MLS Fantasy 2016: What you need to succeed

By Jamie Dawe

Every year the MLS Fantasy minefield blows up anyone who hasn’t fully considered their team selection or their formation. Many people watch their team slide down the leaderboard for the first month while they helplessly panic behind their computer screens. However, there are a few key things you ought to know before you set up your team for this year’s competition.

The New Rules

There are now only 16 players on your roster (rather than 18), but each team still has the same $120.0 budget, meaning you can fill your side with more stars than ever in 2016.

Points are now scored for players who suffer four fouls in a game, for every 35 passes that are completed with 85% accuracy and also for every four shots taken in a game. In addition, defenders and defensive midfielders can score points for clearances, interceptions, tackles and blocks. This will make players like Osvaldo Alonso ($8.5) and Matias Laba ($7.5) even more attractive propositions.

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The Roster

Having two goalkeepers gives you room to have a week-in-week-out starting goalkeeper and also a young up-and-coming ‘keeper who may get game time later in the season. I wouldn’t recommend spending anymore than $11.0 of your budget on the two goalkeeper positions.

Having five defenders gives you the opportunity to splash out on a back five if you’re the kind of manager who likes banking on reliable centre-backs who rack up clean sheets, interceptions and the odd headed goal. Many prefer to use just three defenders, with attacking full-backs becoming increasingly popular too.

The limit of five midfielders now means that building a successful five-man midfield is significantly harder to achieve. However, the increased budget per player could mean that a spend of $45.0 on your midfield may not be terminal.

Four strikers gives you the chance to have at least one low priced striker to make room elsewhere for a big golden boot challenger. Cheap options like Dominic Oduro ($7.5) and Tesho Akindele ($7.5) could become great investments for the season.

The Formation

There’s only one formation I can recommend for the first weeks of the fantasy season and that’s a 3-5-2. In the unpredictable and occasionally maddening league which is Major League Soccer, the only position you can truly rely on is that of the central midfielder. Regardless of the match, quality of the team or the scoreline – passing bonuses are sure to be gained and so I see players like Dax McCarty ($9.0) and Tony Tchani ($8.0) as safe bets for early points. You could also try a 3-4-3 or 4-4-2 if one of your strikers/defenders is likely to play in a midfield role. In my view, any other formation would be complete anarchism before the tone for the season has been set.

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The Must Haves

The increased budget per player has opened up teams to have three or four massive stars in their starting XI. This is why players like last year’s top points scorer Sebastian Giovinco ($11.5) are definitely worth having in your team for the start of the season. Another player along these lines is Ethan Finlay ($10.5), who will also benefit from the new passing bonus points.

However, this doesn’t mean that the most expensive players are always going to be the highest scoring. Strikers like Innocent Emeghara ($9.0) and Maximiliano Urruti ($8.5) are sure to get more playing time this season and they are both proven goalscorers. In defence, Dallas’ No. 1 Jesse Gonzalez ($6.0) might be worth an investment as FC Dallas have four home games in their first six. This home start makes Zach Loyd ($7.5) a steal at this value. On the cheaper side, Josh Saunders ($5.0) may suddenly have a less porous defensive line in front of him as NYCFC have dramatically bolstered their defensive options this offseason. Four home games in the first five won’t hurt either.

The Risks

A few players picked in this year’s SuperDraft may go straight into the starting lineup of some MLS sides. For example, Joshua Yaro ($6.0) and Brandon Vincent ($5.0) are bound to get plenty of playing time. Jordan Morris ($8.5) joining Seattle Sounders was possibly the biggest deal of the offseason and it’s anyone’s guess whether he’ll hit the ground running, or whether he’ll take more time to progress. The Colorado Rapids’ biggest offseason signing was Shkelzen Gashi ($9.0), who had been the top scorer in the Swiss Super League for the last two seasons. Whether he can single-handedly turn around the Rapids’ dreadful scoring record, I don’t know. The Rapids also have talented defender/midfielder Marlon Hairston ($5.0) returning from injury, but he might not be thrown straight back into the Starting XI from the outset.

The No-No’s

DC United goalkeeper Bill Hamid ($6.0) will be out for at least the first three months of the season and should be ignored. MLS Cup winners Portland have a new left back in Chris Klute ($7.0) but he could easily miss the first games of the season with a knee injury. Nigel De Jong ($9.0) is a new presence in the LA Galaxy midfield, but he is not known for his scoring exploits and is rather more known for racking up yellow cards, so I personally would wait and see if the new scoring system favours him. Also, for his price and his position as a forward in a fantasy squad Giovanni Dos Santos ($11.0) is probably worth a miss until he settles into his new role on the right side of in the Galaxy side.

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The Best Bench Warmers

Cameron Porter ($5.0) should gain significant value if he gets the playing time he was in line to receive before his horrific injury at the beginning of the 2015 season. Along these same lines, Andre Blake ($5.0) could be a starting ‘keeper for Philadelphia this year – and if he’s given the chance – he could become the best bargain ‘keeper in the league. Hadji Barry ($5.0) could also be given the chance to prove himself in a faster, more fluent Orlando City attack – and if he plays to his potential, his price will skyrocket very quickly.

