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Week 3 MLS Fantasy Player Picks: Imbalance

Week three sees every MLS team scheduled to take the field, but there is a decided imbalance between the quality of the fantasy potential from Saturday to Sunday. Navigating that span will be the key to success.

Inbeom Hwang - MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC
In-Beom Hwang delivers a pass against Minnesota United.
Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

After discussing all the switcheroo variants last week, I am going to spare you all the pain of another long, tortuous intro for week three. Before I begin the line of hyperbolic player and team assessments, I want to make sure to give myself one more round of games to make sure the hot-take machine is warm, primed, and calibrated.

In the third week of the spring segment, the schedule returns to a full compilation of games. As I’m writing, only one Major League Soccer squad has a chance at advancing in the CONCACAF Champions’ League, and that is Sporting Kansas City who play Thursday night. These recent results ease a considerable amount of tension surrounding this week’s lineups and our ability to anticipate them (New York Red Bulls being the most aggressive when it comes to lineup rotation). From a fantasy manager perspective, having the full complement of MLS teams focusing on league play by week three is a real boon for the weekly player selection process.

The week three schedule is primed for a test of a manager’s ability to manage the switcheroo discussed last week. The early Saturday slate is full of players and matchups that are due to draw a lot of interest across the fantasy realm. By comparison, the Sunday slate is full of questions and riskier fantasy propositions. Managing the proper balance between each day’s action, via the available substitution options, will be the key to navigating the week three landscape. With that in mind, these are the players to help you rise up and stand out in week three:

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Goalkeepers

As I mentioned above, there are plenty of match-ups with fantasy value, especially in the premium keeper ranks. The first game of the slate sees the Seattle Sounders take on the Chicago Fire. Stefan Frei (Seattle Sounders, $6.5m) has allowed only a single goal through two games, while the Fire attack has yet to find a foothold in 2019. If the San Jose Earthquakes continue to roll with Chris Wondolowski, Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls, $6.0m) would be wildly appealing, after the Quakes were held scoreless by Minnesota. Then, from the premium tier, playing in the final game of the week, is Tim Melia (Sporting Kansas City, $6.5m). Fresh off of a clean sheet and a penalty save, Colorado supplies a similar clean sheet proposition as the Philadelphia Union for a team expected to be near the top of the league in clean sheets, albeit on the road.

At $5.6m there are two stoppers who could make some noise in week three. Tyler Miller (Los Angeles FC) has the pleasure of playing in the compact confines of Yankee Stadium. Last week, Bill Hamid was an excellent example of the fantasy upside presented to goalkeepers when playing on the tiny NYFC pitch. If the clean sheet does fall to the wayside, the ability to earn save points receives a boost relative to the field dimensions.

The other goalkeeper of note at this price point is Alex Bono (Toronto, $5.6m). The only test that Toronto have endured this season was against Philadelphia, who only managed to score via a penalty kick. In their home opener, following a bye week, Toronto should be ready to play and put all the preseason doubt behind them, especially considering their opponent is the lackluster New England squad.

The least objectionable of the bargain keepers is, once again Cincinnati’s Spencer Richey ($4.8m). Charlie Hatch, of MLSSoccer.com, noted in the pregame notes last week that Przemysław Tyton (Cincinnati, $5.0m) could miss one more game, citing the length of the injury to be 7-10 days. He would be an equal option should he return to full health in time for the match with the Portland Timbers and their well chronicled struggles with the absence of Diego Chara. Either will also have the benefit of playing in the latter half of the weekend’s games.

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Defenders

The impact of the pricing mechanism is wreaking havoc on the bottom tier of defensive options. However, in week three, including a couple premium options could be an acceptable differential for fantasy managers with the appearance of the cushy Saturday slate. Again, we will start in Seattle. Anyone across the back line would be worthy of consideration, but Brad Smith ($5.8m) and Kim Kee-Hee ($5.8m) are the standouts on the simple basis of price.

