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Why the early-season stats love these 8 MLS players | MLSSoccer.com

Why the early-season stats love these 8 MLS players | MLSSoccer.com

Week by week, we’re inching closer to having legitimate sample sizes for player evaluation. Every team in MLS has played between six and eight games, which is just on the low end to really dig into the impact of specific players from around the league.

Still, with caution, I want to pick out some of the unexpected early-season stars. These aren’t your MVP candidates or your sure-fire All-Stars. Rather, these are the underground players you can claim to know before they were cool. Okay, fine, some of the players I’m highlighting below are battle-tested veterans who you know already. But you get the idea. 


You literally couldn’t rip the horn for the Andrés Gómez hype train out of my hands if you tried. It’s just not possible.

Through six games this year, the 21-year-old has two goals and three primary assists alongside his 4.1 non-penalty xG+xAG, which puts him seventh in all of MLS. He’s developed into the go-to option on the right wing for Pablo Mastroeni and seems to be enjoying RSL’s shift to a 3-2-5 shape in possession more than any of his teammates. While he defends as a right-sided midfielder in a 4-4-2 block, Gómez steps higher and towards the sideline to provide width as the right-most member of the front five in the attack.

So few players are better than Gómez at gaining the edge on the opposing fullback, rounding the corner, and firing off either a key pass or a shot from a dangerous area. With elite speed and high-level dribbling ability, Gómez leads regular MLS contributors in take-ons per 90 minutes (8.51) and has added more value with his dribbling than any other player in MLS this year, according to American Soccer Analysis’ goals added metric.

There’s tons of room for Gómez to become more efficient in the final third, but the Colombian is leaping from a promise-filled youngster to a legitimately productive starter.

The 2022 version of William Agada is back, folks. Or, at least it’s starting to look that way.

After arriving in MLS in the summer of 2022, the Nigerian striker scored an incredible eight goals in 900 minutes to close out the regular season for Sporting Kansas City. But in 2023? Injuries robbed Agada of 20 games, leaving him with just three goals in 700 regular-season minutes. Through just six games and three starts in 2024, though, Agada has already equaled his goal tally from 2023.

The 24-year-old’s off-ball movement has always been sharp, and he’s continued to use that to his advantage this season. According to FBref, Agada is third among regular players in MLS this year in non-penalty xG per 90. Opposing center backs rarely know when or where he’ll pop up inside the box – and they can rarely match his physicality, even if they can put a body on him in the 18.

It’s too early to know exactly how Peter Vermes plans to use Agada this year. Will he be a starter even when Alan Pulido is fully fit? Will Vermes play the two together like he did against the LA Galaxy last month? Or will he revert back to a super-sub role?

Given his production, it’s hard to imagine a world where the best version of SKC doesn’t involve Agada being on the field.

Truth be told, there were at least a couple of other D.C. United players in strong contention for this list. But Ted Ku-Dipietro took the cake.

While he only has one goal on the season, Ku-Dipietro is thriving in a central role for Troy Lesesne. With Christian Benteke leading the line, the 22-year-old can pick up the ball underneath the Belgian striker and go to town on backpedaling defenses. Often playing as the left-sided attacking midfielder in an aggressive 4-1-4-1 shape, Ku-Dipietro is averaging 0.50 non-penalty xG per 90 this year. That number is well above his solid 0.34 non-penalty xG per 90 figure from last year.

A ball progression threat on the dribble and with passing, Ku-Dipietro adds value in basically every phase of the game. He’s a motivated presser, too, which makes him an ideal attacking option in D.C. United’s new-look system.

Ku-Dipietro only has one goal right now, but expect the counting stats to follow his impressive underlying numbers before too long.

When Fafà Picault signed with the Whitecaps as a free agent over the offseason, a large part of me thought he would end up as a wingback for Vanni Sartini.

We haven’t quite seen that yet, but we did see a few wingback tendencies from the veteran last Saturday in a 4-0 drubbing of Toronto FC. Defensively, Picault positioned himself as the left-sided member of Vancouver’s front three. In possession, he popped up in that spot too, while mixing in a few wide rotations to allow Alessandro Schöpf to shift inside.

