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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Sounders hope returning stars can prove to be the difference

Seattle Sounders were depleted due to injuries as they had to settle for a 0-0 draw against ten-man FC Dallas last weekend. Players were away on international duty or out injured and so head coach Sigi Schmid had to field a number of reserve players and youngsters.

Their makeshift team put in a solid display against Dallas but will be hoping to get back to winning ways against the Houston Dynamo on Saturday evening.

Sounders were without key players, Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins, Osvaldo Alonso and Chad Marshall, who were all absent through injury, but they are all in line to return this weekend.

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Marco Pappa also missed out as he featured for national side Guatemala, and he will also be available for selection for the weekend’s clash with Houston.

Clint Dempsey has declared himself fit for the game despite withdrawing from the US Men’s National Team squad with a hamstring problem, as reported by MLSsoccer.com.

“I feel good, I was able to get some good training sessions in this week. I’ve been back in full training for a few days now, and I’m looking forward to the weekend, I’ll be wanting to start.”

The other member of Sounders’ deadly strike force, Obafemi Martins, tweaked his quad in the clubs’ friendly against Club Tijuana but he has said he is feeling good ahead of the game.

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“I’m good. A lot better now. It was good for me to rest it because I was feeling a lot of pain. Now, I’m ready to go.”

Sounders will welcome the return of their key men but it is worrying how much quality they lacked without their stars last time out.

The 2014 MLS Supporters’ Shield winners haven’t won since the opening weekend and will see Saturday’s game with Houston as a great opportunity to get three points on the board.

Will the Seattle Sounders return to winning ways after welcoming back their stars?

Playoff Preview and Prediction: Seattle Sounders vs LA Galaxy

Seattle Sounders welcome the LA Galaxy to CenturyLink Field in what will be the last game of the 2014 season for one of these sides and a place in the MLS Cup Final is at stake.

The Galaxy take a narrow 1-0 lead to Seattle with them thanks to a deflected second-half strike from Marcelo Sarvas in the first leg at the StubHub Center last weekend.

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The Sounders will be thankful that they limited the damage to just a one goal deficit in a game where they will be the first to admit that they weren’t at their full-flowing best, but they’ve still managed to keep themselves very much alive in the tie.

It has been an amazing season for Seattle no matter what happens but they appear to be stuttering slightly in recent weeks and they will hope that they don’t fall at the final hurdle, so to speak.

They’ll be looking to their usually solid home form and hoping that it will be their saviour in this clash and also hoping that Osvaldo Alonso will return from injury in time to give his side the edge they need in midfield.

Seattle Sounders 2014 home record: Played 18 – Won 12 – Drawn 2 – Lost 4

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Boosted from their 5-0 thrashing of Real Salt Lake in the semi-final, LA Galaxy look like a revitalised team from the one that succumbed to a 2-0 defeat against the Sounders on the last day of the regular season and will be happy with their lead, as well as being quietly confident they can get themselves over the line.

Hitting a good vein of form at the right time is crucial in competitions like this because one moment in a game can change the face of everything, so LA can be pleased that they’ve scored six in their last three games and conceded none.

They know that they are now the slight favourites as keeping a clean sheet at home means that the Sounders don’t have an away goal to their name, so if the Galaxy can knick one in Seattle, they will be firmly in the driving seat and will leave their opponents needing three.

LA Galaxy 2014 away record: Played 18 – Won 5 – Drawn 7 – Lost 6

It’s a clash of the Western Conference titans and the incentive to get to the final couldn’t be higher as both are seeking to make history – MLS Cup success for Seattle would see them become the first team in MLS to win the treble (Supporters’ Shield, U. S. Open Cup and MLS Cup) while LA Galaxy are looking to record their fifth MLS Cup glory and become the most successful club in the history of the competition.

Both sides know what to expect from each other and they both also know how tough a game it will be, which can only make for a tight and intense encounter which looks set to go down to the wire.

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Key Player: Clint Dempsey – he’s missed a few good chances of late and he knows he can do better. He’s a player of real high quality and the Sounders will be looking to him to inspire the team.

Key Stat: LA Galaxy are without a win on the road in their last five attempts – their last win away from home came at Chivas USA on September 1.

