The week 31 pole signifies the turn onto the home stretch. The chase is on for those of you in search of fantasy MLS glory. With five weeks of fantasy action remaining, now is the time to make your move, be it in the overall rankings, your own mini leagues, or the goals you set for yourself at the outset of the season. As we race towards the finish line, whether you are bringing up the rear, pinned against the rail, or leading the pack, only one horse can claim the roses at the wire.
We have, once again, reached the point of the season where manager’s budgets have swelled to the point where the possible lineup permutations have become limitless. In order to ensure a strong sprint to the finish, I am going to ride the thoroughbreds.
AND DOWN THE STRETCH THEY COME! Here are my picks for gameweek 31:
New York City F.C.
With two teams sitting on a double game-week (DGW), maximizing players with an extra helping of point scoring potential will be essential. First on that list should be NYC FC. Playing at home against the Chicago Fire Wednesday, then traveling to Minnesota United at the weekend, have two above-average match chances. The first name on my team-sheet is Sean Johnson (goalkeeper, $6.3m). Although the ‘Cityzens’ have not held a clean sheet since gameweek 22, Johnson’s bonus point haul from saves has been consistent enough lately to offer at least six points plus potential for a clean sheet, maybe two.
In the outfield, Maxi Moralez (midfielder, $10.3m) and David Silva (forward, $9.5m) make the strongest claims for inclusion among ‘The Bronx Blues.’ Moralez is the second highest scoring midfielder this season, and third overall, so is simply a must-have this week. As for the last Pigeon to be included in your roster, Maxime Chanot (defender, $7.8m) and Anton Tinnerholm (defender, $6.8m) are my two favorites. The defensive line has the same appeal as Sean Johnson. The Minnesota match-up is just too appealing, with few standout clean sheet opportunities elsewhere in this week’s slate. If you are looking to save some cash, Ronald Matarrita (defender, $4.2m) is very interesting at his price, should he get the start on Wednesday.
If the goal is sticking to thoroughbreds, Chicago has offered very little in that category this season. Considering their liabilities at the back, Fire goalkeepers and defenders are off the table for me. Further up the pitch, Aleksandar Katai (midfielder, $7.0m) has scored two goals in as many games. He has been a key figure for the Chicago attack, scoring eleven goals and chipping in four assists. Up front, Nemanja Nikolic (forward, $10.3m) looks to be returning to his golden-boot form, having scored four goals in his last four starts. While the ‘Men in Red’ will be the underdogs in both of their match-ups, the defenses they will be playing have both fallen off from their stout early season form. NYC FC’s coaching change, along with their bevy of injuries, and LA FC’s departure of Laurent Ciman make these match-ups much more palatable than they were a month or two ago.
Carlos Vela, Los Angeles F.C. ($11.6m)
Vela will get to face a Chicago Fire team coming off of a midweek game. With first place in the western conference up for grabs, I would expect LAFC to be chasing all three points. The Mexican international has rediscovered his form, having netted two goals and three assists in his last four games.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Los Angeles Galaxy ($13.1m)
Zlatan likes playing at home; twelve of his seventeen goals have been scored at the StubHub Center. Vancouver Whitecaps have kept only two clean sheets all season. That combination makes Zlatan a top option in week 31, despite his hefty price tag.
Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto F.C. ($13.5m)
Giovinco missed last week’s game against the New York Red Bulls. The injury report from Dylan Butler, of MLSSoccer.com, cited calf cramps as the ailment that kept him out, after playing in the Campeones Cup in midweek. I would expect him to return this week, as a push for the playoffs continues in Toronto. Seba has managed to score or assist in each of his last eleven matches, and he managed to tally a goal against New England in their prior match.
Nico Lodeiro, Seattle Sounders ($13.8m)
Seattle’s best player is home vs the Colorado Rapids, an opportunity nearly impossible to pass up. If you can maneuver around the price tag, Lodeiro is my favorite midfielder of those with only one game this week. In his last six home games, the Sounders’ playmaker has scored five goals and provided four assists.
Romain Alessandrini, Los Angeles Galaxy ($11.7m)
Did I mention that the Galaxy are playing the Whitecaps who have kept only two clean sheets all season? Over the second half of the season, Romain’s starts and minutes have not been consistent, but the production has been there. In his last ten appearances, he has registered a goal or assist in all but two, totalling five goals and six assists. Those numbers are outrageous considering he has played only 694 minutes out of a possible 900.
Luciano Acosta, D.C. United ($11.5m)
Since opening Audi Field, D.C. United’s home form has been phenomenal. Acosta has been at the forefront of that, pairing with forward Wayne Rooney (D.C. United, $11.8m). In the last game against Montreal Impact, Lucho came away with ten points, having provided only an assist. If he can find the back of the net, then he can easily top that total this week, especially considering Montreal’s lackluster road form this year.
Ignacio Piatti, Montreal Impact ($10.8m)
Piatti is the ultimate fantasy enigma. He has one of the highest point potentials for any player in the fantasy game. However, he also has one of the lowest floors. A two point performance is never out of the question, especially in a game on the road. He has two goals and three assists in his last five games. And, D.C. United are far from a solid defense, having given up the tenth most goals in MLS this season.
Federico Higuain, Columbus Crew ($7.0m)
He scored fourteen points in 90 minutes against Colorado last week, with a goal and an assist. Could Higuain finally be hitting the form of years past as the Crew battle for playoff contention? As a bench option this week, $7.0m seems like a bargain price on a proven star.
Ashley Cole, Los Angeles Galaxy ($7.2m)
With Dominic Kinnear now in charge, I am willing to trust the Galaxy defense somewhat. They held the hottest team in the league scoreless last week, and they have a much less challenging date this weekend: at home versus Vancouver. And, do not forget about the possible contributions Cole can provide, having assisted seven times this season.
Alejandro Fuenmayor, Houston Dynamo ($6.4m)
The Houston defense has not been good this year. That said, a home game against the San Jose Earthquakes, whom I expect to bunker in, cannot be passed up. They managed to hold Orlando City to zero goals last week under similar circumstances. Plus, there is the off chance that Fuenmayor pops up with a goal himself.
Kim Kee-Hee, Seattle Sounders ($8.5m)
Kee-Hee is the only Sounder who looks sure to start. In a game at home to Colorado, I like the chances for the Seattle back line to rebound after being embarassed by the LA Galaxy last weekend. You could also double down, if the likes of Chad Marshall (Seattle Sounders, $9.3m) and Brad Davis (Seattle Sounders, $6.8m) are fit to play. Roman Torres (Seattle Sounders, $4.0m) warrants a look if Marshall cannot go.
With five weeks remaining, game-week 31 is truly the beginning of the end. The sprint to the finish will be equally entertaining for MLS and fantasy managers alike, as teams chase down the Supporters’ Shield and playoff positions. Saddle up, and hang on, because it is going to be a white-knuckle ride.
What thoroughbreds are you backing in this week? Or, are you going to back a long-shot dark horse in your ride to glory? Let us know in the comments below!