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 Musings: Vancouver doing it with defence, Chicago’s road horrors continue

By Drew Farmer: Twitter – @CalcioFarmer

Vancouver’s defensive DP getting it done

Tied for the fewest goals in Major League Soccer this season (22), the Vancouver Whitecaps have surged to the top of the Western Conferences thanks to their defensive solidity.

Of course David Ousted and the back four have been good, but it has been the two pivots sitting in front of the backline that have prevented attacks from occurring. Defensive midfielder Matias Laba is averaging 5.2 tackles and 2.6 interceptions per game, according to WhoScored.com. Add in an 84% pass rate and Vancouver has a Designated Player worth every bit of his $325,000 salary in 2015.

Laba’s play and ability to control the game from central midfield shows the importance, if many times unspectacular and overlooked, a good defensive midfielder provides. Something MLS should invest more in.

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Six points seems so far away

After winning the previous week, Chicago Fire got back to losing ways last Friday, losing 1-0 to the Portland Timbers. Frank Yallop’s Fire have scored the third fewest goals in 2015, only Colorado Rapids and Yallop’s former team, San Jose Earthquakes, have scored fewer.

The Fire is still, somehow, only six points away from Montreal Impact in the hunt for the last spot in the MLS Playoff race. Yet, those six points seem so far away and nothing that Chicago has done to this point makes one think the team can reach the postseason.

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Chicago is the only team not to win on the road this season – losing seven away games and scoring a league low eight goals away from home.

With 12 games left to play in 2015, Chicago will play seven on the road. Six of those seven come against teams fighting for a postseason place or for a higher playoff seed. If the Fire makes the playoffs, it will truly be a miracle in the Windy City.

New York City and Jason Kreis

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Real Salt Lake surprised MLS in 2007 when it hired former player Jason Kreis as head coach. Kreis had literally just retired from playing when he became coach. His hire was the first of the current wave of former MLS players quickly becoming head coaches.

Kreis had some success, which with Real Salt Lake, was something new and exciting. In nearly seven seasons, Kreis achieved a 43% win percentage, tallying 102 wins and winning the MLS Cup in 2009.

Kreis gets a lot of respect from peers, pundits and fans. Looking at his MLS record with RSL, Kreis’ last four seasons were his most successful, including a runners-up performance in the MLS Cup 2013.

Kreis is now the man tasked with leading NYCFC’s high-priced DP’s to the promised land. But he is now coaching three players that have done everything in the game and some are questioning whether they are on the same page?

After falling behind to the Red Bulls on Sunday, NYCFC capitulated and were awful in defence as the Red Bulls picked them apart. First a low cross from near the touchline wasn’t dealt with, which defenders should have cleared or the goalkeeper should have claimed, then New York City stood around as Mike Grella dribbled past Frank Lampard and laid off a pass to Felipe to score the Red Bulls’ second goal.

The question is, is Kreis actually the man to lead the Blues forward?

Sporting Kansalona City

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For the second time Sporting KC has signed a former Barcelona youth player. The last time they did that, Oriol Rosell blossomed into a top midfielder and moved to Portuguese giants Sporting Lisbon.

Now the club has dipped into La Masia, Barcelona’s famed academy, again and signed Jordi Quintilla. The Spaniard spent last season in France’s Ajaccio in Ligue 2. The attacking midfielder played 20 times, but was unable to register a goal or assist. Sporting KC will expect Quintilla to add to their attacking flavor as the club make a run for both the US Open Cup and the MLS Cup.

Listen to Drew on Radio Yorkshire MLS Monday

Follow Drew Farmer on Twitter @Calciofarmer. Drew Farmer is a Manchester, England-based journalist/blogger that writes for World Soccer Talk. Drew has contributed to Radio Yorkshire MLS Monday, Forza Italian Football, Bleacher Report, MLSGB and Soccerly. Originally from southwest Missouri, Drew covers Italy’s Serie A, British football and the USA’s Major League Soccer.