John A. Babiak – @Photog_JohnB
The best new performers through the first two MLS matches.
While MLS is on hiatus due to the outbreak of COVID-19, fans are desperately searching for something to fill our time as we self-isolate. One such way to fill this time is to look back at the first two matches of the season and see how the newcomers have performed so far.
New signings from across the globe have made varying levels of impact and in this article, we’ll take a look at the best performers through the first two matches of the 2020 MLS season. High-profile signings who haven’t done much, like Chicharito Hernandez and Lucas Cavallini, don’t make this list. This list is based on my opinions, so feel free to disagree and tell me why in the comments!
We start our list with new striker Jurgen Locadia. After breaking out in the Dutch Eredivisie with PSV Eindhoven, Locadia made a high-priced transfer to Brighton Hove and Albion. Locadia had significant struggles in England before being loaned to Hoffenheim in Germany. FC Cincinnati—the club with the worst record last season—picked him up in February as a Designated Player on loan, counting on the 26-year-old to turn around FCC’s stagnant offense.
Locadia made his debut off the bench against the New York Red Bulls in Week 1, bagging his first MLS goal. He started against Atlanta United in Week 2. So far, Locadia seems to be a hit for Cincinnati, already proving to be an attacking threat, as they hope to rebound after last year’s disastrous season.
Despite Nashville SC losing their first two matches, midfielder Hany Mukhtar has been a bright spot in this winless season so far. Mukhtar joined from IF Brondby in Denmark as the club’s first Designated Player. Mukhtar began his career in Germany, with Hertha Berlin before signing as a young prospect for Benfica. He was loaned to Red Bull Salzburg and Brondby, where, just like the first inclusion in our list, things didn’t quite work out.
Since making his move to MLS, Mukhtar has been an effective playmaker for Nashville. He’s created tons of chances, but, unfortunately, his teammates have wasted those chances. If Nashville can solve their goal-scoring woes, the assists will start to pile up for Mukhtar.
Polish forward Adam Buksa signed with an already-potent New England attack this offseason as a Designated Player for a fee in “the $2-7 million range” from Pogon Szczecin. Through two matches, the 6’3” striker has already scored one goal and has been creating chances for his partner, Gustavo Bou.
Buska spent his entire professional career in Poland and was a top player at Pogon, which caught New England’s attention. Whenever the season resumes, the New England Revolution will likely become a top club in the Eastern Conference, with Buksa running the Revs’ offense.
One of our own Burgundy Boys, Younes Namli, is in seventh place on our list. The Dane began his career in the Netherlands with Akademisk Boldklub Gladsaxe, then SC Heerenveen, and finally PEC Zwolle. After finding success in Holland, he moved to Russia with FC Krasnodar, where he—just like Locadia—didn’t get much playing time.
He came to the Colorado Rapids as the club’s only Designated Player, on a two-year loan with an option to buy. In two matches, he’s been exactly what the Rapids were hoping for, creating plenty of chances for teammates—and making chances for himself as well, as we saw on his beautiful goal in week 2 against Orlando. Namli seems to be exactly what Colorado needed and he only solidifies their chances of being a playoff contender.
This season, 29-year-old Joao Paulo joined the defending MLS Cup Champions Seattle Sounders from Botafogo in Brazil. Before his move to Seattle, Paulo spent his whole career in Brazil, playing for Internacional, Atletico-GO, Goias EC, Santa Cruz, and Botafogo before coming to MLS.
Like many of the players on this list, Paulo had a hard time consistently performing in Brazil, but in four appearances for Seattle (two Concacaf Champions League and two MLS play) Paulo has already netted two goals and an assist. It seems Paulo has quickly found his feet in MLS and adds to an already impressive Seattle attack looking to defend their MLS Cup title.
