With week one now behind us, week two allows managers to use a combination of data points and visual evidence to make better fantasy judgments. There were plenty of takeaways for many teams following the inaugural week of games, ranging from great concern to unexpected surprise. For the purposes of this week’s article, and the sake of time, those discussions will be pushed to a future time and date.
Thanks again to both new and experienced managers who joined the Never Manage Alone MLS League. For any readers who have not yet joined the league, there is still time. Present expectations are that the league will close for additional entries following the week four roster lock.
For experienced managers, much of the rest of this introduction is review, and I would surely love for you to read it, and check my math. However, if you are all squared away on your substitution tactics, you may want to scroll down to the player picks themselves, as the tactics discussion is a bit lengthy.
This week’s major discussion point comes directly from the MLS Fantasy toolbox. There are three “-roos” that play a significant role in the week-to-week strategic success. Last week the ‘keeperoo’ with its basic deployment strategy was mentioned in the goalkeeper section. Accompanying that are the ‘switcheroo’ and the ‘autoroo’, which are the equivalent adaptations for outfield players. These are not my terms, so I have no claim to their inception, nor do I know the proper backchannel to the creator of this fantasy terminology. If you feel the prior sentence discredits your contribution to the Fantasy MLS world, please let me know and I will provide you with such credit. That being said, I now regard the terms as essential fantasy realm jargon.
To expand on the ‘keeperoo,’ it is a basic strategy that allows for two opportunities at a goalkeeper clean sheet, based on the exploitation of the rolling lineup lockout. To maximize the contribution of this tactic, managers are looking for cheap, early-weekend games with heightened clean sheet opportunities to lock in points while improving the quality of other positions using the dollars liberated. Obviously, if the early game keeper does not meet the expected points expectation, the manager will want to roll with the second keeper selection.
For this tactic, the deployment is always key. The two goalkeeper selections must always have kickoff times at least two hours apart. This ensures that managers can see the earlier full result and react. Secondly, the goalkeeper with the earliest start time should always be positioned in the bench slot, with the later kickoff option showing as the starter for your fantasy squad. If you get the desired points from the first game, you simply replace the later, starting-slot keeper with an enabler who will not appear. The bench will count, and money is freed up. Simple enough, right?
It is important to note, that a clean sheet and a penalty save are worth the same amount of points. This reared its head in the Philadelphia Union versus Toronto game in week one. Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union, $6.0m) stopped a Toronto penalty, which is always enough points to eliminate the need for a second goalie performance, regardless of the clean sheet points, although this scenario is rare.
For the outfield options in this category, the ‘switcheroo’ and ‘autoroo,’ it gets a little more technical. Before we dive into those, there is one overarching caveat that should be pointed out before we continue: Unlike the traditional Official FPL game, MLS Fantasy aids managers by scrapping the bench hierarchy. In the MLS game, the highest scoring bench player takes the highest priority when the system performs substitutions, as long as the substitution still allows for a legal formation. This slight alteration makes the ‘switcheroo’ and ‘autoroo’ key components to a manager’s strategy every week.
That said, we are going to start with the simpler of the two, the ‘autoroo.’ The purest definition of this term is allowing the system to auto-substitute for two predetermined players in your fantasy lineup. This tactic is useful in small game slates and condensed schedules (tight range of kickoff windows). This is also a great default for managers who may not be able to keep on top of all the game-week action.
So, as an example, a manager deploys a 5-3-2 formation, two of the defenders being min-price enablers who are certain not to see even a single minute of action (best to pick players not even listed in a team’s 18 man roster). Then the three players on the bench will battle it out among themselves, with the two highest-scoring bench players replacing the two $4.0m placeholders. The placeholders do not always have to be defenders like this example. The other position where you might put a placeholder is the forward position, depending on the slate (i.e. one $4.0 defender and one $4.0 forward; or two $4.0 forwards in some cases). I rarely ever use a placeholder in the midfield, as their ability to influence and impact games is far greater, and the quantity of available options is greater week-to-week. And, given what the player pool looks like, you could also go the route of using only a single place holder and capturing the best of three bench players. The ‘autoroo’ allows you 11 player performances to fill 10 players in the starting lineup.
The ‘switcheroo’ is the evaluation of each bench player’s point total and determining whether to keep or discard the score across the rolling game times. This often requires a sprawling range of kickoff times to successfully achieve, much like week one. The above option gave managers 11 players to fill 10 starting positions. In the ‘switcheroo,’ we look to give ourselves 13 performances to maximize the point total for our 10 outfield players. While the ‘autoroo’ can work without rolling start times, the ‘switcheroo’ cannot. The switcheroo tactic requires active roster management between matches.
