Although we’re barely into a fresh MLS season, there's no stopping observers when they feel like quickly reading into what’s already transpired through Week 2.
Naturally, there’s a difference between measured early analysis and jumping to conclusions. We're here to judge which of the many fast takes are which. There's a lot to dissect ahead of another busy weekend card, so let's skip the ceremony and dive right in.
Take: Javier Hernandez will win the Golden Boot
Five goals in two games will definitely get tongues wagging, especially when we're talking about a striker with Chicharito's pedigree and nobody else has produced more than two tallies. The fact that prime Golden Boot presented by Audi suspects Carlos Vela and Josef Martinez are dealing with an injury and trying to regain form while coming back from one, respectively, lends extra credence to this take.
Verdict: I'm not ready to say this conclusion is a lock, but it’s quite reasonable for two very good reasons. Right off the top, it seems clear that new boss Greg Vanney already has the Galaxy understanding how to make the best use of Hernandez. Perhaps more importantly, Chicharito has put a rough emotional year behind him to enter 2021 well-prepared and highly motivated to prove his worth in La-La Land.
Take: Minnesota United FC are in for a rough year
I get it. Even with some important players on the mend, it's a big surprise to see Adrian Heath's boys sitting on an 0W-2L-0D record with the joint-worst goal differential in the league. They got roasted by Seattle on opening day and then fell at home to Real Salt Lake. Their partially rebuilt attack is misfiring and netminder Dayne St. Clair isn't able to cover for all the mistakes being made by the backline. Historically speaking, they’re off to the sort of rough start that typically doesn’t end with an Audi MLS Cup Playoffs berth.
Verdict: This one strikes me as premature. Attackers Ramon Abila and Adrien Hunou are just settling in with the Loons, and the defense is still missing a couple of key cogs. I'm guessing this team, which has everything needed to contend when complete, will rise up the Western Conference table soon enough.
Take: Ezequiel Barco is finally ready to star
The Atlanta United youngster has had trouble converting his talent into consistent boxscore impact during his first three MLS seasons. However, Barco's underlying numbers through two rounds are better than ever. He's getting shooting looks, he's beating defenders off the dribble and he's teeing up chances for teammates, all at a rate well above most MLS attacking midfielders and wingers. His scorching opener in last weekend's 3-1 win over Chicago has locals and outside observers alike thinking that the fourth time may be the charm for the 22-year-old Argentine, who arrived in 2018 for a reported $15 million transfer fee from Independiente.
Verdict: Yes, we've heard this song before. Nevertheless, my gut tells me this time is different. The Five Stripes are under exciting new management (Gabriel Heinze) and Josef is back to tractor beam defenders his way, opening space for a player like Barco to operate. I'm bravely all in on this one. Again.
Take: Nashville SC can score now, which is bad news for everyone else
Not only have the Music City bagged four goals in their first two matches, but they've scored them all while trailing. They've fired off 49 shots through two games, nine more than the nearest team. Their expected goals total (5.9) is well ahead of the field and they have a league-leading 31 key passes. Randall Leal is off to a tremendous start, left back Daniel Lovitz is the clear league leader in key passes with 12 (Bebelo Reynoso is next best with seven) and Jhonder Cadiz now looks the part of a Designated Player striker. You get the idea.
Verdict: It's all a rich tapestry of “look out, MLS.” Believe it or not, the main concern in Nashville these days is tidying up at the back in the first half of games.
Take: Sporting Kansas City can defend again, which is bad news for everyone else
After a couple seasons of generosity, this once habitually stingy club seems to have found itself in 2021. Sporting KC have conceded once in each game, and only six teams around the league have a better xGA per-90 number (1.9) at this time. What's more, they've accomplished this with attacking dynamos Alan Pulido and Johnny Russell working back to full fitness.
Verdict: What's old is new again. Nicolas Isimat-Mirin is quickly proving to be the busybody center back this team sorely needed and partner Andreu Fontas is finally looking like the backline marshal Peter Vermes expected upon signing him back in 2018. Once Pulido and Russell are fully fit, their play-driving abilities should give Sporting’s defenders less work to do.