The same confidence for a clean sheet can be found on the New York Red Bulls roster. Predicting who the participants will be at this point is futile, given the expectation that they will, once again, rotate their squad over the weekend. It is definitely a lineup to watch as the inclusion of a couple backup defenders could create an attractive surplus in value. In their only regular season match this far, Amro Tarek ($4.8m) and Kyle Duncan ($4.8m) were given the nod following a similar midweek CCL interlude. However, spending up for Aaron Long ($6.7m) is warranted, given the opponent as described earlier.

Next in line are the defenses facing teams that we will repeatedly be picking-on this season for fantasy points. While I do buy into some of the concerns surrounding the early Toronto woes, the defense remains largely unchanged following last year’s down campaign. The addition of Laurent Ciman (Toronto, $6.1m) can only be considered an improvement along the spine. Justin Morrow (Toronto, $6.2m) has been played ahead of the back line on multiple occasions this season. In the CCL competition he was deployed on the front three as a left-side attacker, and as a left-side wing-back in their lone MLS match. He could produce both defensive and attacking points in the match with the Revolution. Finally, perhaps the most intriguing options for Toronto are the underpriced Auro ($5.8m) and the re-emerging Nick DeLeon ($5.5m) who started at forward in their first MLS match.

If the threshold for clean sheet probability is turned down a notch, there is a larger batch of value priced defenders to help expand your budget forward. If the Los Angeles Galaxy are once again without Zlatan Ibrahimovic, then Michael Boxall (Minnesota United, $5.3m) makes a compelling case for a switcheroo play to cover early results not going as expected.

Do you remember Victor Cabrera (Montreal Impact, $5.1m) from 2018? Well, he is back to his bonus-point scoring ways. While it will be hard to leverage that with clean sheets in the early part of the season, given Montreal’s long run of away matches, at his current price point there are far worse places to turn.

Atlanta United’s struggles have been well chronicled following their dreadful showing on national television. However, Michael Robinson (Atlanta United, $5.6m) acquitted himself well on the defensive line. With Philadelphia failing to offer any consistent threat, and being at home, Robinson could once again rack up the defensive bonus points.

And, finally, in the defenders category, I am willing to hop on the Cincinnati hype train this week. Playing in a Sunday game in their inaugural home match, there is enough justification to warrant some fallback options in the Queen City. Nick Hagglund (Cincinnati, $5.1m) is the cheapest replacement option, as well as highest scorer among Cincinnati defenders. If Portland’s struggles continue, sans Diego Chara, there could be value to be had in a defense that showed well against Atlanta United.

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Midfielders

There are no match-proof players in the MLS Fantasy game, given the unlimited transfers from week to week, a rule which is not observed by most other fantasy soccer games. The substitution constraint has always been my primary factor in the determining match-proof players, but that’s an essay for some other publication. Still, there are names in the MLS game that do not need me to elaborate upon week after week. The standout midfielders in this subset for week three are Nicolas Lodeiro (Seattle Sounders, $11.8m) and Luciano Acosta (DC United, $11.4m).

Fellow premium options that do not provide an equal level of selection security come from Montreal this week. Saphir Taider (Montreal, $11.5m) and Ignacio Piatti (Montreal, $11.0m) have each had one standout game in 2019. Your guess is as good as mine as to who will be the standout in week three. Taider will get the loudest shout, as he plays in a more traditional midfield role, not the riskier forward position where Piatti plays.

Montreal’s opponents, Orlando, proffer a rejuvenated star from Manchester United. At his price of $9.4m, Nani (Orlando) has scored eleven points in just over 100 minutes. Montreal’s defense has yet to reach the lockdown state they finished the 2018 season with, giving an opening to the emerging OCSC talisman.

The early season performances of Victor Rodriguez (Seattle Sounders, $9.0m) should see him placed in the leading paragraph in this section, however his price does not. For as long as he can stave off injury, he will play a major part in the Seattle attack.

