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MLS Fantasy: Don't get caught ball watching

We're entering an annoying time in MLS Fantasy season: international call-ups.

Last Updated
7 min read

With Week 5 upon us (ignore MLS's attempts to call this "Matchday 6," Miami playing a midweek game does not mean you can credit them with a "matchday"), we are entering one of the most annoying times of the season for everyone involved: international call-ups. Lots of teams will be missing key players, while others are entirely unaffected (at least, by call-ups). So, you might be able to find some bargain players thrust into increased responsibilities this week, or you might select some of the key players who have stuck around with their clubs. Again, this is where lineup-watching can be very fruitful.

The full list of call ups are here: MLS March 2024 International Callups

I'll highlight some names that might still be in your lineups: Almada, Giakoumakis, Miles Robinson, Forsberg, Callendar, Gazdag, Luna, Diego Gomez. All of these names are listed by MLS fantasy as having more than 5% ownership (Alamada, Giakoumakis and Robinson are over 20% owned), though I am not sure how often those numbers are updated. You'll want to check and double-check that the players you select are actually with their teams this week. Don't get distracted by their high prices and big scores!

BYE: Dallas, Montreal, Minnesota.

Captain Candidates

Luciano Acosta (CIN MID $10.9M): Coming off of Cincy's demoralizing defeat to Monterrey in CCC, Acosta started on the bench against New England on Sunday. Then he entered at halftime, and he ended the game with a goal, an assist, a yellow card and two bonus fantasy points for key passes. His 10 points in 45 minutes on Sunday were better than his points in 90 minutes against Toronto or DC. He'll be rested and at home against a (probably) bad NYC team. He's my captain for the week.

Cucho Hernandez (CLB FWD $11.0M): I faded Cucho last week to my regret (I added Ruidiaz on a whim, dropping Cucho instead of Benteke, whoops). Don't make my same mistake. On top of his 3 goals and an assist, he is scoring 3 or 4 bonus points every game. Charlotte has shown themselves to be thoroughly average so far, and I expect Cucho to have at least a decent game in Charlotte.

Riqui Puig (LAG MID $10.2M): Puig is the star and engine of LAG's attack this year. Though Jovelic has scored the goals, and Paintsil has similarly been very good, Puig is a model of consistency. His bonus points by week are: 6, 4, 6, 4. 10 bonus points at home, 10 on the road. They may struggle a bit with SKC's defense on the road, but whatever attack the Galaxy have will go through Puig.

Luis Suarez (MIA FWD $10.2M): This mad man can't keep it up all season long, can he? He's had four goals and three assists in MLS play, and 2 more goals in CCC against Nashville so far. His two goals last week came from a 28-minute bench appearance! He's at almost 2 goals + assists per 90! He (probably) won't have Messi this week, but that might mean Gressel and the rest of Miami will funnel the attack through him. He's a captain consideration if you think he'll continue to strike it hot on the road.

$6.0M Bargain Bin

With a lot of good starters' prices rising as they get playing time and score well, it is getting harder and harder to find good bargains. Here are some I am incorporating or considering this week.

Kipp Keller (CIN DEF $6.0M): I am interested in any Cincinnati defender this round, and Keller has been solid in his starts. Cincy run a 3-CB backline, typically with Miazga central, Robinson on the right, and Murphy as the first choice on the left. Keller has been getting starts in Murphy's place in MLS alongside Miazga and Robinson, but Cincy has also deployed Keller on the right with Murphy on the left with either of Robinson or Miazga centrally. With Robinson out, I would expect Keller to start again. I think he's a great option if you want to stay at $6.0M or under.

Andreas Maxso (COL DEF $5.5M): Houston has to go visit Colorado, after three home MLS matches where they only scored three times. They also played a handful of CCC matches where they seemed thoroughly uninspiring, managing to sneak past St. Louis on the away goals tiebreaker and took a full 180 minutes to score once against Columbus (and cut their deficit to one). Colorado have not been stellar, but they probably would have shut out Nashville at home and Seattle on the road if not for a pair of very stupid handballs in the box. I think they have a good shot at a clean sheet against Houston. With none of the other Colorado defenders standing out from the pack, I think Maxso is a solid option this week. [Note: an earlier version of this article recommended Moise Bombito. I did not realize he was called up by Canada. I should follow my own advice about ball watching.]