The early-game players not considered ‘sure things’ (typically the premium priced players) are placed on the bench to evaluate their performance. If a performance is acceptable, we scratch a “starter” and use liberated funds elsewhere. This continues down the line for as much of your bench as you wish to count in your total score for the week. This is best for taking chances on the cheap, high upside, players early in the round in hopes of upgrading to premium midfielders and forwards who can propel you to huge fantasy scores.
With the tactics session now out of the way, the week two player picks can now commence:
There was only one clean sheet last week, and it would not shock me to see something similar for most weeks early on in the season, devaluing keepers across the board. However, maximizing the clean sheet opportunity is still important when making selections. Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew, $6.2m) leads all premium candidates heading into week two. New England was able to salvage a point against Dallas via a single goal, but their overall team makeup does not look capable of scoring every week.
The other premium option that sticks out is Stefan Frei (Seattle Sounders, $6.0m). Colorado was able to put three past the Portland Timbers in the midst of a blizzard. The test against Seattle will be considerably tougher on the road. The Sounders should not be expected to dominate the way they did against Cincinnati, however they should still be able to greatly limit the amount of chances the Rapids get on goal. Frei was only beaten by an inch-perfect thunderbolt, against the run of play, in their first match.
There is a lot to like about Brad Guzan (Atlanta United, $5.9m), but it will be hard to fit him into lineups when considering the matchup and the three player maximum rule.
As for the ‘keeperoo’ options, the name that keeps catching my eye is David Ousted (Chicago Fire, $4.9m). Having the first game on the weekend slate is always ideal. The Fire defense looked much improved from last year’s squad. The chance to take advantage of the drop in talent level from the LA Galaxy to Orlando City seems like a sound play.
A home game for Real Salt Lake puts Nick Rimando ($5.5m) in play. Can Vancouver prove that their offense is as good as the scoreboard showed against Minnesota? Or, was the offensive output a byproduct of the same leaky Minnesota United defense that we witnessed in 2018?
If San Jose Earthquakes roll Chris Wondolowski out there again, Vito Mannone (Minnesota United, $5.5m) could warrant a differential shout. And, the first Cincinnati recommendation of my brief career is Przemysław Tyton ($5.0m). Managers will want to make sure they see a changed Atlanta United lineup first, though. Otherwise that may turn out pretty ugly.
As I mentioned in the goalkeepers section, clean sheets are expected to be a rare achievement early on in the season. For that reason, my strategy is to fish around in the bargain bin to improve the quality of players on the attacking side of the field. The team with the best collective clean sheet chance will be Atlanta United, who face new boys Cincinnati. It already looks like the “anyone against Cincinnati” strategy will be in play this season. There will still be questions regarding rotation following the CONACAF Champions League (CCL) action. Should they roll out a lineup resembling last week’s, there are two cheap options that warrant a look: Miles Robinson ($5.1m) and Mikey Ambrose ($4.6m). If there is some rotation, be on the lookout for George Bello ($4.5m).
If there is a premium option that looks worth it, Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City, $6.8m) was very active despite his two point performance. He managed two defensive bonus points that were negated by a yellow card and conceding a pair of goals. But, on the attacking end he collected an encouraging three shots and a cross that point to future offensive production such as made him a stalwart much of last season.
For Seattle Sounders last week, Kelvin Leerdam ($5.5m) was able to get on the end of a goal, but it was his opposite, Brad Smith ($5.3m), who looked like the most threatening fullback, amassing five fantasy points from a combination of offensive and defensive bonuses.
Jordan Harvey (Los Angeles FC, $5.3m) picked up where he left off for LAFC last season. His five point haul included an assist.
Digging deeper into the discount bin is Major League Soccer newcomer Botond Barath (Sporting Kansas City, $4.3m). If Andreu Fontas ($5.5m) is unable to go, Barath is the kind of discount player we are looking for to capitalize on cheap points.
It is a big week for midfielders. The number of double-digit contributions shows the sheer depth of this position in the MLS game. Nicolas Lodiero (Seattle Sounders, $11.5m) and Luciano Acosta (DC United, $11.0m) need no further persuasion week-to-week.
In the historically good-performers category, Albert Rusnak (Real Salt Lake, $10.5) has a match with Vancouver who conceded three to Minnesota in week one. Rusnak will be tasked with doing much of the heavy lifting for RSL again this season, just as he did in 2018.
Debutants Pity Martinez (Atlanta United, $10.5m) and Marco Fabian (Philadelphia Union, $9.4m) passed the eye test in their first game, putting them in contention for week two. Martinez would be the much preferred option this week, but budgets could push managers into Fabian.
