national level yet, but have been key pieces in their respective setups to clinch playoff berths. 

At the top, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Josef Martinez and Carlos Vela are still jockeying for the No. 1 spot. All three of the league’s top forwards scored in Week 29. 

Our MLS Player Rankings take into account a player’s performance over the last four weeks, with the most-recent one carrying more weight.

20. Alexandru Mitrita, M, New York City FC 

Previous Ranking: 9

Sep 14, 2019; New York, NY, USA; New York City FC forward Alexandru Mitrita (28) plays the ball against San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Tommy Thompson (22) during the first half at Yankee Stadium. (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

Alexandru Mitrita was unable to hit the 10-goal mark Sunday in New York City FC’s 1-1 draw with FC Dallas. 

The Romanian got off a single shot on goal for a side that totaled four attempts on target at Toyota Stadium. 

A return home to face Atlanta United and Heber’s comeback from injury should help the 24-year-old reach double digits before the end of the regular season. 

19. Jack Price, M, Colorado Rapids

Previous Ranking: Not Ranked

Sep 7, 2019; Commerce City, CO, USA; Colorado Rapids midfielder Jack Price (19) corner kicks in the first half against the Seattle Sounders at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. (Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

While no one has been paying attention to Colorado, Jack Price has racked up assists. 

The 26-year-old Englishman provided a pair of helpers in Colorado’s come-from-behind victory over Sporting Kansas City. 

With three assists in his last two starts, Price is up to 11 assists, which puts him a tie for eighth in MLS alongside Alejandro Pozuelo and Nicolas Gaitan. 

18. Kyle Duncan, D, New York Red Bulls

Previous Ranking: Not Ranked

Jul 17, 2019; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; New York Red Bulls defender Kyle Duncan (6) dribbles the ball against Toronto FC during the first half at BMO Field. (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Kyle Duncan impressed in the New York Red Bulls’ pair of 2-0 victories over Portland and Philadelphia. 

The 22-year-old right back scored in the third minute at Providence Park Wednesday and contributed four tackles and two interceptions.

On Sunday versus Philadelphia, Duncan made four clearances and two interceptions while clogging up the flanks for the Union, who could not get out of first gear. 

17. Miles Robinson, D, Atlanta United

Previous Ranking: 20 

May 5, 2019; Kansas City, KS, USA; Atlanta United defender Miles Robinson (12) moves the ball during the match against Sporting Kansas City at Children’s Mercy Park. (Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)

May 5, 2019; Kansas City, KS, USA; Atlanta United defender Miles Robinson (12) moves the ball during the match against Sporting Kansas City at Children’s Mercy Park. (Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)

Atlanta United jumped into second place in the Eastern Conference by outscoring San Jose and FC Cincinnati by a combined 5-1. 

In the midweek triumph over the expansion side, Miles Robinson won six aerial duels while holding Ron Jans’ side to two shots on goal. 

On Saturday, the Five Stripes held the Quakes to a pair of attempts on target. In the last 270 minutes, they have conceded twice. 

16. Justin Meram, M, Atlanta United

Previous Ranking: Not Ranked

Jun 29, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta United forward Justin Meram (14) reacts after scoring his second goal of the match against the Montreal Impact during the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)

Jun 29, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta United forward Justin Meram (14) reacts after scoring his second goal of the match against the Montreal Impact during the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)

Justin Meram has provided balance to the Atlanta United midfield.

The former Columbus and Orlando midfielder has been a key piece of the six wins since the start of August that have landed the Five Stripes four points back of first-place NYCFC. 

In the win over San Jose, the 30-year-old scored his fourth goal of the season.

15. Omar Gonzalez, D, Toronto FC 

Previous Ranking: Not Ranked

Aug 24, 2019; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto FC Omar Gonzalez (44) passes the ball against the Montreal Impact at BMO Field. (Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports)

You haven’t heard Omar Gonzalez talked about much since return to MLS. 

That’s a good thing for Toronto FC since center backs are not supposed to be the center of attention. 

The former LA Galaxy man has helped the Reds secure road points at NYCFC and LAFC. Greg Vanney’s side has an eight-game unbeaten run in league play and is in contention to secure a home playoff game through the No. 4 seed. 

