Ranking the Top 7 MLS Forwards in the 2021 Season
The redemption of Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez and the L.A. Galaxy was one of the best stories from the opening two months of the Major League Soccer season.
The Mexican striker rediscovered his form in April and May in the first set of games under new head coach Greg Vanney, who guided Toronto FC to three MLS Cup appearances.
Hernandez has established himself as the best forward through the opening two months of the season.
Hernandez received plenty of the early spotlight, but there are a handful of other lethal finishers ready to challenge him for the Golden Boot.
The majority of the top contenders for the league's top scoring honor are international forwards that have dominated at their respective clubs. Real Salt Lake's Rubio Rubin is the only United States men's national team-eligible player on this list.
The top seven forwards in MLS so far this season were rated based on their goal-scoring efforts and the impact they have had on their respective clubs so far.
7. Rubio Rubin, Real Salt Lake
After a turbulent four seasons, Rubio Rubin is at Real Salt Lake and finally getting consistent minutes again.
The 25-year-old played in Denmark, Norway, Mexico and in the USL Championship with San Diego Loyal from 2017 to 2021.
Rubin inked a deal with RSL in the offseason and immediately repaid them with four goals and two assists over six starts.
Rubin's third goal of the campaign will be a Goal of the Year contender. He produced a lovely bicycle kick inside the 18-yard box against the San Jose Earthquakes.
It has been several years since the RSL forward has gotten a look with the USMNT. He made seven appearances for the United States from 2014 to 2018, with his last appearance coming in a friendly against the Republic of Ireland.
Rubin recently trained with Guatemala during the MLS international break, but he has not made his one-time switch yet. If he continues to score, there is always a chance Gregg Berhalter tries to change his mind and works him back into the setup.
6. Adam Buksa, New England Revolution
Adam Buksa is one of the more underrated forwards in MLS.
Some of the lack of praise toward Buksa happens because Carles Gil, the best chance creator in MLS, plays directly behind him.
Buksa has been a direct beneficiary of the Spaniard's masterful passing ability. He has attempted the fifth-most shots in MLS with 29.
The 24-year-old Polish striker needs to be a bit more clinical with his chances, as he has put only nine of his shots on target this season.
When he hits the frame, Buksa finds the back of the net at a decent clip. He has four goals in six starts for the first-place New England Revolution.
If Gil keeps providing Buksa great service and the Polish striker tidies up his shot accuracy, he could have a double-digit goal season and help the Revs remain on top of the Eastern Conference.
5. Gonzalo Higuain, Inter Miami
The goal-scoring prowess of Gonzalo Higuain has been one of the few bright spots for Inter Miami.
The former Real Madrid, Napoli, Juventus, AC Milan and Chelsea striker scored in his first two games of the season versus the Galaxy and Philadelphia Union.
Higuain followed that up on May 16 with a brace for the Herons in a win over FC Cincinnati, which was the first inside the Ohio side's new stadium.
The Argentine ranks second in MLS in shots on target with 13. In two of his performances with goals, Higuain placed four shots on frame. He has four appearances with multiple shots on goal in 2021.
Unfortunately for Miami, its defense has been a disappointment so far. Inter Miami has conceded 13 goals—the second-most in the league—on 35 shots on target and has a minus-eight goal differential.
If the defense corrects its poor form and Higuain remains sharp in the final third, Miami could make a push for a playoff position.
4. Valentin Castellanos, New York City FC
Valentin Castellanos did not allow speculation about his future in the transfer circuit to negatively affect his play.
New York City FC's Argentine forward gained interest from Brazilian side Palmeiras before he inked a five-year contract extension in May, per MLSSoccer.com.
Before he officially signed that extension, however, Castellanos reeled off four goals in four consecutive games for NYCFC.
Castellanos' production up top has been welcome in the absence of Heber, the club's top scorer in 2019, who is working back from a season-ending ACL injury from a year ago.
Castellanos and Jesus Medina have combined for nine of the 13 goals scored by the fourth-place side in the East.
3. Alan Pulido, Sporting Kansas City
Hernandez is not the only Mexican forward in form right now.
Sporting Kansas City's Alan Pulido closed out the May schedule with four goals in three games. The four strikes came from six shots on target.
With one more goal, Pulido will match his scoring total from his first season with SKC. He found the back of the net on six occasions, which tied for the team lead, but various injuries and COVID-19 quarantine rules limited him 12 games in 2020.
A healthy Pulido may be the key for Sporting KC to challenge the Seattle Sounders, Los Angeles FC and the L.A. Galaxy for first place in the Western Conference later on in the season.
Pulido has accounted for five of his team's 16 goals and his form could allow him to make some more international appearances for Mexico as CONCACAF World Cup qualifying heats up in the fall. He came on as a substitute in the CONCACAF Nations League semifinal in Denver.
2. Raul Ruidiaz, Seattle Sounders
It is no surprise to see one of the league's most consistent scorers near the top of the Golden Boot race.
Raul Ruidiaz is four goals away from turning in his fourth consecutive double-digit goal season for the Sounders.
Ruidiaz and the Sounders got off to a blistering start by scoring eight goals in their first three games. The Peruvian was responsible for four of those tallies.
Seattle has produced 14 goals over eight games, and Ruidiaz has six of them, which ranks second in the league. However, his 13 shots on target have come off a league-leading 34 attempts, which is an accuracy rate of 38.2 percent. That's well below the likes of Chicharito (68.2) and Higuain (56.5), two forwards with a similar amount of attempts on goal.
Either way, being able to get off shots at a high rate is a good quality for a forward. And Ruidiaz could become an even more lethal goal-scorer if he could manage to get more of his attempts on net.
1, Javier Hernandez, LA Galaxy
There is no question who the best pure goal scorer in MLS has been so far this season.
Hernandez quickly took control of the Golden Boot race with five goals in his first two appearances.
The Mexican superstar knocked in a brace against Inter Miami and then bagged a hat-trick in a 3-2 home win over the New York Red Bulls. Hernandez produced a goal each in May victories over Austin FC and LAFC. His seven goals in seven games have come off only 11 shots on target.
The Galaxy is 4-0-0 when Chicharito scores, a clear sign that the Mexican's potency in the final third is vital to the team's success. On the other hand, the club is 1-2-0 when opponents keep Hernandez off the scoresheet.
The next task for Hernandez is to keep up that form after a three-week break. The Galaxy return from their break against the Sounders.
The two games after the Seattle clash versus the Vancouver Whitecaps and San Jose Earthquakes should give Hernandez ample opportunities to become the first MLS forward to reach 10 goals this season.
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.
Statistics obtained from MLSSoccer.com.