Lawson Sunderland (MIA MID $4.3M): Miami is missing starters David Ruiz, Federico Redondo and Diego Gomez in the midfield, on top of needing to cover for Messi in the lineup. In Week 3, missing Busquets and Gomez from the lineup, Miami turned to Sunderland as one of the three central midfielders in a 3-5-2. Now, I have no idea how Martino will want to try and adjust the midfield – maybe Gressel is moved back to RB again with Ruiz out and Jean Mota gets a start – but when Sunderland got the call in Week 3 he had two bonus points and an assist. Miami has an early game so you can check if he is starting before locking the rest of your roster. If he is, he might be a reasonable option at a huge discount.

Earl Edwards Jr. (NE GK $5.0M): Hear me out. I know this is an illogical pick. Edwards Jr. is the backup NE keeper with Ravas out on international duty. New England have given up 10 goals so far in the league, tied for the most. They just lost 1-2 at home last week, though it was to a strong Cincy squad with Acosta, as mentioned before, tearing up the field in the second half. I guess I feel like NE at home against Chicago should be a decent match for NE to get back on track. And I do not believe Chicago is a two-goals-a-game team over the season. Plus, with NE and Chicago playing an early game, I can set up Edwards Jr. in a keeperoo spot, and just start someone else if he does poorly.

Dylan Teves (SEA MID $5.0M): Another illogical pick, this time for homer reasons. I've heard through the grapevine that the Sounders are looking at potentially starting Teves on the right, which would mean he would be a key part of the attack against a very very bad San Jose team. Teves was not particularly good in his 378 minutes last year, using whatever measure you want (0 goals, 0 assists, 0.88 xG, 0.51 xA, according to fotmob). But I like him as a bench stash to see if he can surprise us all and help unlock the Sounders' stagnant offense. You'll want to check and see if he is actually starting, of course. Schmetzer may take the conservative route and stick with the same general lineup and formation, just adding Yeimar and Frei and replacing Atencio with Leyva. Everyone can see some changes in tactics and/or personnel are needed in the attack, though.

Price Changes

Something small that's worth tracking is a player's "last three average," which is just the average score in the last three weeks a player played. There's a filter option on MLS's site to see whose average is high or low. While this can identify players who have been hot recently, it is also important because it seems to be a primary factor in whether a player's price rises or falls.

As one illustration, last week two forwards scored 4 points, one of them worth $8.5M and the other $7.7M. And yet, the $8.5M forward added $0.5M to his value, while the $7.7M forward stayed the same price. The reason for the difference? The first player is Christian Benteke, whose three-game average is 12.50, as the only other game he played was his first-week hat trick. The other player is Sam Adineran, whose three-game average is 5 points, which is apparently an appropriate amount for a $7.7M player.

This formula meant that Sam Surridge, who was worth $7.3M last week, only gained $0.3M in value for scoring 8 points, as his three-game average is 4.5. It also meant that his teammate, Teal Bunbury, also rose $0.3M in value (to $7.5M) last week, despite Bunbury only scoring 1 point. Bunbury still had two 7-point games in his average, making his three-game average 4.25 points.

Checking three-game averages to find potential risers is one way to try and add some extra Team Value and increase the salaries you can afford. If a player had a big score in the past two games, their three-game average will stay high and they will be more likely to rise in value. Similarly, if a player had a bad game (maybe something as bad as a red card?), you may want to avoid them until it falls out of their three-game average. When the low score does fall out, they might be due for a value correction and adding them might be a good opportunity. Keep in mind that every appearance counts as a game, so even a stoppage-time cameo counts toward a player's average (and will often lead to a decrease in value).

To that end, Benteke is a strong candidate for another price rise since his 3-game average, barring a negative score, will still be over 8 points. Even though his game in St. Louis might not be the best matchup, he might still deliver value for your team. Conversely, Suarez will be losing his 20-point game against Orlando from his 3-game average, so a poor game from Suarez would likely lead to a decrease in value. He may still be worth starting, you just might want to be aware of the risk.

Best of luck to everyone this week! There is still a lot of season left and everything to play for.