Three weeks have given us a taste of what these elite groups could do. Yes, there remains an imbalance between the investment in attacking and defending talent. That means more goals, more entertaining games and, yes, a more enticing product. This is a league that is going to be fun to watch.
Through three weeks of the season, five teams stand out in their attacking prowess. No surprise, the five all rank among the league’s top scoring teams. There may be more candidates out there, but early-season results indicate these may be the five best attacking lines in MLS.
Atlanta United – Yamil Asad, Josef Martínez, Miguel Almirón and Hector Villalba
The expansion team hardly looks like one. Nor should it, considering the money it spent to succeed right away.
The $8.5-million transfer fee for Miguel Almirón looks worth every penny. The Paraguayan has immediately become one of the most exciting players in the league, capable of beating you with goals or assists almost any time he is on the ball. Meanwhile, Josef Martínez, the Venezuelan striker that was the final Designated Player added to the roster, has already won MLS Player of the Week honors and currently leads the league with five goals. His devastating runs behind the back line have been too much to handle for Minnesota and short-handed Chicago, and he looks like an early Golden Boot contender. Meanwhile, Hector Villalba and Yamil Asad on the wings present problems of their own with pace. Asad, especially, has been a delightful surprise at a lower cost than his attacking partners.
There are tougher opponents to come, but the early returns are positive for Atlanta United.
New York City FC – Rodney Wallace, David Villa, Maxi Moralez and Jack Harrison
Already MLS’ most-deadly attacking team last year, New York went out and improved its attacking line by adding veteran MLS midfielder Rodney Wallace and Argentine Designated Player Maxi Moralez.
For a team coming off a league-high 62 goals, NYCFC already look more dangerous. Moralez’s service from underneath David Villa adds a new dimension to the team. And while Wallace sacrifices some of Tommy McNamara’s creative ability, he already has two goals and an assist this season. Meanwhile, Jack Harrison fits right in with his much more veteran and proven teammates in the final third. If Harrison can continue to grow into this role, and Villa scores again at his MVP-level clip, New York will once again rank at or near the top in goals scored this season.
Portland Timbers – Darlington Nagbe, Fanendo Adi, Diego Valeri and Sebastián Blanco
Go on and count this right now as our favorite to end the season as the most feared front line in MLS.
Portland already had three of the most important pieces in place. Diego Valeri is consistently underrated and consistently performs near the top of the league for his position. He finished with 14 goals and seven assists last year and already has four goals and two assists this season. Fanendo Adi, meanwhile, looks like a player who will soon start demanding big-time transfer fees outside of MLS. He may be the toughest target forward match-up in the entire league based on his size, physicality, pace and scoring ability. He scored 32 goals over the past two seasons and has three goals and an assist this year. Then there is Nagbe, who had a down year in 2016, yet remains one of the brightest American attacking talents in MLS. Nagbe’s two assists this season are nearly half of his assist production last season. We’re three games into the season.
The missing piece the last couple years was the other wide player of this attacking line. And it wasn’t for lack of effort. The Timbers spent $5 million on a transfer fee for Lucas Melano, who simply didn’t work out. Melano was shipped away on loan, and Portland brought in Sebastián Blanco, who has already looked like the right fit. Blanco has just one assist so far this season, but if he can continue to open up back lines and provide service and a few goals, this Portland team becomes a nightmare to defend.
They already have 10 goals in three games, by the way.
Houston Dynamo – Romell Quioto, Erick Torres and Alberth Elis
The makeover of the Houston Dynamo began with the hiring of coach Wilmer Cabrera, and the former Chivas USA coach made it clear he wanted to start the build with his front line.
Signing two dynamic young wingers from Honduras, Romell Quioto and Alberth Elis, elicited some excitement among those who had seen the duo play. Elis, especially, had impressed with the Catrachos youth national teams. Three games into the season, those moves are paying off, and the two young forwards have been aided by the resurgence of Cubo Torres up top.
Quioto scored the Goal of the Week to open the season and has three goals in three games. Torres, who had yet to score in two (limited) seasons with the Dynamo, also has three goals in three games. Elis has a goal and an assist to his name. So yes, it’s been working out, and while Houston still may have some building to do, at least teams must be aware and ready for a deadly counterattack at all times.
Seattle Sounders – Nicolás Lodeiro, Jordan Morris and Clint Dempsey
There was no signing in MLS that had a bigger impact last year than Nico Lodeiro. He was a player that filled an immediate need, and with his ability to create goals, the Sounders turned their season from out of the playoffs into MLS Cup winners.
All of that was done without Clint Dempsey on the field, or at least for the main part of the run. With Dempsey back in the fold and Jordan Morris in his second professional season, Seattle once again has a deadly triangle of creative attacking players to cause problems for opposing teams. The Lodeiro-Dempsey connection, especially, has a chance to be incredibly productive, and Seattle could get a boost from players like Harry Shipp and Joevin Jones, who play complementary, but important, roles in the attack.
Dempsey, Lodeiro and Morris have all scored goals early this season, and Seattle looks once again like a contender.