It's that time of year again! The time of year when thousands of hopeful fantasy managers assemble their teams all the while thinking, “this is the year!” This is the year my team wins the league, wins the whole thing, wins a prize, wins bragging rights amongst friends! There is a nervous energy in the first round, who to choose, who to captain!? It's a fun time to be a fantasy manager!
If this is your first time playing Fantasy MLS then you're in store for some fun and frustrating times. If last season taught us anything, it's that anything can happen. Be prepared for random red cards, referees messing up your point production, your captain getting benched, and undisclosed injuries that take your star player out of the lineup. Also be prepared for unexpected hat tricks, assists, penalty draws, penalty kicks, along with many other ways to gain point production!
If you're a returning player, you're probablyalready prepared for those things, but perhaps you face a different challenge than the newbies. One of the biggest talking points this year, if not THE biggest talking point has been the rule changes. Two of them in particular, unlimited transfers and the overall budget. If you're not sure what I'm talking about, let me explain.
This season, the good folks who run the fantasy game have decided that two transfers (last year’s allotted free transfer number) just isn't enough to keep the casual fantasy player interested. Many players thought they might bump the number to three or four free transfers before having to take a four point deduction per transfer, but it seems that's not the case. They have gotten rid of point deductions from transfers all together and have made them unlimited. This certainly adds a different dimension to the game. Gone are the days of trying to plan six weeks ahead. Gone are also the days of the very popular wildcard. Gone are the days of getting completely screwed over because of injuries, red cards, bye weeks, you name it. Now, if a problem arises before the first game begins, you can still make the necessary changes at no cost, given you have the proper budget.
That brings us to the second largest rule change. This season, the budget dropped from $120 million to just $100 million. You might think, “well they dropped a bench player, this is no big deal.” It is true, you now only have 15 players to work with instead of 16, but given that there has never been a $20 million dollar player in the game, you can see how this would make things challenging. Given that there are some very expensive players in the game (looking at you Sebastian Giovinco) this really does increase the strategy that the game lacks now that transfers are unlimited.
All this aside, how do we progress, what should we look at when selecting our teams? The answer is simple, a term I like to call “an educated guess.” It's all fantasy really is. You never know how a team or a specific player is going to perform in the first week. Especially this season, with two new expansion teams in Minnesota United and Atlanta United. We can watch preseason games and try to make concrete assumptions, but most people know that preseason is hardly an indicator of how a team’s season can go. There are tons of new players joining the league from other continents, some that Americans have never heard of or seen play, the same goes for rookies. There have also been some blockbuster trades and the challenge of seeing how teams will play while missing a key player or by adding a key player. For example, how will the Red Bulls do now that their captain and star player now plays for Chicago? How will Chicago do with such a new piece in the lineup? How will Dax McCarty do now that he's surrounded by new faces in a new city? It's all unknown!
So, what should we look at when selecting the players to start your season? Well, we know Minnesota will be an easy target. Expansion teams always are, not to mention the Loons have quietly and hurriedly rushed into their inaugural season. Perhaps load up on Portland players since they will be at home playing this new expansion team in Week 1. We know Diego Valeri and Fanendo Adi often take penalties and Valeri is rather good at free kicks. Since Minnesota’s biggest question mark is their defense, these are important things to look at.
We know from previous years that Giovinco is a fantasy king. If you didn't know that from previous seasons, you can certainly tell by his price tag. This raises the question. Do you spend the money for Giovinco and skimp somewhere else in your lineup? Don't forget the budget, by owning Giovinco you will surely have to give something up elsewhere in your lineup. I can't answer that question for you. We know Gio can score multiple different ways, he also is on penalty and free kick duty. Or perhaps you go with a lower budget forward and load up on a Nicolas Lodeiro, Ignacio Piatti, Sacha Kljestan, Valeri type midfield. Those players are also very valuable week in and week out. It's all in how you decide to play the game, it gives managers much to think about.
Now that we covered the rule changes and some different strategies, let's look at the players individually. It's important to know where to find diamonds in the rough, players with potential, and players that are CHEAP!
