Major League Soccer

MLS Week 24 best players - ranked

Chris Smith
Cristian Arango has scored four goals in his last three appearances for LAFC
Cristian Arango has scored four goals in his last three appearances for LAFC / Shaun Clark/Getty Images

Another week is in the books and the MLS Cup playoffs are racing into view.

It's at this time of the season where teams need their very best players to step up. Whether you're battling for Supporters' Shield or just to scrape over the playoff line, difference-makers, well, they make all the difference.

So, looking back at Week 24, who are the best individual performers in MLS? Let's rank the top five.

5. Ricardo Pepi (FC Dallas)

Ricardo Pepi
Ricardo Pepi scored his 12th MLS goal of the season on Saturday, just days after netting on his USMNT debut. / Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Though he led the line reasonably well, Ricardo Pepi didn't necessarily have his best night in an FC Dallas shirt against San Jose Earthquakes. But he still scored the equalising goal for what could be a vital point, heading home a cross from fellow Homegrown Justin Che in the 50th minute.

That he also managed the full 90 minutes just days after his senior international debut for the USMNT down in Honduras - in which he scored and set up another two - is incredible and an extremely important bit of context.

Luchi Gonzalez must be careful not to burn Pepi out, but the fact the 18-year-old can be so effective with such a quick turnaround speaks highly of his commitment and work ethic.

4. Luciano Acosta (FC Cincinnati)

Lucho Acosta
Lucho Acosta provided his sixth assist of the season as FC Cincinnati against Toronto FC. / Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

At long last, at the 10th time of asking, FC Cincinnati have won at their brand new TQL Stadium. Is it any surprise that Lucho Acosta was the orchestrator behind the victory?

The diminutive Argentine playmaker delivered a wonderful ball to the back post for Brenner to put Cincy 1-0 up on 39 minutes. But that was just one of four chances he created on the night, while Acosta also completed a match-high three succesful dribbles and contributed defensively with two tackles.

This is the sort of connection Cincy fans have dreamed of for Acosta and Brenner - one that Acosta will look to bring about more to get his side up the Eastern Conference standings.

3. Ezequiel Barco (Atlanta United)

Ezequiel Barco
Ezequiel Barco scored his fourth goal in six games as Atlanta United beat Orlando City 3-0. / Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The sight of Ezequiel Barco beating no fewer than three Orlando City defenders - putting two of them on the floor - before firing home Atlanta United's third goal in a 3-0 win on Friday was truly spectacular. It was almost reminiscent of a Lionel Messi goal.

But that was just the tip of the iceberg in what was another hugely effective performance from this ever-improving Argentine, who has exploded since returning from the Olympics.

Barco completed two dribbles and created three chances on the night, while it was his dangerous delivery from a free-kick that forced a Daryl Dike own-goal to put the Five Stripes 2-0 up.

2. Fafa Picault (Houston Dynamo)

Fafa Picault has scored in four consecutive Texas derby appearances this season.
Fafa Picault has scored in four consecutive Texas derby appearances this season. / Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Fafa Picault absolutely loves Texas derbies. The 30-year-old has scored eight times in MLS for the Houston Dynamo so far this season, with no fewer than five of them coming in games against Austin FC and FC Dallas. In fact, he's yet to fire a blank at all in his four Texas derbies this season.

It was a brace for Picault this weekend as Houston put Austin to the sword in a resounding 3-0 win, with the former Philadelphia Union forward using his pace and trickery to the maximum to take advantage of a truly terrible Verde backline.

That Picault was actually guilty of needlessly losing the ball on a few occasions doesn't even matter when he's this clinical against your biggest rivals.

1. Cristian Arango (LAFC)

Cristian Arango
Cristian Arango scored the fastest goal in LAFC history against RSL on Sunday. / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

When Cristian Arango scored inside 20 seconds to put LAFC 1-0 against RSL - the fastest goal in club history - we should have known we were in for something special.

The Colombian striker would double his tally for the night - and take him to four goals in his last three appearances - on the half-hour mark to restore LAFC's lead following Damir Kreilach's eye-catching equaliser. But his night was about more than just goals.

Arango battled, chased and linked up play brilliantly all night, finishing the game with five successful dribbles, three aerial duels won, four shots and one chance created.

"Chicho was fantastic. The two goals, but also his pure ability," LAFC boss Bob Bradley told reporters after Sunday's win. "When we needed to play forward a little bit more, for him to hold on [to] balls and bring other guys into the game."

On Arango's mentality, Bradley added: "He made such a good first impression. He's a really good, solid guy, he's got a good mentality on the field. He's a guy you can count on.

"He plays for the team, but he also puts himself in positions in the box [where] he's a threat at all times. He's now showing he can play a really important role for us."

LAFC are still below the playoff line but with Arango in this sort of form, you'd fancy the Black and Gold to run over any opponent standing between them and the post-season.

Honourable mentions: Luiz Araujo (Atlanta United), Jose Mauri (Sporting Kansas City), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC), Przemyslaw Tyton (FC Cincinnati), Joao Paulo (Seattle Sounders), Mamadou Fall (LAFC), Johnny Russell (Sporting Kansas City), George Campbell (Atlanta United), Shane O'Neill (Seattle Sounders), Donovan Pines (DC United), Hany Mukhtar (Nashville SC), Justin Che (FC Dallas), Griffin Dorsey (Houston Dynamo)