Take: The real Gonzalo Higuain is back, which is bad news for everyone else
After being rather snakebit during his inaugural half-season in MLS, the veteran striker has struck in both of Inter Miami CF's matches and added an assist for good measure. He’s also teaming up with older brother, Federico, just like they did at River Plate in the mid-2000s. El Pipita, a Designated Player who arrived from Serie A giants Juventus, looks as fired up and dialed in on the field as ever. That passion is translating to his play, and last weekend it helped translate into a huge win at Philadelphia.
Verdict: Frankly, I'm not sure why anyone should question this one. Goalies and goalposts were only going to deny the veteran striker for so long. Higuain remains central to a maturing Herons' build game and is putting 75% of his shots on target once he reaches firing range (he was a shade over 34% last season).
Take: Austin FC aren't a title threat, but will be quite competitive
The new kids on the MLS block impressed in their debut loss at LAFC, then impressed again in handing Colorado a home defeat without the services of star man Tomas Pochettino this past weekend. They've held 53% of the ball over two matches and have been just a shade under break even when it comes to expected goals. The Greens won't have opponents shaking in their boots just yet, but nobody should be thinking of them as a walkover exercise, either.
Verdict: Most observers held this view of Austin FC before the season began, and nothing has occurred to change that perspective. Losing fullback Ben Sweat to an ACL tear will definitely hurt, especially considering Josh Wolff's system of pushing numbers into attack. However, young backup Zan Kolmanic is an intriguing stand-in and the expansion team should have enough in its locker to test even the best sides in MLS.
Take: Orlando City SC are missing Daryl Dike big time
While Dike is overseas scoring for fun with Premier League promotion chasers Barnsley, his parent club isn’t quite firing on all final-third cylinders, scoring once through two matches. Alexandre Pato getting hurt during his solid MLS debut was far less than ideal. Orlando still have defensive prowess, but will need to start scoring to hang onto the contender status they earned in 2020.
Verdict: Any team would stare longingly out the window with Dike away, but the player they've missed the most so far is string-puller Mauricio Pereyra. The Uruguayan DP is the straw that stirs their drink, creating chances at a high clip. We’ll find out if my take is right when the midfield organizer returns from red-card suspension to face FC Cincinnati this weekend (7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+).
Take: It's just the same old FC Cincinnati
It's certainly no crime to battle Nashville SC to a season-opening draw. It's also no crime to be blanked by habitually tough egg NYCFC. On the other hand, shipping five restart goals in one game is worrisome. Any way you see it, back-to-back Wooden Spoon "winners" FC Cincinnati have raced toward the bottom of the table once again. It has to be tiring, for both the team and its fans.
Verdict: There are obviously some structural kinks to iron out and being forced into trading young ace Frankie Amaya was a blow, but this still isn't your younger brother's Orange and Blue – if only because Luciano Acosta and Brenner have arrived to give them actual attack aces. Once they learn how to keep those guys in regular supply, FC Cincinnati should pocket some points along the way. Will it be enough to finally push them closer to contending for a playoff berth? I remain highly skeptical that they can leap that far this year, but their futility should ease (to some extent) along the way.
Take: It's just the same old Chicago Fire FC
We've all seen this movie before. Chicago look like experts at creating great chances and then only finish a few of them, while also making too many mistakes at the back when they have decent-to-favorable game states. Because of all that, they’re sitting near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings and ruing points that they shouldn't be dropping with such regularity.
Verdict: You certainly aren't going to be getting any argument against this fast take here. I'm from Missouri, so Chicago are going to need to show me that things will be different in 2021.
Take: LAFC and Seattle will be utterly terrifying once their stars are fit again
Even though LAFC have yet to see Diego Rossi on the field and Carlos Vela has played just 22 minutes, they're sitting on four points through two games. The Sounders have gone without Nicolas Lodeiro so far, but they also have four points in the bank and are souring concerns of the 2020 MLS Cup finalists suffering a major dropoff.
Verdict: Do we even need to say it? Yes, of course, the rest of the league should be unnerved by the shorthanded starts put together by these two regular title threats (even if Seattle aren't expecting Jordan Morris back on the field this season). Heck, LAFC potentially still have an open Designated Player slot to play with, which almost doesn't seem fair. Other teams will need to lace 'em up even tighter against these two as the year progresses.