This is just a brief overview of what can be an extremely in-depth game. However, if I were to tell you anymore of my secrets, there would be no point in picking your own team…

All I can do is wish you luck and may the fantasy force be with you!

Who do you think is an absolute must-have in MLS Fantasy 2016?

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MLS SuperDraft 2016: Five picks who could start on the opening day

By Jamie Dawe

The MLS SuperDraft is seen as the best place to pick up young talent for MLS clubs, with players who are normally in their early 20s moving from college soccer up into the professional ranks.

Whereas most teams see the SuperDraft as an opportunity to invest in the future, some of the picks made on Thursday afternoon will be ready to start on Sunday, March 6th 2016 – the day the 21st MLS season kicks off. This article is dedicated to those who will have a real shot at a starting place on the opening day of the 2016 season.

Jack Harrison (NYCFC)

The Bolton-born Manchester United academy product was chosen by Chicago Fire as the No.1 pick in this year’s SuperDraft but was almost instantly traded 800 miles east to NYCFC, who were desperate for his services.

Harrison will have to compete with Frank Lampard, Andrea Pirlo, Mix Diskerud, Tommy McNamara, Kwadwo Poku and others for a starting spot – but the 19 year old has the ability to prove himself over preseason and subsequently earn a place in Patrick Vieira’s side alongside legends of the game such as David Villa and Pirlo. He may have to settle for a wide role – with Poku on the other side and Lampard in behind Villa.

Brandon Vincent (Chicago Fire)

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When the Fire drafted Vincent at No.4, the question was raised: With Joevin Jones as the clear starting left-back amongst the Chicago ranks, would Vincent get game time? Could he even be traded? We soon found out the answer to these questions as later on in the Draft, it was revealed that Jones had been traded to Seattle in exchange for the No.15 pick and some general allocation money. This is a clear indicator that Vincent will start from day one with the Fire and that he will be the key man on the left side of defence for the MLS’s worst team of 2015.

Jonathan Campbell (Chicago Fire)

This is more of a bold decision, suggesting that Chicago may start two rookies in defence on Matchday 1. However, their defence in the 2015 season was the equal worst in the league and it’s possibly a risk worth taking for head coach Veljko Paunovic. Chicago currently only have two other defenders on their roster in Eric Gehrig and homegrown player Patrick Doody. This will certainly change by the time we reach the start of the season, but with Doody set to be used more as a backup, the likelihood is there will be a starting berth waiting for Campbell to stamp his name on.

Joshua Yaro or Keegan Rosenberry (Philadelphia Union)

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Once again, the Union find themselves in a place where they have to rebuild. Maurice Edu is going nowhere in the backline of the Philadelphia defence, but the other three spots are anyone’s guess.

Signing Georgetown duo Yaro and Rosenberry was a smart move as they have signed a partnership which has been bossing college soccer for the past year. However, Yaro’s future might not be at centre-back, which is where he played for most of his college career. There were questions about him being converted into a full-back or a defensive midfielder and the latter would make the most sense as Rosenberry is a already established as a right-back.

It’s tough to see both of these players starting on March 7th, purely because the Union are unlikely to want to take the gamble of playing two rookies in their backline on Matchday 1. They might have decided to convert Yaro into a different position, but that process could possibly take until April or May and so seeing both Yaro and Rosenberry in the Union starting XI for the trip to FC Dallas is unlikely. Though one of them should get the nod.

Are there any SuperDraft picks that you think will start on Matchday 1?

MLS SuperDraft 2016: How have previous No.1 picks fared?

Since the introduction of the all-encompassing MLS SuperDraft in 2000, there have been 16 players deemed worthy to be the prestigious No.1 choice at the key offseason event – but what has happened to some of these players? Who became leading men in the MLS and who retired wondering what could’ve possibly happened? Jamie Dawe investigates…

The Successes:

Cyle Larin (2015) – Selected by and currently with Orlando City

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Larin may have only spent one season in MLS so far – but what a season it was! A new rookie record of 17 goals for Orlando City in only 27 appearances has proved Larin to be a sublime finisher in front of goal. His fine season included hat-tricks against the Red Bulls and NYCFC as he showed his range of abilities in and around goal (remember that drive from outside the box against Chicago Fire).

Add to this the four goals he has picked up on international duty with Canada this year and you have one tantalising prospect for the future. You can only wonder how long he can resist the temptation of European football, even if it has only been one season in MLS so far…

Maurice Edu (2007) – Selected by Toronto FC, currently with Philadelphia Union

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Edu’s first season in MLS after being drafted in 2007 was a major success, with 25 appearances and four goals resulting in the MLS Rookie of the Year award, becoming the first No.1 pick to receive it. Edu was sold to Glasgow Rangers in August 2008 for £2.6 million and had four successful years in Scotland before the bankruptcy of the club forced him to leave.

