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Week 5 MLS Player Picks: Many Happy Returns

As MLS players return from international duty, fantasy managers will happily welcome a return to a full slate of scheduled games.

Alberth Elis - Houston Dynamo - MLS
Alberth Elis celebrates a goal versus the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The international break matches were, from a fantasy perspective, quite the lackluster affair. Week five welcomes back the international globetrotters for a full slate of action, with an early Friday night kickoff as an added twist. For those trapped in a template last week, this game-week presents a myriad of strategies for maximizing the return of points and finances.

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Goalkeepers

With a majority of the best of MLS defensive batteries playing on the road this weekend, the security in the upper tier of the price bracket falls to Tim Melia (Kansas City, $7.0m). Playing at home versus a Montreal side who always fail to pass the eye-test on the road, the KC goalkeeper will likely be the most selected premium asset as a clear cut home favorite.

For those premium keepers facing road matches, none stands out more than Stefan Frei (Seattle, $7.0m). The Rave Green have kept only one clean sheet early on this season, but they average only a single goal-against per game through the first three matches. The Vancouver attack is still building cohesion and threat, making Frei an appealing late-game target.

For the rest of the keepers, and those keeperoo options, Vito Mannone (Minnesota, $6.5), Jesse Gonzalez (Dallas, $6.4), Tyler Miller (Los Angeles FC, $5.5), and Joe Willis (Houston, $5.1), would round out the best options.

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Defenders

Defense has been a mess in the early parts of the season. It may very well be more accurately described as an unmitigated disaster. The 2019 season has not yet hit its stride, but the early defensive returns have not revealed many strategic advantages. The best overarching strategy that managers can lean on at this stage is to play defenders against New England. This week that opening falls on Minnesota. Francisco Calvo (Minnesota, $7.5m) is the best option from the Loons’ roster, providing plenty of attacking threat to pair with the chase for a clean sheet.

Not talking about the Kansas City defenders in any week would be a major oversight, given their historical track record and current matchup. Having watched many SKC matches, the disparity between Graham Zusi ($7.6m) and the rest of the defensive line has been greatly diminished this season. Andreu Fontas ($5.5m) or Botond Borath ($5.3m), whoever gets the start, would be the optimal choice given the savings that can be applied to the budget.

Seattle’s attacking impetus has bled over into the prices of their defenders as well. All of the Sounders’ starting back line have seen their prices creep into the $6.0m tier. The cheapest of that group is Kim Kee-Hee (Seattle Sounders, $6.0m). Kee-Hee presents the defensive equivalent of Stefan Frei with the most generous price tag.

Salt Lake City has struggled to hit the strides that the team finished the 2018 season with. Due to his injury absence, Reggie Cannon (Dallas, $5.9m) comes in undervalued when compared to his defensive teammates.

And, it will be worth keeping an eye on the New York Red Bulls roster, to see if any of the discount options remain in the starting lineup. Kyle Duncan (New York Red Bulls, $5.5m) and Amro Tarek (New York Red Bulls, $5.4) make for strong switcheroo options in the second game of the weekend.

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Midfielders

Well, there is no reason to stop plugging Seattle now. Nico Lodeiro (Seattle, $12.3m) and Victor Rodriguez (Seattle, $9.5m) have been the primary midfield catalysts for MLS’s hottest team. Managers will want to own one for sure, maybe both for the weekend’s Cascadia clash. The emergence of complimentary weapons in the Sounders attack has diminished the required output of Lodeiro, which pushes him down to the second spot in my captain rankings. The overall fantasy production is still there, but the game-to-game ceiling is lower than it was in the past.

The next top-tier talents to warrant a click this week are Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers, $11.6m) and Luciano Acosta (DC United, $11.4). Diego Valeri will spur the Timbers attack against the Los Angeles Galaxy who have failed to prove their off-season signings have improved the status of their defense one iota. The questions around Acosta center directly on the notion of what DC United’s away form will look like in 2018.

Kaku (New York Red Bulls, $9.0m) watch is officially on here at Never Manage Alone. When considering the current form of NYRB, Kaku could be the key cog to get the men from New York (actually New Jersey) back to the form that we have come to expect from them year after year. Should he remain conspicuously absent, the upstart Marc Rzatkowski (New York Red Bulls, $8.0m) has provided immense value in his absence.

Mark-Anthony Kaye (Los Angeles FC, $8.1m) remains the favorite among LAFC players classified as midfield. The defensive fragility of San Jose will allow plenty of attacking opportunity for LAFC.

When fishing in the $7.0m price bracket, there are two worthwhile places to turn. First is Junior Moreno (DC United, 7.5m.), who sits tied with Nico Lodeiro atop the midfield scoring chart. Moreno is averaging a goal per game to this point, but the bulk of his scoring has come via the defensive bonus, setting the foundation of a safe, match-proof floor that managers can rely on when the midfield position is bereft of high quality fantasy options.

Second on that list is any of the pick‘em midfielders from FC Dallas. Michael Barrios ($7.5m) always seems to turn up with the goal, Paxton Pomykal ($7.2m) is the youthful number-ten, and Carlos Gruezo ($7.2m) is the compiler of defensive bonus points.

When digging for discounts, look no further than Memo Rodriguez (Houston, $5.6m). The Dynamo youngster has already tallied three goals in 2019. The bonus-point safety is not there with Memo, but if the shooting barrage continues at his current rate, there are few places where managers can spend $5.6m.

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Forwards

Carlos Vela (Los Angeles FC, $12.3m) is once again the obvious pick for forwards this week. Although the game is on the road, Vela warrants top consideration for the armband once again.

If there is one player who would be worth the risk from the Friday night match, it’s Alexandru Mitrita (New York City FC, $10.2m). My concern with Mitrita would be whether the propensity to take so many shots carries over to a full size pitch (i.e. is that trait unique to the fun-size candybar that NYCFC play on).

Jordan Morris (Seattle, $9.3) has returned from his ACL injury to become the leading fantasy scorer among Seattle forwards. By playing on the wing, he has found and created opportunities to influence the game in ways that benefit fantasy managers the most.

Following his one-goal and two-assist performance against Vancouver, Alberth Elis (Houston, $9.2m) has crept past early-season favorite Mauro Manotas (Houston, $10.1m) for the lead in season points. Taking the dollar discount for the dangerous upside of Elis is well worth the money against a Colorado side that has looked more expansive with the recent additions to their roster.

If you are looking for a cheap plug into the third forward spot, the play from Ayo Akinola (Toronto, $5.0m) last match was far superior to anything Jordan Hamilton (Toronto FC, $4.9m) had done in all his minutes combined in 2019. If the 19 year old can see a second start, he could be the ideal striker partner for Jozy Altidore (Toronto, $9.5m), providing runs off of Altidore’s hold up play, with the speed that he possesses. A sneaky $5.0m switcheroo is always tantalizing in the fantasy game.

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After last week’s scheduling debacle, the full slate will be welcomed by all managers. While we still wait for the emergence of reliable defensive strategies, pouring money into the midfield and attack will continue to be the modus operandi until the 2019 goal-scoring trend shows signs of diminishing. The lack of security in defense makes attacker selection more important, not only from the fantasy points perspective, but from the team valuation standpoint, and requisite budget increases. Managers will want to avoid making decisions on past performance to earn the budget gains, in deference to the future prospect of fantasy points, which is an all too common tactic in the early season.

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What players are you targeting for a rebound in week five? How are you approaching defensive strategy, as the early season returns have favored attacking play? Commensurately, what key offensive contributors are you relying on for week five success? Please let us know in the comments below!

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