We’re only two games into the 2020 MLS season, but early defensive returns are encouraging for teams that weren't pegged as preseason favorites. At least that’s what the small sample size for expected goals against (xGA) tells us.
Orlando City SC, under the guidance of new head coach Oscar Pareja, and the Vancouver Whitecaps, who had another busy winter transfer window, are within the top four of xGA so far. Expansion newcomers Nashville SC sit atop the list with 0.45 xGA, reinforcing their commitment to being defensively sound in year No. 1 in MLS. It also lends credence to their blockbuster move to acquire US men's national team center back Walker Zimmerman via trade from LAFC.
Now, xGA only tells part of the story, with analytical projections not always mirroring reality. For example, Sporting Kansas City are one of three teams to allow a league-low single (1) goal so far, but they’re not found in the xGA top 10. Overall, though, it's still a good measure to show teams that haven't allowed a lot of quality chances.
The early xGA returns also see both of last year’s MLS Cup finalists, Toronto FC and Seattle Sounders FC, as again defensively strong. Atlanta United and Columbus Crew SC, a pair of squads that figure to challenge for the Eastern Conference regular-season crown, are also solid. Western Conference sides LA Galaxy and FC Dallas round out the top 10.
Will these xGA trends continue or will big variations enter the frame when there’s more data to assess things? We’ll find out when MLS games return, with the league currently suspending through May 10 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.