Voices: Joseph Lowery

Who had the best debuts during MLS is Back?


It’s back, people! Actual, real, tangible MLS games are back and they’re oh-so beautiful.

We’re now 15 total games into the 2024 regular season. Nearly every team has kicked off their campaign – Vancouver Whitecaps FC play their season opener on Saturday against Charlotte FC (7:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass) – which means we’ve seen plenty of newcomers debut for their club.

Which winter signings stood out? Let’s dig in.

There’s a general air of “we’re still figuring out how to play with each other” hanging over Inter Miami right now, but Luis Suárez has been an early bright spot.

Suárez, who functions as a direct replacement for the outgoing Josef Martínez in Tata Martino’s squad, has shown real quality on the ball both inside the box and deeper downfield as a playmaker.

The Uruguayan striker hasn’t been perfect, but he has such an easy quality about him. Suárez makes difficult passes look simple:

Suárez likely won’t be the same goalscorer in MLS as he was at Grêmio in Brazil – at least not with Lionel Messi understandably at the center of Miami’s attacking game plan. But he’s already taking on the creator role and will have his chance in the spotlight when Messi, his former FC Barcelona teammate, is away on international duty at various points in the year.

For someone who’s still shaking off the rust, Suárez has been a major positive after a couple of games.

Just two minutes into his debut for LAFC against the Seattle Sounders on Saturday afternoon, Hugo Lloris was called into action.

After building on the right side of their attacking shape, Cristian Roldan snuck a pass in behind (and off Jesús Murillo) to his Seattle teammate Jordan Morris. Morris snapped a shot on goal, but Lloris made a strong, timely save. There wasn’t anything flashy, but Lloris won’t have to make flashy saves for LAFC to be among the best in the Western Conference this year.

The Tottenham Hotspur legend was basically flawless in goal over the weekend, only conceding a penalty to Pedro de la Vega. His quick punts downfield after claiming the ball in his own box were valuable for Steve Cherundolo’s team, too. Twice in the first 25 minutes, the Frenchman launched a ball upfield into the back of an attacking teammate to create a moment of danger on the other end. Quick distribution like that goes a long way.

It’s early days, but the 2018 World Cup winner looks both comfortable and effective for his new club.

I often talk with other soccer folks about the kind of texture that wide players put on their crosses. For some reason, this topic doesn’t come up with non-soccer people…

Julian Gressel might just be the best example of a wide player who puts the perfect texture on his crosses, though he’s currently in a more central role for Inter Miami. They move with speed, they bend and they dip. Altogether, there’s a real purpose to Gressel’s service.

The same seems to apply to Omar Campos. Replacing Diego Palacios on the left side of LAFC’s backline, Campos was sharp against Seattle in a 2-1 win. The rising Mexican international picked up an assist on the game’s opening goal with a well-struck ball from the wing that found Timothy Tillman on the far side of the box:

Even outside of his service, the 21-year-old Santos Laguna product brought speed, quickness and good pressing instincts to LAFC. Campos might just be able to make LAFC fans forget about Palacios before the year is over.

Pedro de la Vega looks a whole lot bigger on the field than I thought he would. The 23-year-old Argentine winger is still working his way into Brian Schmetzer’s squad, so he came off the bench in the second half against LAFC. On the field, though? The dude is imposing.

The Young DP’s playing style is imposing, too. De la Vega looked like the Tasmanian Devil on the left wing, aggressively spinning his way past opposing defenders and into the final third.

With de la Vega’s mixture of physicality and technical ability, it’s going to be fun watching him play his first full 90 minutes at some point in the very near future.

After joining the LA Galaxy from Belgian top-flight Genk just before Matchday 1, Joseph Paintsil wasted no time making his mark in Carson.

Starting on the right wing against Inter Miami on Sunday night, the Ghanaian attacker blitzed the opposing backline again and again and again. He drew a penalty in the first half when Sergio Busquets pulled him back, and was generally dominant before shifting over to the left to play as an inverted winger opposite Gabriel Pec (who also looked excellent) in the second half.

Inter Miami’s backline makes life fairly easy for most opposing attackers. But Paintsil? He’s going to make life miserable for every defense in MLS this season. The 26-year-old has the makings of an elite winger in this league.

Deybi Flores isn’t quite new to MLS – he played a few minutes for the Vancouver Whitecaps back in the mid-2010s – but the Honduran central midfielder was everywhere all at once for Toronto FC on Sunday.

I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting much, but Flores’ mobility, ball-winning and ball progression in John Herdman’s double pivot made life significantly easier for the pieces around him.

It’s hard to say exactly what Herdman’s tactical approach will be moving forward. The former Canada manager used a 3-4-2-1 with Flores next to a more ball-playing type in Alonso Coello in their 0-0 draw with FC Cincinnati. If Toronto keep that look, Flores looks like he’ll be right at home in the heart of midfield.

Against Nashville SC, Emil Forsberg looked exactly like you would expect a player who was suiting up for RB Leipzig in the UEFA Champions League two months ago to look. He was dominant.

The Swedish attacking midfielder found success playing passes with his preferred right foot, his weaker left and even his head, hitting his teammates in stride on a regular basis. It’s easy to see why he’s already RBNY’s captain.

Forsberg didn’t end up on the scoresheet or in the assist column, but his early returns are incredibly promising. If Dante Vanzeir or one of Sandro Schwarz’s other attacking pieces can start firing in front of goal, the No. 10 will start collecting plenty of counting stats.