We're only a month and a half into the 2016 MLS season, so we don't exactly have a significant sample size, but some teams and players have stood out and look to be the real deal. Real Salt Lake, for example, are the league's last remaining unbeaten side, and appear to have the pieces to continue their success in the months to come. Other clubs like Toronto FC and Sporting KC have shown enough to solidify themselves as Supporters' Shield contenders, at least for the time being.
The same can be said for some players. Those players—such as Sebastian Giovinco, Joao Plata and Chris Wondolowski—have put themselves at the forefront of the MVP conversation. Here's every team's MVP through seven weeks, based solely off their performances at this early juncture:
Chicago Fire: Matt Lampson (GK)
I'm very tempted to go with David Accam here, but his recent injury troubles—resulting in only two appearances so far—put him out of the running. Goalkeeper Matt Lampson has impressed after stealing the starting job in preseason from Sean Johnson, coming up with three clean sheets and 29 saves, the most in the league. Others: Kennedy Igboananike, David Accam
Colorado Rapids: Marco Pappa (MF)
The Rapids have found success this season thanks to their improved attack, and that can partially be credited to offseason acquisition Marco Pappa, who has a goal and three assists in five games played. He has created 12 chances—tied for the most on the team—and has been crucial playing as an inverted winger in Colorado's 4-2-3-1 formation. The Guatemalan has breathed life into this offense, but they will have to go without him for the next few matches, as he was recently ruled out for two-four weeks. Others: Sam Cronin, Eric Miller
Columbus Crew SC: Kei Kamara (FW)
Kamara hasn't looked as good as he did last season, but he still has two goals and 23 shots while heading a Crew SC attack. He does a lot to open up space for other attackers—like Justin Meram and Ethan Finlay—and he holds-up play better than anyone else in the league. Others: Justin Meram, Federico Higuain, Steve Clark
D.C. United: Fabian Espindola (FW)
DCU have often struggled in attack this season, but Espindola has still been one of the most dangerous forwards in the league. He has scored three goals (most on the team), recorded 29 shots (fourth-best in the league), and managed seven key passes from his striker position. Espindola has his issues, but there is no doubt that he is crucial to United's attack. Others: Marcelo Sarvas, Steve Birnbaum, Travis Worra, Luciano Acosta
FC Dallas: Mauro Diaz (MF)
Diaz has been injured recently, but in his four games this season, he made a noticeable impact. The Argentine number-ten recorded four assists—a number that remains tied at the top—and had a role in five of FCD's first seven goals. If he hadn't missed any games, we would touting him as the MVP of the league. Others: Fabian Castillo, Maximiliano Urruti, Victor Ulloa
Houston Dynamo: Andrew Wenger (MF)
This is a tough one. The Dynamo have struggled in all areas at various points this season, and no one has really stood out. But Wenger, acquired from the Union in the offseason, impressed in the first couple games of the year and has been an important part of the offense and defense on the right wing. Others: Will Bruin, DaMarcus Beasley
Los Angeles Galaxy: Sebastian Lletget (MF)
The LA Galaxy have experienced multiple absences up front—mainly injuries to Robbie Keane and Giovani dos Santos—but Lletget has still been a consistent contributor from the wing. He is always a threat cutting in and has picked up two assists on the season, while accumulating WhoScored.com's highest rating. Others: Gyasi Zardes, Ashley Cole, Gio dos Santos
Montreal Impact: Ignacio Piatti (MF)
In Montreal's run to the top of the Eastern Conference, Piatti has been crucial. He has picked up four goals and two assists in six games while running the Impact offense from the wing. His exquisite dribbling skills and pace make him one of the most dangerous players in MLS, and it's likely Piatti will only continue to develop that title as Didier Drogba returns from his turf-induced absences. Others: Laurent Ciman, Evan Bush, Donny Toia
New England Revolution: Lee Nguyen (MF)
Our fifth straight midfielder is the Revs' number-ten, Lee Nguyen. New England have been perfectly average this season—with five draws in seven matches—but they have shown the effectiveness of their attack, which prioritizes possession in the final third. Nguyen is key to that, and he has proven that he is capable of debilitating backlines with killer passes and through-balls: He has 14 key passes, although he hasn't picked up an assist yet. Others: Diego Fagundez, Scott Caldwell, Chris Tierney
New York City FC: Ronald Matarrita (DEF)
The Costa Rica-international—a long-time veteran of his home country's domestic league—has proved he is worthy of a consistent starting spot with some defensively stout performances. Matarrita averages the most tackles per game for NYCFC—with 5.6—and has 3.6 interceptions per game. He's been a threat going forward as well, a trait that will grow more important as the Light Blues transition to a four at the back formation. Others: David Villa, Frederic Brilliant, Andrea Pirlo, Tommy McNamara
New York Red Bulls: Kemar Lawrence (DEF)
It's been tough for RBNY so far this season. Nothing has really clicked, with injuries to the backline and serious finishing problems up front, leading to a place in the cellar of the Eastern Conference through week seven. But they have had one player who has played at least similar to how he played last year: Right-back Kemar Lawrence, who has stabilized the defense—to an extent—through the mirage of crucial injuries. He himself has missed time, but in the minutes he has been on the field, he's looked like the best player in white and red. Others: Sean Davis, Anatole Abang
Orlando City: Darwin Ceren (MF)
With Kaka and Cyle Larin missing time for OCSC, the door opened for hard-working defensive midfielder Darwin Ceren, who has made a name for himself thanks to his ball-winning skills and ability to start couter-attacks. The El Salvador-international has impressive distribution skills and has formed a nice partnership with Cristian Higuita in defensive midfield. Others: Kaka, Cyle Larin, Cristian Higuita, Tommy Redding
