Major League Soccer

The best players in MLS this weekend - ranked

Chris Smith
Will Bruin has four direct goal involvements in his last three MLS appearances.
Will Bruin has four direct goal involvements in his last three MLS appearances. / Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

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 they're battling for Supporters' Shield or just scrapping over the playoff line, difference-makers, well, they make all the difference.

There was a reduced slate of games this weekend with only four MLS fixtures thanks to the international break. Still, there were plenty of top-class individual performances to enjoy. Here are the top five.

5. Sean Nealis (New York Red Bulls)

Nealis won eight aerial duels against Inter Miami.
Nealis won eight aerial duels against Inter Miami. / Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

After dropping like a stone, the New York Red Bulls are now six games unbeaten with just two goals conceded during that time. Gerhard Struber has a huge debt of thanks to pay to Sean Nealis for that run.

The 24-year-old centre-back has been in sensational form recently and continued his hot streak with a colossal performance in the Red Bulls' 1-0 win over Inter Miami.

Nealis won a remarkable eight aerial duel on the night - at least four more than any other player - while making three interceptions, one tackle, and a match-high nine clearances.

In short, Nealis waved away everything Miami could throw at him and kept Gonzalo Higuain in his back pocket for almost the full 90. Bet that's a sentence you never thought you'd read...

4. Fredy Montero (Seattle Sounders)

Montero has seven direct goal involvements against his former team, Vancouver Whitecaps.
Montero has seven direct goal involvements against his former team, Vancouver Whitecaps. / Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

He didn't get on the scoresheet, but Fredy Montero was still able to extend his remarkable record against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday.

The Colombian forward set up Will Bruin and Leo Chu's second-half strikes to put the Sounders out of sight. In doing so, he moved to seven direct goal involvements in the same number of appearances against the 'Caps, scoring four and assisting three. He's also unbeaten during that time with three wins and four draws.

That's six goals and three assists on the season now for Montero who, at 34, is proving himself to be quite the rotational piece for this impressive Seattle team.

3. Nathan Harriel (Philadelphia Union)

The Union play their kids anyway but with Kai Wagner suspended and no fewer than five players away on international duty, Saturday night was even bigger for the #PlayYourKids movement.

In just his third appearance of the season, Nathan Harriel was practically flawless at right-back. The 20-year-old's assist for fellow homegrown Paxten Aaronson will obviously steal the headlines, but Harriel also posted match-highs for tackles (6) and dribbles (4), while nobody managed to dribble past him in an air-tight defensive performance. Oh, and his assist was one of three chances created on the night - no Union player managed more.

The Union are back up to third in the East and the kids are, indeed, alright.

2. Jonathan Lewis (Colorado Rapids)

While the USMNT floundered down in Panama, one of their fringe players was showing all the attacking qualities they were lacking in Minnesota.

Jonathan Lewis was the driving force behind the Rapids' 3-1 comeback win over the Loons on Sunday, completing all seven of his attempted dribbles - quite ridiculous number - and creating three chances, one of which was finished off by Michael Barrios to put Colorado ahead.

Lewis was direct, devastatingly fast and dynamic with the ball at his feet. All qualities the USMNT lacked in Panama, much to the gain of Robin Fraser's side.

1. Will Bruin (Seattle Sounders)

It's been a tough ride back to fitness for Will Bruin over the past few years. But that's one of the most impressive things about this Sounders team; players overcoming adversity to become unexpected difference-makers.

Bruin certainly made the difference against Vancouver on Saturday, doubling the Sounders' advantage at 3-1 on 55 minutes having already set up Nicolas Benezet in the first half - one of four chances he created on the night. What's more, according to Brian Schmetzer, it was Bruin who sparked his teammates into life in the locker room at half-time.

“I did my normal spiel, but Will said to the group, ‘There are more goals in this game for us, and he was right," said Schmetzer (via the Seattle Times). 

Bruin now has two goals and two assists in his last four MLS appearances, which is perfect timing with Raul Ruidiaz in and out due to international call-ups. It's also indicative of the team effort Schmetzer is leading at Lumen Field.

Honourable mentions: Paxten Aaronson, Kacper Przybylko, Lucho Acosta, Andrew Gutman, Jack Price