With that positional flexibility and a penchant for vertical runs, Picault has started the last three matches for the Whitecaps. He’s scored in all three and is putting up an absurd 0.89 non-penalty xG+xAG per 90. Those numbers will undoubtedly taper off as the year continues, but Picault’s direct movement gives the ‘Caps another dimension in possession.

I wouldn’t be shocked if we see him pop up as something closer to a true wingback as the year continues. But for now? Picault is thriving in his flexible attacking role.

You can break down the LA Galaxy’s players into two categories. First, there are the attacking difference-makers. You know, your Riqui Puigs, your Joseph Paintsils, your Dejan Joveljics, etc… Then, there’s, uh, everyone else.

Okay, fine. That’s not quite an accurate picture of the Galaxy. But it’s not all that far off as general manager Will Kuntz is in the process of turning over this squad. Mark Delgado might be the king of the worker bees right now for Los Angeles, making life easier for the attacking difference-makers around him. Often playing as the most advanced central midfielder when Puig drops deep to run point, Delgado’s movement creates balance in the Galaxy’s attack.

The 28-year-old receives more progressive passes per 90 than his fellow starters, outside of Paintsil and Gabriel Pec. Delgado is adding value with his defensive work and his distribution, according to ASA’s goals added metric. His expected numbers are inflated thanks to a high-value pass against Inter Miami back in February, but Delgado’s commitment to getting forward has been a useful gambit.

It’s worth watching to see if the active midfielder can make the most of his aggressive runs as 2024 progresses.

Sticking with Los Angeles, Eduard Atuesta’s return to LAFC created a few questions for Steve Cherundolo. Would Atuesta take Ilie Sánchez’s starting spot at the No. 6 position? Would we see a double pivot in a 4-2-3-1 shape? Or would Atuesta end up out of position as one of the free No. 8s in Cherundolo’s 4-3-3 shape?

As it turns out, LAFC have used Atuesta in that last position: He’s playing as the left-sided free No. 8. It’s not a natural role for the Colombian, and his ball progression metrics have taken a hit. Atuesta is hitting fewer progressive passes and registering fewer progressive carries than he did at any point during his first stint with the Black & Gold. His expected numbers aren’t up either, despite being positioned closer to the opposing goal.

No, Atuesta isn’t on this list because of his contributions in open play. He’s on it because of his set-piece threat. LAFC have created more xG from set pieces than all but three teams in MLS, according to Opta. As the club’s primary set-piece taker, Atuesta has added nine shot-creating actions from set pieces and two goal-creating actions from set pieces. Those numbers place him fifth and first in MLS, respectively.

If (or when?) Carlos Vela returns for LAFC, they’re going to have a pair of elite set-piece takers.

The best-named player in MLS has developed into one of the most dangerous fullbacks in MLS. 

With impressive outings against Minnesota United and Austin FC this year for Orlando City, Dagur Dan Thorhallson continues to stake his claim as a genuine threat bombing up the right side in Oscar Pareja’s starting group. Few outside backs in MLS have been more impactful than the 23-year-old, who leads his positional peers in goals added so far this season, according to ASA.

With well-weighted right-footed deliveries into the box, Thorhallson can create danger with his distribution…

…but he’s even more dangerous on the dribble:

Thorhallson is a joy to watch – and more importantly, he’s been an effective attacking outlet for Orlando City in 2024.

Moise Bombito is crushing life in Colorado right now. 

Is he a perfect center back? Absolutely not. In just his second professional season after being selected in the 2023 MLS SuperDraft by the Rapids, Bombito still has plenty of work to do. Too often, he takes an extra touch here or makes a slow defensive read there. But is Bombito playing like a high-level center back right now? Absolutely.

With elite closing speed (that can cover for his occasional slow read) and excellent on-ball ability, Bombito has been one of the biggest bright spots for Chris Armas’ squad in 2024. The 24-year-old is the top center back in MLS based on ASA’s goals added metric. He’s in the 96th percentile in progressive passes and the 89th in progressive carries among his positional peers this year, according to FBref.

We’ve seen more than a few late-bloomers at the center back spot over the years in MLS – it looks to me like Bombito is the latest in that line of players.

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