14. Ike Opara, D, Minnesota United

Previous Ranking: 18 

Sep 11, 2019; Houston, TX, USA; Minnesota United defender Ike Opara (3) controls the ball as Houston Dynamo midfielder Tomas Martinez (10) defends during the second half at BBVA Compass Stadium. (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)

Ike Opara added to his Defensive Player of the Year resume by playing a role in shutting out Portland Sunday. 

Unfortunately, Opara missed the second half with stomach issues, but the Loons hope he is ready for Wednesday’s home meeting with Sporting KC. 

Minnesota holds a two-point advantage over Real Salt Lake in the fight for a home postseason contest. 

13. Jordan Morris, F, Seattle Sounders

Previous Ranking: 8

Sep 18, 2019; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Sounders FC forward Jordan Morris (13) dribbles against FC Dallas during the second half at CenturyLink Field. (Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports)

Jordan Morris was left without a goal or assist Sunday for the first time in his last four starts. 

The American forward had two goals and three assists in his previous three appearances in the starting XI, but only mustered a pair of shots and key passes in the loss to D.C. United

Morris and the Sounders still hold a lead over Minnesota and the LA Galaxy for the No. 2 seed in the West, which will keep them away from LAFC until the conference final.

12. Kai Wagner, D, Philadelphia Union

Previous Ranking: 6

Sep 22, 2019; Harrison, NJ, USA; New York Red Bulls midfielder Josh Sims (20) plays the ball against Philadelphia Union defender Kai Wagner (27) during the first half at Red Bull Arena. (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

Philadelphia suffered a letdown at Red Bull Arena in all aspects of the game Sunday. 

Kai Wagner was effective, but not good enough against Chris Armas’ side, who looked strong in transition moments. 

The Union have a chance to rebound Wednesday versus a  San Jose squad without suspended Cristian Espinoza and Chris Wondolowski. 

11. Gyasi Zardes, F, Columbus Crew

Previous Ranking: Not Ranked 

Sep 21, 2019; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Columbus Crew forward Gyasi Zardes (11) celebrates his goal against Vancouver Whitecaps goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau (16) (not pictured) with midfielder Jouness Mokhtar (34) during the first half at BC Place. (Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

Gyasi Zardes is now up to 32 goals in two seasons for the Columbus Crew. 

That is two fewer than the number he recorded over a five-year span with the LA Galaxy. 

In his last four matches, Zardes has four goals for Caleb Porter’s side, including back-to-back road strikes versus Atlanta and Vancouver. 

10. Uriel Antuna, M, LA Galaxy

Previous Ranking: Not Ranked

Sep 15, 2019; Carson, CA, USA; LA Galaxy midfielder Uriel Antuna (18) reacts after a goal during the second half against Sporting Kansas City at StubHub Center. (Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports)

Believe it or not, a Galaxy goalscorer not named Ibrahimovic is allowed on this list. 

In the last four games, Uriel Antuna has produced three goals and two assists. 

That production is significant as Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s side looks for scoring support around the towering Swede with the playoffs on the horizon. 

9. Carles Gil, M, New England Revolution

Previous Ranking: 19 

Sep 21, 2019; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Revolution midfielder Carles Gil (22) holds off Real Salt Lake forward Brooks Lennon (12) during the second half of their 0-0 tie at Gillette Stadium. (Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

Carles Gil could not land a goal or assist Saturday, but he was still a workhorse in the middle of the park. 

The New England midfielder dished out seven key passes and completed 84.8 percent of his passes. 

The owner of nine goals and 14 assists has been one of the most valuable midfielders in MLS, and the Revs will need him to step up his game in the final two weeks to secure the seventh playoff berth in the East. 

8. Mauro Manotas, F, Houston Dynamo

Previous Ranking: 15

Sep 14, 2019; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Houston Dynamo forward Mauro Manotas (9) celebrates his goal against Vancouver Whitecaps goalkeeper Zac MacMath (18) (not pictured) during the second half at BC Place. (Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

In a week where other forwards on this list failed to make an impact in the final third, Mauro Manotas notched an assist in Houston’s win over Orlando City

In the last three contests, the Colombian has two goals and two assists and has played a role in all but one of his team’s tallies. 