Three underwhelming years at Stoke City in the Premier League followed and Edu now finds himself back in MLS as one of Philadelphia Union’s Designated Players. A total of 46 international appearances for the USA show that even though there may have been some rocky patches – Edu’s career has been a success. He has become an integral part of the Union side now and is at home in MLS.

Honourable mentions: Andrew Farrell (2013), Chance Myers (2008), Marvell Wynne

(2006) & Alecko Eskandarian (2003)

The Failures:

Freddy Adu (2004) – Selected by D.C. United, currently with Tampa Bay Rowdies

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Anyone who claims to be a devout follower of world football will have certainly heard of Freddy Adu – the man once dubbed ‘the next Pele’. However, this incredible comparison has yet to come to fruition, and is highly unlikely to.

Drafted in 2004 at the incredibly young age of 14, Adu was thrust into world football’s limelight with D.C. United – scoring his first MLS goal just two months shy of his 15th birthday. Adu signed with Benfica at the age of 18 and spent four years either with the side or on loan around the world before moving back to MLS in 2011.

This would turn out to be a poor spell with Philadelphia Union, before then moving to Bahia in 2013. After two more turbulent years, Adu now finds himself with NASL outfit Tampa Bay Rowdies. He still has 17 international caps with the USMNT to his name, however, considering his expected ability and predicted potential, he hasn’t quite turned out to be the next Pele. You can’t put him down as anything other than a failure – although he still left his mark on MLS history with his incredible SuperDraft selection.

Steve Shak (2000) – Selected by New York MetroStars, now retired

Shak will forever be able to hold on to the fact that he was the first ever No.1 MLS SuperDraft pick. However, there was nothing much more to shout about in the rest of his MLS career – which lasted three disappointing seasons. Shak wasn’t expecting to be drafted until at least the second round and the MetroStars’ (now Red Bulls) surprise draft choice was never vindicated. A poor return of one goal from 32 appearances highlight a more than underwhelming return in his two seasons with the side, before he then moved to the Colorado Rapids, for whom he appeared six times before being released. Shak went on to retire in 2009 at the age of 31 after fulfilling none of his potential.

Honourable mentions: Chris Carrieri (2001), Chris Gbandi (2002), Nikolas Besagno (2005) & Steve Zakuani (2009)

The Unproven: 

Andre Blake (2014) – Selected by and currently at Philadelphia Union

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Blake was chosen by the Union at the age of 23 – the oldest No.1 pick in the history of the SuperDraft – but with goalkeepers peaking significantly later than outfield players, Blake was still chosen as one for the future. However, since being drafted by the Union, he has made more international appearances for Jamaica (12), than league appearances for the Union (7), so it would be fair to say he’s found first team opportunities hard to come by. Though with the Union planning to rebuild after a poor season, Blake is one of two goalkeepers still on the roster for 2016 and this may be his year to show his true potential.

Omar Salgado (2011) – Selected by Vancouver Whitecaps, currently with Tigres UANL

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Salgado is still very much a player of immense talent – and at 22, age is still on his side. Only 26 appearances and one goal for the 6ft 4in forward in his three years in the MLS seems poor – but Salgado had his fair share of injuries. He fractured his foot in 2012 and then again in 2013 – the latter making him miss an entire season. Salgado was purchased by Mexican side Tigres UANL at the start of 2015 – but has yet to make an appearance for the first team as he spent time on loan with the Tampa Bay Rowdies in 2015. Sooner or later, he needs to make an impact, otherwise his career is in danger of sinking before it has even really began.

Honourable Mentions: Danny Mwanga (2010) & Andrew Wenger (2012)

The Future…?

Joshua Yaro (Georgetown)

Yaro is a capable all round defender who will happily play at centre-back or at full-back. He is a product of the Right To Dream Academy in Ghana, who have produced current MLS players in David Accam and Dominic Oduro. At 5ft 11in, his future will more than likely be out wide, rather than in the heart of the defence, but part of the draw to Yaro is that he is such an adaptable player. He is willing to play in the centre, left or right of defence as well as in central midfield. Yaro is viewed as the most likely player to be chosen by Chicago Fire as the No.1 overall pick at the upcoming draft.

Brandon Vincent (Stanford)

A teammate of the much fabled Jordan Morris, Vincent has been crucial in taking the Stanford Cardinals to the College Championship crown. As another 5ft 11in defender, his future is more than likely on the flanks of defence, a position of need for many MLS sides. So, expect him to be drafted in the first 5 picks, if not as the No.1 overall selection.

Abu Danladi (UCLA)

Another Right To Dream Academy graduate, Danladi has been in the US since 2011 and has significant potential as a flamboyant winger. Undoubtedly the best prospect as a winger at the 2016 SuperDraft.

Fabian Herbers (Creighton)

Herbers is a 22-year-old German with an already high reputation. One season in the fifth tier of German football as a teenager saw him score 25 goals with 17 assists. A capable player in a wide role or ‘in the hold’ behind the striker, he can give any MLS team an invaluable attacking option and could be an early pick.

Who do you think will be the best prospect at the 2016 MLS SuperDraft?