Saturday brought MLS fans a busy preseason slate that featured nine friendlies involving one or more league clubs, offering observers plenty of chances for note taking and forecasting before the "real" games begin next month.
Always up to play the insight game, we're here to serve up a veritable takeaway buffet for your Sunday brunch.
To analyze what went down in their first ever tangle with Nashville SC, first discount large portions of the second half. Any time the Five Stripes tried to break up the left side, they were hogtied by a water-logged baseball infield toupee.
What's left of the game offered one intriguing thought, thanks to fresh Atlanta recruit Darlington Nagbe.
Last season, the Mercedes-Benz Stadium crew pressured opponents into coughing up the ball and then floored the gas pedal on their way to darling status. With Nagbe aboard, a whole new attack stance opens up.
The possession miser was often able to poke holes in the pesky Nashville line that separated him from Miguel Almiron and Ezequiel Barco. And when Atlanta had to deal with the soggy left side of the final third after halftime, Nagbe drifted starboard to run a patient new-look arrangement for feeding the team's exciting attackers. That is, when he didn't just step up to threaten the box himself...
Given some time to get used to the added gear, Atlanta should be able to show it also has the ability to pick apart a settled defense. That layer could make them near unstoppable in the offensive end.
Livin' Z Life
Of course it's early and the competition level will rise considerably when league play starts. Reclamation project Gyasi Zardes will surely still require a good bit of added help (ahem!) to approximate Kamara's departed goal touch. As always, the the US international remains on bad touch watch.
And yet, it's starting to look like Zardes can ably take up some of Kamara's systematic duties. Don't get too caught up by the fact that he's hit four times in three preseason outings, and focus on how he's stretching defenses and crashing the net hard.
Same As It Ever Was
Plenty of folks both in and out of Crew SC colors are wondering if the attack losses will force Gregg Berhalter to change his team's ways. Will they still aim to hog the ball and bring the fullbacks up field to lean on foes?
Believe it or not, early indications are they may just dive further into character. Pipa Higuain is back to run the show, and the firm of Artur & Trapp should become one of the best midfield transition duos in the league in their second year together.
It doesn't hurt that left back catch Milton Venezuela looks the part of Young Designated Player. He's quite willing to run the entire flank and looks comfy with the ball when working the final third flank. He'll have a quality running mate in Pedro Santos, who has moved over from the right to his natural wing and could now prove more of a auxiliary playmaking presence (see the Zardes goal above).
Run Ola Run
While I grimly hesitate to oversell any threat, I feel it my duty to warn the rest of the league that the aforementioned Kamara's arrival changes everything for the StubHub gang.
And no, this gentle warning is not solely about the bushel of goals the Norway striker will bag this season. While Saturday's 3-0 friendly victory was corrupted by a 41st minute red card shown to New York City FC left back Ronald Matarrita, Galaxy boss Sigi Schmid was able to clearly see the full effect Kamara brings before then.
In addition to smashing home that ruthless rebound volley, Kamara poked, prodded and occupied the NYCFC center backs to a level not seen in Carson last season. His annoying presence meant the away side's wide defenders has less help dealing with Galaxy wide attackers Romain Alessandrini and Emmanuel Boateng, plus whichever wingback had jumped into a particular play.
Perhaps most importantly, all that underneath space that Gio dos Santos exploited so freely two seasons ago is back in a big way. With Kamara making the heart of defense too skittish to step up, even one beaten midfielder can set the No. 10 loose.
On Saturday, dos Santos was repeatedly able to get his motor running, both up the gut and in the wide channels. When he has room to survey options, goals happen.
The Quicker Picker-Upper
Kitchen, just back in MLS after two busy years abroad that saw him work over 5,200 minutes for Hearts and Randers FC, was very quick and eager to squash potential NYCFC breakouts from turnovers. And allowing his side to maintain offensive pressure was only the surface benefit.
The field tilt security gave the younger dos Santos brother freedom to leave some defensive duties behind. Instead, the box-to-box man used most of his 41 minutes before Matarrita's ejection calmly running attack possession while Gio searched out free pockets. The more time Jonathan spends doing that, the better off the Galaxy will be.
It was also impossible not to notice the pep in the step of second half sub Sebastian Lletget. The US international showed no ill effects from foot surgery that laid him off for all but three games last season.
The versatile midfielder's return adds another spark plug to the Galaxy engine, and he kept NYCFC on their toes by zipping around and through several defenders on threatening rampages forward.
In fact, Lletget looked so good that Schmid kept him on five minutes past the half-hour limit prescribed before the contest, and even considered leaving him on for the entire second period.
The Dzemaili Vacuum
Let's be clear: The Impact are not the only MLS club still feeling the sting of a key loss as March's season kick-off nears.
Still, there's no escaping that Montreal are essentially being forced to cover two midfield jobs due to Blerim Dzemaili's return to Italy for family reasons.
The midfielder they got for him in a sister club swap-back with Bologna, Sapher Taider, will be charged with the traffic direction aspect of Dzemaili's game. He's more of a darting player when working through midfield crowds, and should effectively provide opportunities to break.
The facet Remi Garde needs to figure out is replacing Dzemaili's final third production. Do they move Nacho Piatti inside, throwing further upheaval into a flank stable in rebuild mode?
Or is there a big transfer coup left for a team that enjoyed a decent offseason haul? If it's me, I'm on the prowl for a DP No. 10 that allows Montreal's top man to stay in his old office.
The Third Heat
On the premiere episode of the sitcom 30 Rock, NBC exec Jack Donaghy goads show-within-a-show runner Liz Lemon into hiring Tracy Jordan by convincing her the unpredictable star is the missing heat element needed to satisfy audiences.
In 2017, the Red Bulls got nearly 60 percent of their goals and 21 assists out of the trio of Daniel Royer, Bradley Wright-Phillips and playmaker Sacha Kljestan. Now Kljestan has left for Orlando City, leaving behind an attack that routinely looked slapdash in a friendly win over Phoenix Rising cooked up by last-ditch heroics.
If Royer is the convection man linking play into the box and Wright-Phillips is the microwave quick to burn opponents, it was readily evident that Red Bulls management sorely needs to find a new coalescing radiation source to ensure the offense never goes cold. If Kaku Gamarra isn't going to work out, move on to the next target.
Last season, the Whitecaps goal output depended heavily on set pieces and lightning counters. Yep, Vancouver plays fast, and when they don't, they play even faster.
This madness method has its benefits, but a true MLS Cup contender also needs someone, anyone, who actually wants he ball on occasion; someone always showing direct availability through the middle of the park and then smoothly pointing play in the right direction.
Vancouver would eventually fall late against Hokkaido Consodale Sapporo, but what matters is they may well have found that tempo master in Efrain Juarez. If his shrewd first half display proves prophetic, the Caps will be more capable of hemming teams back in their own end, deflating a foe's momentum or eating clock to close out games.
All of those situational skills add up to easier sledding during a long season and, presumably, extra victories. Juarez, who has spent most of his career on the right flank, knows all about winning. The 29-year-old came to Vancouver with eight championships to his credit, and now has an important role to play in hunting for number nine.