It might be a little hard to find a diamond in the rough in the first week. Many owners will be looking for a mid priced differential player that will unexpectedly bring their team some points and some extra money to the budget. Last year, my three favorite differential players were Michael Barrios, Mike Grella (aptly nicknamed Grelladinho) and Justin Meram. None of these players are the star players on their team, but they quietly put together solid performances, and the best part was they had low ownerships. Meram actually finished 7th in terms of point production for all midfielders last season. Because of that, he saw a price increase that brought him all the way up to $9.5 million. While his price went up, it's important to note that as of right now he only has a 1.8% ownership rate. This still makes him a solid differential pick, if you can afford him. Barrios and Grella come in at $8.0 each, and both are under 5% ownership. While each of their circumstances have changed since last season, it's important to recognize how to choose a differential player. Mid price and low ownership is a good place to start.
While differential players are a solid strategy, we can't forget about the high rollers. Lodeiro and Giovinco are the two most expensive players in the game at $11.0 and $12.0 respectively. Owning both of them is possible but it would be a major task to fill out the rest of your roster. We also know that last season Piatti, Valeri, and Kljestan were at times must own players. Since you can't own them all, my best suggestion is to pick who has the best chances each week. Home games are a huge thing to consider in fantasy. Looking at opponents is also big. Like I said earlier, Portland at home against Minnesota is a mouth watering temptation. Colorado at home against New England is also tempting. It's also good to look at history. For example, bless their heart, but Orlando had some serious defensive issues last season. While they have tried to strengthen that in the offseason, it's hard to imagine they've made a full recovery. Especially with the announcement of Rafa Ramos pulling both of his hamstrings. Right off the back it would seem they are at a disadvantage. A disadvantage that David Villa ($10.0) and company will be looking to exploit. Perhaps going against a home team in a new stadium is risky, but maybe it's just the right move to see you jump ahead of a bunch of managers in the standings. Also don't count out the likes of Bradley Wright-Phillips ($10.0). It's true he's playing away from home against what many consider a threatening expansion team in Atlanta United, but he was also the golden boot winner and is a proven goal scorer. You don't need the Red Bulls to win, you just need BWP to score. Lastly I'd like to point out Ola Kamara ($10.0) as an option. His price takes him out of the running as a differential pick (at least for me) but he is only owned by 3.6% of managers, as well as playing at home against a newly assembled Chicago. It's risky because Chicago has beefed up their midfield with Juninho and McCarty, but I have a feeling their defensive woes will still be a problem. Ola showed great promise last year that saw him prove his worth several times once he got his shot (shout out to Kei Kamara). He got a price boost because of it, which takes some of his appeal away, but in the first round, he has some serious potential.
At last, it's time to look at the bargain players. It's true that you will find most of the bargain players in your defense. The one I'd like to point out most is Alphonso Davies. He is a huge bargain player at $4.5 million. Granted he plays for Vancouver, but despite that, he's an out of position player which adds to his appeal. He is without a doubt an attacker and is listed as a defender. That means he has a chance to get clean sheets and goals and assists. It makes him very valuable in fantasy. I'd also like to look at Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan. He proved to be a vital piece for the Sounders cup run last season and he seems to have cemented his place in the starting lineup. His price tag comes in at $7.0 million which makes him a pretty cheap option. We’ve seen him score, we’ve seen him tackle, we know that he is capable of bringing our teams points. We can't forget Jordan Allen is also a midfielder to look at. He's $6.0, making him a huge steal, and he plays in a very advanced position, which gives him several opportunities to get in front of goal. Lastly, if we’re looking at forwards, we should look no further than RSL. Yura Movsisyan is an excellent choice seeing as he's $7.5 million and gets goals fairly regularly. But even Joao Plata at $9.0 is also bargain. Most forwards come in at $10 million so seeing Plata who had a great year last season come in a full million under is very nice to see.
Hopefully I've given you all some things to think about. I'm excited to not only finish assembling my own team, but also seeing all of yours come together. If you haven't yet, join our Total MLS fantasy league, the code is: 1530-1419. We’d love to have you and I’ll often be discussing the standings and top players in the weekly Fantasy Report here on Total MLS. Also, follow me on Twitter @notchadwick_, I’d love to answer any questions you might have as well as seeing your teams!