International breaks are always something when it comes to Major League Soccer (MLS). And, as the league continues its ambitious ascent toward becoming the largest, and most reputable league on the planet, some of the choices surrounding the league’s activities are perplexing. This week presents something so uniquely MLS that the only proper reaction is to bury ourselves in the fantasy world of points based soccer.
Despite being a week with only five games, the schedule offers us plenty of opportunity to carve out some value. Budgets should not come into play this week, as many of the big name stars are away from MLS competition. From a strategic standpoint, managers have also been granted a schedule that is accommodating to both switcheroos and keeperoos.
For a small slate, managers have been granted ample options for goalkeepers. The favorite for me is Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls, $5.9m). New York have yet to keep a clean sheet in 2019, and some major defensive pieces will be missing from the squad, but no club in MLS is deeper than the Red Bulls.
Coming in a close second is Tyler Miller (Los Angeles FC, $5.7m). While their most notable names will be absent, the LAFC remains largely intact during the international period. Given the way Real Salt Lake have looked though, keeper and defense are not where I would like to use the bulk of my three LAFC assets.
Thirdly, and finally, the goalkeeper granted the start in Cincinnati makes for a nice last roll of the dice in week four. Spencer Richey (Cincinnati, $5.3m) has amassed 14 points over his two appearances thus far. Meanwhile, prior to injury, Przemysław Tyton scored five points in the inaugural match. The Cincinnati back line continues to impress each week, making the MLS newcomers a great fallback option in week four.
Given the amount of firepower that both NYRB and LAFC possess, managers will do best to avoid selecting any defenders from either, especially after selecting a goalkeeper from their ranks. The top two scoring defenders on the season, for this week’s slate, are Gaston Sauro (Columbus Crew, $6.0m) and Harrison Afful (Columbus Crew, $7.7m). Don’t expect Sauro to continue this goal scoring run, but the Philadelphia Union are averaging less than one goal per game in the early stages of 2019.
Third place on the active player rankings is Reto Ziegler (Dallas, $6.7m). Since he’s the primary penalty taker in 2019, he’s a near no-brainer this week. The early game also allows us to throw him on the bench to start the week in a switcheroo. With the number of aerial balls Colorado are likely to ping towards Kei Kamara, the Dallas center-backs are equally solid selections: Matt Hedges ($7.5m) or Ryan Hollingshead ($5.8m).
When rounding out defense, New England and Cincinnati present the best cases for inclusion, in anticipation for the lack of offensive firepower available to both teams. As last minute throws of the dice, Michael Mancienne (New England, $6.0m) or Edgar Castillo (New England, $5.6m) provide some unique value. From Cincinnati, Mathieu Deplagne ($5.8m) and Nick Hagglund ($5.6m) will take the mantle while Kendall Waston is away with the Canadian international squad. The opening in defense could see the first start of the season for attacking fullback Greg Garza (Cincinnati, $5.0m).
New York Red Bulls lead all other teams in attacking options this week, starting in the midfield. I would expect nearly every fantasy team to have Bradley Wright-Phillips (we will get to that later), leaving two midfield slots to be filled by NYRB players. Daniel Royer (New York Red Bulls, $8.0m) is the easy favorite for me. Since he is the most likely penalty taker and the midfielder usually positioned highest up the field, his $8.0m is too much of a value to pass on. His first MLS start of 2019 saw him net a goal and an assist.
With Florian Valot going down with his second ACL injury in as many years, Alex Muyl (New York Red Bulls, $6.7m) came on in his stead and scored two goals. This injury could finally grant the talented young prospect an opportunity to string together a consistent run of starts. When looking at the lineup this week, any of Marc Rzatkowski ($7.5m), Andreas Ivan ($6.3m), or Victor Bezecourt (5.5m) would make for suitable options if budget comes into play.
The second best midfield options come out of Columbus. The Crew will have fantasy stalwart Federico Higuain (Columbus Crew, $9.4m) anchoring the attack against a Union side that have conceded six goals to this point. The wingers for the Crew also look capable of producing regular fantasy friendly results in 2019. Pedro Santos (Columbus Crew, $7.5m) looks to take a step up from his 2018 performance. And, the expectations are high for MLS newcomer Robinho (Columbus Crew, $5.3m), who made his first start for the club last week, tallying three attacking bonus points in the process.
When it comes to the rest of the position, Paxton Pomykal (Dallas, $6.7m) deserves the largest shout, as his bonus point production has helped create a stable floor early on. There is still some gelling that needs to take place in the Dallas attack, but Pomykal looks to be pulling the strings as the architect.
Back in New England, Carles Gil ($9.7m) has looked as advertised in his first appearances of 2019. Again, being a penalty taker helps his claim. Gil has already scored three goals on the young season. He looks to be a boom-or-bust player, as the bonus point potential is not quite there yet. In a minimalist slate though, there is a lot worse that managers could do. It will be interesting to see how he and the rest of the Revolution get on in 2019 with Brad Friedel at the helm, given the defensive minded tactics that he has deployed much of his early coaching career.
Some differential options that look to be in play in week four would include two men from Orlando City: Nani ($9.4m) or Chris Mueller ($7.6m). Taking a chance on the Red Bulls conceding could pay dividends as the OCSC midfielders are two of the three most likely to wreck the clean sheet in that game. For the sake of narrative, Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids, $6.5m) returns to the club where he began his MLS career.
Forward presents a unique case this week where managers may need to break the bank at the position, a stance I usually oppose. However, the surprise non-call up of Carlo Vela (Los Angeles FC, $11.8m) makes him the most talented player this week, a near essential part of all fantasy lineups. He will rightly be given the armband by a vast majority of managers as well.
A claim could also be made that every team in the fantasy game should also have Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls, $10.8m). There is no other player at the forward position with his track record. He is a top captain choice for this week as well.
At forward, everyone else comes down to deciphering the best of the deputies. After two superstars, the last slot is probably best used as a blank for a switcheroo. But, for those who have surplus funds and are willing to go against the grain, Latif Blessing (Los Angeles FC, $6.9m) could be a sneaky start. Sneaky might not be the right word following a 12 point performance, but those 12 points came without him scoring a goal. And, with Adama Diomande (Los Angeles FC, $9.8m) likely manning the central forward position, there will be ample opportunity to loft a hefty number of crosses in his direction.
Dom Dwyer (Orlando City, $9.4m) rounds out the the trifecta of Orlando players who look most likely to tally against the Red Bulls. Kei Kamara (Colorado Rapids, $9.3m) could take up a lone striker role in this weekend’s tilt, while Diego Rubio is away.
Our first micro-slate of 2019 presents managers with plenty of fantasy players with scoring potential. Luckily, the available players also encompass an entire array of price points, enabling us to afford the two clear-cut best premium players this week.
And, do not forget to get registered for the Never Manage Alone fantasy league, as I will be closing it to public entries following the start of the weekend’s first match. Good luck in week four!
Of the premium forwards this week, how many are you going to include in your squad? Are there any stand out bargain players that I missed that you will be looking to in hopes of squeezing in both BWP and Carlos Vela up front? Let us know in the comments below!