7. Vito Mannone, GK, Minnesota United

Previous Ranking: Not Ranked

Sep 15, 2019; Saint Paul, MN, Saint Paul, MN, USA; Minnesota United goalkeeper Vito Mannone (1) takes a free kick against Real Salt Lake during the first half at Allianz Field. Mandatory Credit: Ben Ludeman-USA TODAY Sports

There is a chance Minnesota United could have the Defender of the Year and Goalkeeper of the Year on their roster. 

Vito Mannone turned in an 11-save performance Sunday to help the Loons leave Providence Park with a valuable point in the Western Conference playoff hunt. 

In September, the former Arsenal man has conceded three times and turned away 25 shots. 

6. Kacper Przybylko, F, Philadelphia Union

Previous Ranking: 

Aug 31, 2019; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Union forward Kacper Przybylko (23) takes a shot during the first half against the Atlanta United at Talen Energy Stadium. (Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)

For the first time in four games, Kacper Przybylko did not find the back of the net. 

The Philadelphia forward was held to a single shot on target by the Red Bulls defense Sunday night. 

The 14-goal scorer will be relied upon to produce strikes versus San Jose and Columbus to give the Union an opportunity to land one of the top two seeds in the East. 

5. Gustavo Bou, F, New England Revolution

Previous Ranking: 4

Aug 31, 2019; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Revolution forward Gustavo Bou (7) reacts after scoring against the Toronto FC during the second half at Gillette Stadium. (Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports)

None of Gustavo Bou’s six shots over 45 minutes found the back of the net Saturday. 

Since August 10, the 25-year-old Argentinian has tallied in five of New England’s seven games. 

Bruce Arena’s side needs that same level of production Wednesday in Portland and Sunday at home versus NYCFC to lock up a postseason spot. 

4. Frederic Brillant, D, D.C. United

Previous Ranking: 12

Aug 31, 2019; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; D.C. United defender Frederic Brillant (13) stops Montreal Impact Impact forward Maximiliano Urruti (37) during the second half at Stade Saputo. (Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports)

For the first time since Week 13, a defensive-minded player has cracked the top four.

In addition to scoring Sunday against Seattle, Frederic Brillant has been a part of a defense that recorded three consecutive clean sheets. 

Thanks to the efforts of the back four, Ben Olsen’s side goes into Red Bull Arena Sunday with a 324-minute shutout streak. 

3. Carlos Vela, F, Los Angeles FC

Previous Ranking: 

Sep 21, 2019; Los Angeles, CA, Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles FC forward Carlos Vela (10) shoots a penalty kick for a goal during the second half against Toronto FC at Banc of California Stadium. (Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports)

Carlos Vela extended his scoring streak to six games with LAFC’s lone tally against Toronto FC.

The Mexican forward is up to 29 goals, but only holds a two-strike advantage over Ibrahimovic heading into the final two weeks of the regular season. 

Vela has home matches with Houston and Colorado and a road trip to Minnesota left on the docket. 

2. Josef Martinez, F, Atlanta United

Previous Ranking: 

Sep 18, 2019; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Atlanta United FC forward Josef Martinez (7) controls the ball against FC Cincinnati in the second half at Nippert Stadium. (Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

Josef Martinez notched his seventh brace of 2019 Wednesday in Atlanta’s win over FC Cincinnati

Unfortunately, the Venezuelan’s scoring run came to an end Saturday when he was taken off the field with an injury. 

The injury likely takes him out of Golden Boot contention since he is three back of Vela and is expected to miss some time. 

1. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, F, LA Galaxy

Previous Ranking: 1

Sep 21, 2019; Carson, CA, USA; Los Angeles Galaxy forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic (9) steals the ball from Montreal Impact defender Rod Fanni (16) and takes it down field in the second half of the game at StubHub Center. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)

 Ibrahimovic’s next goal in MLS will be his 50th for the Galaxy. 

If he records it in his next match, the Swede will have 50 strikes in 50 games started for one of the top clubs in league history. 

His 49th regular-season tally occurred Saturday versus Montreal. Since August 14, Ibrahimovic has scored 11 times. 

 

 

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