The CONCACAF Gold Cup begins July 7, and as such the international squads for the conference have been named and departed to their respective training camps. With the United States, Canada, Panama, Jamaica and a host of other nations represented heavily on MLS rosters, there will be a number of absentees to keep in mind as we select our fantasy squads over the next 4-5 game weeks.
The planning begins this week, and for the most part we've got a pretty normal round by MLS standards, with only Philadelphia Union and Sporting Kansas City not in action this weekend. Some of the biggest fantasy contributors who will not be taking part in the action due to Gold Cup duty are Jaime Penedo, Nick Rimando, Omar Gonzalez, Alvas Powell, Brad Evans, Marco Pappa, Michael Bradley, Chris Wondolowski, Blas Perez and Gabriel Torres.
Be sure to check the full Gold Cup squad list before you set your team this week. If you have any of these players in your squad, you'll want to do everything you can to transfer them out so you don't have wasted funds in your team. Let's focus now on who will be playing this week and highlight some strong options to deliver the fantasy goods.
David Ousted - The Great Dane has been in outstanding form for the Vancouver Whitecaps this season, and a trip to low-scoring Colorado could lead to potential clean sheet points this weekend.
Adam Kwarasey - The Portland Timbers will be high on confidence after their 4-1 demolition of Seattle last time out, and with a home match against another California team with the visit of San Jose Earthquakes, they'll look to continue their excellent recent form to challenge at the top of the Western Conference. With Wondo missing for SJ, Portland's clean sheet chances should get a boost.
Tyrone Mears - D.C. United are top of the Eastern Conference, but a cross-country trip could make things difficult for them against a spirited Seattle Sounders team. Mears has been putting up solid numbers regardless of results, and could continue to build on his strong contributions this weekend.
Pa-Modou Kah - A mid-price option in defense, Kah has put up close to premium numbers this season. Colorado will be missing one of their most potent attackers in Gabriel Torres, so the Whitecaps defender will be looking to keep a clean sheet despite being on the road.
Matt Polster - If you're looking for a budget option for your squad, the Chicago Fire have just what you need in Polster. For just $4.6m, you can have a starter who plays ahead of his listed position, with a winnable match against goal-shy Houston Dynamo, and with a double week on the horizon in Round 20. Win-win.
Fabian Castillo - Castillo is the creative spark for FC Dallas, carving through defenses with his pace and skill on the ball. The New England Revolution have been in good form lately, but Castillo has two goals in his last two outings and will be eager to build on that form.
Pedro Ribeiro - With Cyle Larin away on international duty with Canada, Ribeiro should be called upon to lead the line for Orlando City. There are rumors that Javier Hernandez (aka Chicharito) could be on his way to the Lions this summer, so Ribeiro may only have a few opportunities left to impress his manager to earn playing time. Playing ahead of his position makes him an attractive, inexpensive option in midfield this weekend despite a trip to Salt Lake.
Javier Morales - I made a huge mistake in round 17 and dropped Ignacio Piatti to bring in Javi Morales, who rewarded my faith in him with a red card in the first half of the first match of the week. Even with the -2 he "earned" for my squad, he's not on the dead-to-me list just yet, and I like his chances of getting back to his best at home against Orlando.
Ethan Finlay - With 24 points in his last three matches, Finlay is the in-form fantasy midfielder right now. That he still only costs $8.7m despite ranking fourth among midfielders in fantasy scoring is shocking, but an indication that you should be picking him up before his price rises any further, especially with the upcoming two-team double week for Chicago and Columbus Crew in round 20.
Kei Kamara - Another Crew man in fine form, Kamara added to his league-leading goal tally last week, and I don't see any reason why he couldn't build on his 12-goal return yet again with a home match against New York Red Bulls.
Robbie Keane - The LA Galaxy have a bye next week, so this is definitely a short-term recommendation, but Keane has rediscovered his best form lately and will have his former Liverpool teammate Steven Gerrard in the stadium for the match against Toronto FC. I think he'll put on a show.
Fanendo Adi - The Timbers striker is frustratingly inconsistent and tends to score when the least number of people have him in their teams, but he should get another run leading the line against San Jose after his brace against the Sounders last week. I think this could his time to score in back-to-back weeks.
The Week 18 deadline is 9:00 p.m. EDT Friday evening, so be sure to save your squads ahead of time. Let us know who you are considering in the comments!