Seattle Sounders last five: D/W/D/D/L

LA Galaxy’s last five: D/L/D/W/W

Score Prediction: Seattle Sounders 1-2 LA Galaxy – We aren’t expecting a goal-fest but it should be a tight game. The Galaxy are high on confidence right now and look hungry for success, while Seattle look like they have run out of steam right at the end.

Playoff Preview and Prediction: LA Galaxy vs Seattle Sounders

The first-leg of the Western Conference final is set to be an enthralling tie as the Seattle Sounders travel to take on LA Galaxy in their latest clash.

The two sides who went head-to-head for the MLS Supporters’ Shield during the last two weeks of the regular season are set to lock horns again, with a place in this season’s MLS Cup Final at stake.

We can expect a cagey opening in the first-leg between these two sides, with neither wanting to give any advantage ahead of the return fixture.

LA Galaxy home form: Played 18 – Won 13 – Drawn 4 – Lost 1

The game will also see two of the highest scorers from the regular season go head-to-head again in the shape of Obafemi Martins and Robbie Keane. With star strikers to aim at, both sides will fancy their chances.

Don’t Miss: Stats: Keane & Donovan vs Dempsey & Martins – Who will come out on top?

US soccer heroes Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey will also face up against one another, and will be key for their respective sides.

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The Galaxy will be looking to avenge their Supporters’ Shield loss, but the Sounders will have the added desire to try and create history by wrapping up the treble if they can get through two tricky ties against Los Angeles.

Seattle Sounders away form: Played 18 – Won 8 – Drawn 4 – Lost 6

The home side must ensure they have a positive result in this game and Seattle will want that all-important away goal – the goal that was the deciding factor in their semi-final contest with FC Dallas.

The 1-1-1 record between these two in the regular season means this couldn’t be more evenly poised and LA will be hoping to take a victory into the away fixture the following week.

We can expect the Sounders to look to absorb pressure from the Galaxy and hit them with pace on the counter. Hold up play is going to be a key part of the game for both Martins and Dempsey as LA will likely dominate possession.

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Osvaldo Alonso is expected to recover from a knock in time to play on Sunday, and Seattle will be desperately hoping that he does indeed make the game. He is the key man in midfield and without him, LA will dominate everything in the centre of the park.

The Galaxy will need to be tight at the back and not over-commit men forward when trying to break Seattle down to avoid being hit on the counter. They will be feeling great ahead of the game though, after the 5-0 demolition of Real Salt Lake in their semi-final clash – something that was a real surprise.

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A special mention has to go out to Landon Donovan after he showed his class yet again with that hat-trick in the 5-0 win over RSL and Seattle will need to try and keep him quiet in what could be his final game at StubHub Center.

This will be a very exciting two-legged affair and we are really looking forward to the game.

Key Player: Landon Donovan – this could be his last home game for the Galaxy and the big-game player will play a key role in both ties.

Key Stat: Both Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy) and Obafemi Martins (Seattle Sounders) have contributed to 26% of their clubs goals this season.

LA Galaxy Last 5: L/D/L/D/W

Seattle Sounders Last 5: L/D/W/D/D

Prediction: LA Galaxy 2-2 Seattle Sounders

Pass master: This Seattle star has the best record in MLS

Seattle Sounders midfielder Osvaldo Alonso leads the league in passing accuracy, and the 28-year-old has delivered on his designated player tag by being the best on the ball this season.

The tough-tackling Cuban has completed an impressive 91.1% of his passes this season, according to WhoScored.com, and that number is the best in Major League Soccer, with LA Galaxy’s Juninho his closest rival with 89.6% pass accuracy.

Alonso’s accuracy is made even more impressive by the fact that he has completed the second-highest number of passes per game on average this season.

He has made 66.6 passes per game, an amount only bettered by Columbus Crew midfielder Will Trapp, who has made an average of 67.4.

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The Sounders have enjoyed a very good season so far, and they will be looking to clinch the Supporters Shield when they face LA Galaxy once again on Saturday night.

Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins take most of the plaudits for their impressive displays in the final third, but Alonso’s consistency has allowed those players to go about their business on a weekly basis.

Alonso will need to stay as solid with the ball if the Sounders are to have a chance at winning their first MLS Cup, and they are expected to go far in the playoffs after an exciting season so far.

How important is Osvaldo Alonso to the Seattle Sounders? And how far can they go in the Playoffs?