Philadelphia Union: C.J. Sapong (FW)
The Union's Sapong, who came into the season with question marks surrounding him, has proven that he can be an elite striker, with three goals and an assist through six games. He has performed well enough this year to generate USMNT hype, and is a big enough part of Philly's offense to best goalkeeper Andre Blake. Others: Andre Blake, Keegan Rosenberry
Portland Timbers: Fanendo Adi (FW)
The Timbers have other players who qualify for this 'award,' but Adi's six goals—tied for the league lead—puts him over the top. The Nigerian forward is impressively good at holding up play and has gotten better with his movement and speed, giving him more opportunities to put the ball in the net. He has done exactly that this season. Others: Diego Chara, Diego Valeri, Jack McInerney
Real Salt Lake: Joao Plata (MF/FW)
There is a serious argument to be made that Joao Plata has been the MVP of the league. He has four goals and four assists this season—the highest combined total of anyone by far—and has been a crucial part of RSL's surprisingly good 2016 campaign. Plata can shred defenders one-on-one while also showing an ability to pick out passes through backlines. Others: Juan Manuel Martinez, Yura Movsisyan, Sunny Obayan, Justin Glad
San Jose Earthquakes: Chris Wondolowski (FW)
The Earthquakes' Chris Wondolowski has shown no signs of slowing down even as he approaches age 35, scoring six goals in seven games and helping San Jose get off to a respectable start to the season. Wondo is now in fourth place in the MLS career goals category, 29 goals off Landon Donovan's all-time record. Others: David Bingham, Quincy Amarikwa
Seattle Sounders: Chad Marshall (DEF)
Not only has Sounders center-back Chad Marshall been superb defensively, he has the most goals of anyone in Seattle right now. Sure, he only has two, but it's at least one more than all of teammates. Others: Osvaldo Alonso, Andreas Ivanschitz
Sporting Kansas City: Tim Melia (GK)
Tim Melia has had his struggles at goalkeeper recently, but on the season, he has made a real case for the Goalkeeper of the Year award. Highlighted by his performance against the Red Bulls a few weeks ago, Melia has put together multiple impressive performances over SKC's last few matches. Others: Dom Dwyer, Roger Espinoza, Benny Feilhaber, Nuno Coelho
Toronto FC: Sebastian Giovinco (FW)
TFC goalkeeper Clint Irwin has a case here, as does midfielder Michael Bradley, but it's impossible to go against Sebastian Giovinco, the reigning MLS MVP and Newcomer of the Year. He has had a role in all six of Toronto's goals this season and continues to be their main source of attack. Others: Clint Irwin, Michael Bradley
Vancouver Whitecaps: Pedro Morales (MF)
It's been a tough go for the Whitecaps early in the season—they are currently second to last in the Western Conference—but they have seen Pedro Morales make strides in midfield. Despite an injury that has kept him out of recent games, Morales has four goals and an assist on the year while providing more defensive help than he has before. Others: Kendall Waston, Tim Parker
What to watch for this weekend
Whitecaps aim to get back on track
The Whitecaps and FC Dallas were impressively alike teams just a month and a half ago.
Both Supporters' Shield contenders, the two each had a star center-back in the ranks—Kendall Waston up north and Matt Hedges at FCD—they had a star center midfielder running the show—Pedro Morales and Mauro Diaz—they had young, speedy wingers heading the attack—Kekuta Manneh and Fabian Castillo—and they both had one major weakness: finishing from the forward position. These two were incomparably alike, but they have gone in completely different directions.
FC Dallas, last year's Western Conference champions, have seen Castillo pick up where he left off from 2015, Diaz play like an MVP before a recent hamstring injury, the defense allow five goals in their last six games, and, perhaps most importantly, offseason acquisition Maxi Urruti has fixed the finishing problems overnight. As a result, they are three points ahead of the rest of the league and only have one loss on the season, a 5-0 anomaly against Houston in week two.
Even without Diaz, the Texans have dominated. Just the opposite is true for Vancouver.
Up in Canada, the Whitecaps have seen their season get off to a rocky start. They are currently ninth in the Western Conference, and the reasons for those struggles are varied: Morales has been injured recently, Manneh hasn't found his form yet, goalkeeper David Ousted hasn't looked as he good as he did last season, and, most noticeably, the forwards have failed to produce anything in attack.
Octavio Rivero, Blas Perez and Masato Kudo, VWFC's top three forwards, have scored a combined zero goals this season. Morales has scored four of the team's six goals, with the other two being netted by defenders. This has been the main source of their struggles this season.
When they face Dallas on Saturday night, it's a chance to get some sort of production from the strikers, especially with Hedges out.
Giovinco vs. Drogba
Sebastian Giovinco and Didier Drogba are two of the best goal-scorers in MLS. The latter, despite his advanced age of 38, dominates opposing center-backs with striking physicality and a work rate rarely seen from someone his age combined with unmatched technical ability. The Ivorian, once considered one of the greatest players in the world, isn't the player he was a decade ago, but he remains a specimen.
Giovinco doesn't have the worldwide stardom that Drogba has—he does, however, have 93 appearances and 14 goals with Italian giants Juventus—but the Italian has an MLS MVP award and 26 goals with Toronto FC, and as he enters his prime, he has become the face of the league. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to call him MLS's Messi.
The two have faced off before: Drogba and the Impact banished TFC from last year's MLS Cup Playoffs with a blowout 3-0 victory in the Knockout Round. For the first time since that late October day, the Canadian rivals will face off.
That rematch, taking place on Saturday afternoon in Montreal, comes at the tail end of an eight game road trip for Toronto. It promises to be a good one, especially with Giovinco and Drogba in the starting lineups. We'll see some fireworks, I can tell you that much.