One of the biggest high-profile names that joined MLS this off-season was Mexican international Rodolfo Pizarro. Pizarro joined David Beckham’s expansion side Inter Miami CF from Monterrey for a reported $12 million. Before this move, Pizarro spent his whole career in Mexico, playing with CF Pachuca, Guadalajara, then Monterrey before signing with Miami. Pizarro has 25 caps for the Mexico Men’s National Team, as well as five goals for El Tri.
In the first two matches of the season, Pizarro started both games and played the full 90 minutes each time. In the first game, Miami were shut out, but Pizarro was active and created chances for both himself and his teammates. In the second match, they lost 2-1, but Pizarro got his first goal in MLS—a goal that could indicate his future stardom in the league. In the first two matches, Pizarro was a crucial piece of Miami’s attack and it seems that as the season (hopefully one day) goes on, he will only grow more comfortable in MLS and may even become one of the league’s best players.
Signing with the Columbus Crew for a club-record transfer fee ($7 million) from Tigres in Liga MX, Lucas Zelarayan has adjusted to MLS quite well, already scoring a goal in his two appearances. Zelarayan began his career in his native country Argentina, spending four seasons with Belgrano before moving to Tigres.
Through two matches, Columbus is already proving much better than last year’s disastrous season, winning 1-0 against NYCFC and drawing 1-1 in Seattle. This impressive start to the season appears to be thanks to Zelarayan. He scored the game winner against NYCFC and has become the heartbeat of this Columbus side, who could very easily see themselves back into the playoffs this season.
Another big player signing from Liga MX, Alan Pulido has already exploded in MLS, bagging two goals and an assist as Sporting KC is trying to turn themselves around after last year’s forgettable campaign. He joined SKC from Guadalajara this off-season for reportedly around $10 million. Like Pizarro, Pulido has a national team appearance, with five goals in 13 caps for his country.
SKC have won both their games this season, with their new striker scoring in both. He is very dangerous and hard to defend against in the 18-yard box, shown by his incredible header in the first game of the season. If Pulido can continue his goal-scoring form, SKC will easily return to being a top team in the Western Conference, as the club finally added the expensive striker the fanbase has been desperately wanting.
The least-known player on this list before his move to Sporting Kansas City, Gadi Kinda is on loan from Beitar Jerusalem in the Israeli Premier League and has arguably been the best signing MLS has seen this year. In two matches, Kinda has scored two goals and completely controlled and dominated the midfield for Sporting. In Week 1 against Vancouver, Kinda scored an unbelievable goal, flying into the top corner from 25 yards away. Just like Pulido, if he continues his form—both attacking and defending—SKC will be undeniable cup contenders.
This could be my Minnesota bias talking, but winning two matches on the road to start the season is a very, very impressive start for the Loons. This positive start is thanks to many different players performing well, but none more so than new DP forward Luis Amarilla, who promised to score 25 goals at the beginning of the year. Amarilla is on his way to achieving this, already having scored two goals and also getting an assist.
Before joining Minnesota United FC on loan, Amarilla was somewhat of a journeyman in South America, having played for five teams by the age of 24. He started his career with Libertad in Paraguay, where he was loaned to Club Atlético 3 de Febrero and Sol De America. Velez Sarsfield in Argentina signed him permanently before loaning him to Universidad Catolica in Ecuador and now to Minnesota, where Amarilla is already catching fire through two matches.
When MLS returns, the Paraguayan forward will hopefully continue his explosive start. If Amarilla and the Loons continue to perform at this level, they will no question find themselves returning to the playoffs for the second straight year.
Honorable Mentions: Robert Beric, Thiago Santos, and Jakob Glesnes
Robert Beric scored for the Chicago Fire in his debut after signing from France. Thiago Santos has dominated the midfield for FC Dallas, while Norweigan center back Jakob Glesnes has shored up Philadelphia’s backline and scoring a goal of the year candidate from at least 40 yards against LAFC in Week 2.
Whenever the season resumes again, we can only hope that these new signings continue their top performances and continue to grow MLS. Who do you think have been the best performers around the league?