The mid-tier price point at this position was underwhelming in week one. Two standouts who deserve consideration for a second helping of fantasy points are Vako Qazaishvili (San Jose Earthquakes, $8.8m) and Victor Rodriguez (Seattle Sounders, $8.5m). Vako’s largest point contribution came from his assist, but he also managed to take three shots. Consistent bonus point production should be reliable as he plays in the team’s number-ten role.
Victor Rodriguez was a bit off the radar coming into week one. He was definitely not a forgotten asset though. Health will always be the greatest challenge for Rodriguez. The Sounders attack should remain potent and balanced as long a Rodriguez is on the pitch.
The return of Mark-Anthony Kaye (Los Angeles FC, $7.7m) was anticipated by those managers who noted his growth into a fantasy option prior to his season-ending injury in the summer of 2018. The points do not show the full value of his contributions versus Sporting KC. Look for his points to increase as he acclimates himself into game action.
There were abundant bargain midfield options in week one. Chris Mueller (Orlando City, $7.0m) was the surprise standout with eleven points. Mueller ran rampant on the attacking end, taking and creating chances. The second-year player looks set to improve on his 2018 campaign that saw him finish as a Rookie of the Year Finalist.
Look out for Eduard Atuesta (Los Angeles FC, $6.8m)! His peripheral fantasy stats look like a player on the verge of two-way fantasy contribution. The 21 year old’s contributions on the attacking and defensive side of the ball are what create the strong fantasy floor that we attribute with some of the best names in the MLS Fantasy game. The first way to help his prospects would be to see him take more shots. But, at his price point, the opportunity for an elevated bonus point floor is enticing enough.
And, we could not leave this section without talking about Efrain Alvarez (Los Angeles Galaxy, $5.1m) If he starts, he gets on your roster. He looked the part in his cameo, earning an assist on the game winner. And, the Galaxy look starved for attacking service. At $5.1m he provides everything a manager could want in a ‘switcheroo’ option, most importantly freeing up a decent chunk of your budget.
Carlos Quintero (Minnesota United, $11.5) often gets overlooked, playing for a Minnesota United team that has failed to consistently deliver in its first two seasons in MLS, quite often looking outclassed. With the roster upgrades this off-season, Quintero has the opportunity to vault himself into the list of the elite names whose value approaches a matchup-proof status. San Jose should be just another stepping stone on that journey. Picking Quintero this week will fall on the shoulder of those with greatest of intestinal fortitude, when you consider the next player on this list.
Managers will have to watch the ownership percentage of Josef Martinez (Atlanta United, $10.6m), as his popularity may push him into must-own territory. The differential play with Martinez would be to deploy him on the bench, which would minimize some of the risk should he fail to produce following midweek CCL action. The matchup is the best of the week, and expectations should be a performance that reflects that for last season’s golden boot winner.
Raul Ruidiaz (Seattle Sounders, $10.6m) has a pretty cushy match-up, but managers will be hard pressed to find the funds to include a second, or third, $10+ striker, not to mention that he may be the third most desirable of his cohort, given the options.
Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew, $9.2m) will see a dramatic improvement in his match-up for week two. This week’s match should see Columbus lean more on the front foot. Coming off the best year of his career, New England is a target that can jump-start Zardes’ 2019 campaign.
The more prudent way into the Sounders’ attack may be Ruidiaz’s teammate Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders, $8.5m). He announced his return in a big way, cashing in two goals. The early returns suggest this Seattle attack could distance itself from the rest of MLS in a big way.
Last year’s Rookie of the Year, Corey Baird (Real Salt Lake, $6.7m), was not able to net any of his shots, but he provided an assist and earned two bonus points to round out a seven point week-one haul. Vancouver, after conceding three last week, provides plenty opportunity for this discount striker to get on the scoresheet.
This week’s forward flier is Jonathan Lewis (New York City FC, $6.2m). He was a surprise part of the NYCFC lineup in week one, but he took advantage of the opportunity by snagging an assist in the game. The bam-box that NYCFC play in provides ample opportunity to score, given the pitch’s tiny footprint.
Now that you fantasy managers have been well equipped with all the tactical ‘-roos’, you can use the unique MLS Fantasy rules to enhance your weekly performances. Now that we have defined the terms and are all on the same page, this is the last week that I’ll note the ‘-roos’ in quotation marks. Henceforth, they will be regarded as common language. Week two will provide another data point, as managers begin to wean themselves away from narrative towards a stronger analytical approach. Do not forget to register the NMA MLS Fantasy League before the league is locked in week four. Good luck in week two!
How are you planning on using the new tools in your tactics toolbox? Do you have other ‘keeperoo’ options that are more enticing? What ‘swicheroo’ and ‘autoroo’ wildcards are you looking at in the second week? And, what budget friendly options do you see carrying their good form through week two?