Can we talk about In-Beom Hwang (Vancouver Whitecaps, $8.8m)? The South Korean newcomer put in an all around performance in week two. Last week he earned bonus points in passing, key passes, big chances created, recoveries, and shots. His seven point haul was devoid of any direct goal contributions, further helping his case. He reached the 60 pass threshold in both games, showing his overall tenacity for getting involved in the game. Cumulatively, he has also registered seven shots through two weeks. If these contributions continue, and if the Whitecaps’ attack begins to find its legs, Hwang could be the breakout fantasy midfielder in 2019.

Those familiar with the MLS landscape would not be surprised if I told them that the Seattle Sounders and LAFC currently lead the league in scoring. However, joining them in that statistic is Minnesota United. Given the recent amount of business undertaken by the team, the Loons are the early season favorites for surprise team of the season. This quality carries over to the fantasy game. The Los Angeles Galaxy are a complete mess, bordering on the verge of a disaster, offensively and defensively. Miguel Ibarra (Minnesota United, $7.9m) has a match-up that gives him the opportunity to be influential in week three, following his first goal of this campaign last week.

While I am ready to roll out the likes of Kaku (New York Red Bulls, $9.0m), Daniel Royer (New York Red Bulls, $7.5m), Sean Davis (New York Red Bulls, $7.5m), a changing lineup still offers some budget friendly NYRB options. Andreas Ivan (New York Red Bulls, $5.5m) impressed in his first MLS appearance, and Florian Valot (New York Red Bulls, $7.8m) could takeover the role of the number-ten.

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Forwards

This weekend’s slate is not all that compelling for strikers, hence my argument for spending some extra money on defenders. That being said, we still have to roster a couple strikers by rule. My favorite premium option is Darwin Quintero (Minnesota United, $12.0m). Everything regarding the match-up for Miguel Ibarra applies on a higher level for Quintero. He is currently the highest scoring player through two weeks. A helpless Galaxy defense could see his electric form continue.

We have been Seattle-heavy here in the early season. We can now add Raul Ruidiaz (Seattle Sounders, $10.8m), who will likely be owned at a higher rate than Quintero given the price difference. Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders, $8.8m) would be another suitable candidate if you wanted to save even more cash.

The combination of match-up difficulty, player performance, and squad rotation fears push managers way down the confidence and price ranks for week three. There is no reason to think that Mauro Manotas (Houston Dynamo, $9.9m) will stop scoring if he gets the start in week three.

Like Nani, Orlando City’s Dom Dwyer ($9.1m) has made a strong contribution in under 100 minutes. If Dwyer can link together with Nani, there is plenty of talent in the OCSC attack to register attacking points, particularly this week against the Impact.

Given that San Jose have an early match in week three, Danny Hoesen ($6.7m) has seen consecutive price drops following two substitute appearances. The Quakes attack would see a major lift if Hoesen begins to start seeing a majority of the forward minutes. Wondo-Watch is entertaining, and I am rooting for him, but MLS is still a results business.

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Captain Rankings

The week’s best three best captain options, with a fourth outlier candidate:

  1. Nicolas Lodeiro ($11.8m), Seattle Sounders
  2. Luciano Acosta ($11.4m), DC United
  3. Darwin Quintero (12.0m), Minnesota United
  4. In-Beom Hwang ($8.8m), Vancouver Whitecaps

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With most roster positions expected to be locked up by the end of Saturday night, the Sunday schedule will deliver the largest differentials for making late moves up the standings. Be advised that the risk is considerably higher in those games, given the recent player performances and match-up quality. Week three may also be the first week we see managers move to a more balanced lineup, as the valuable budget players start to shed the label.

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Which of the Saturday teams are you looking to maximize on your roster? Are there any other match-ups that you think have the ability to provide excess fantasy value? And, what non-discussed Sunday players do you think will have an impact in week three? Let us know in the comments below!

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