With the 2020 MLS season back into full swing, the pressure will be back on players to meet or exceed expectations placed on them by club management, fans and the media.
Sure, the campaign to date represents a small sample size, but the play of some impressive names have left something to be desired thus far this year. Those who have struggled to live up billing will want to demonstrate it was merely a down phase.
Some guys will be feeling a lot more of this course-correction pressure than others at this time, and those are the ones we're here to discuss.
Xavier Arreaga (Seattle Sounders)
Several of my colleagues have written and spoken about the recurring troubles experienced by the Seattle defender. We've all definitely seen what strong Arreaga performances look like (for example, the Western Conference Final defeat of LAFC last year), but he just can't seem to shed the costly mistakes. The champs don't have a ton of wiggle room roster-wise at this time, so any quick solution needs to come from within. Emerald City eyes will be on Arreaga to tidy up.
Edison Flores (D.C. United)
In all honesty, we could list a few D.C. United players counted on for offense who have not hit the ground running in 2020. And this is not to suggest Flores has been poor or may be a DP bust, but he is the one who can tie it all together for Ben Olsen's attack. It hasn't happened yet, but to be fair, the Peruvian midfielder has been dealing with and injury and a family loss. If he can find the ball more often, one would imagine he'll be fine.
Though he bagged a hat trick in Concacaf Champions League play earlier this season, the New York City FC forward has yet to ring the bell in six league/MLS Is Back outings this year. Heber has not been finding his shot enough and his previously vital link game has sputtered. While the club's best outing of the season came with the Brazilian out of the lineup, the Cityzens need the guy who scored 15 times in 1,607 minutes last season to return if they hope to mend a suddenly flimsy attack.
Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez (LA Galaxy)
Chicharito is already on the board. It wasn't an Instagram shot, but that monkey has departed from his back. Blending with new LA Galaxy teammates to spearhead a reliable attack, however, remains on the Hernandez to-do list. The same goes for becoming a true derby salvo fired back at an LAFC side quickly passing them by on the field.
Jurgen Locadia (FC Cincinnati)
Sure, the miss above that could have ended Portland's MLS Is Back title run back last month was probably "just one of those things" for a guy coming off an injury. Now, Locadia must demonstrate it was just one of those things. As FC Cincinnati suddenly look as though they have the claws to scrap their way into the playoff hunt if enough goes right, the last thing they need to go wrong is their DP striker.
Pity Martinez (Atlanta United)
Even before Josef Martinez went down with an injury, Atlanta United needed Pity Martinez to bring more cutting edge in the final third. With the Five Stripes goal monster out for the season, a boost in end product from their No. 10 is a downright necessity. That's not to say Atlanta's goal blackout at MLS Is Back is all down to Pity, but he is the most reasonable solution for getting the season back on track. It's the kind of thing folks tend to expect from the league's all-time record signing.
Hany Mukhtar (Nashville SC)
As with Flores, it would certainly not be fair to say Mukhtar has been bad for his new club. He has been Nashville SC's most consistent source of danger in attack despite generally playing wide instead of in his preferred No. 10 role. The thing is, being a franchise's first Designated Player signing comes with certain expectations. And when it comes to a DP attacker on an expansion team with small margins for error, zero goals and assists through four games isn't going to placate them.
Rodolfo Pizarro (Inter Miami CF)
At this point, it may seem like I'm being extra harsh on the lead playmakers around the league. Maybe I am, but this role inherently comes with large responsibilities, especially when it's manned by a big name DP signing. Pizarro has hit twice in his first five Inter Miami games, but he has not exactly made those around him more potent in attack. The El Tri ace is averaging less than one key pass per game and has frequently been cheap with possession. The sooner those things improve, the better off the Herons will be.
Albert Rusnak (Real Salt Lake)
The Real Salt Lake string-puller scored in his team’s MLS Is Back-opening win, but has been uncharacteristically quiet for most of the team's 2020 matches. Rusnak has put just two shots on goal and seven of his eight key passes came in one game back in March. The Slovakia international's individual numbers are down across the board, but his goals + assists per 90 rate has plummeted from 0.61 prior to those season to 0.24 over his first five games of the year. The Rio Tinto bunch won't stop looking toothless until Rusnak gets back to his best.
Daniel Vega (SJ Earthquakes)
After the early phase of his MLS time saw the San Jose goalkeeper wearing a "howler alert" tag, he rebounded well to put in a solid 2019 season. Unfortunately, Vega's miscues have returned this year. At MLS Is Back, he erred both in distribution decisions (see above) and positioning against shots. The Quakes have both Matt Bersano and promising US youth international JT Marcinkowski around, so pressure is on the veteran to clean up his act should be quite real.