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MLS Fantasy Week 11: That’s just, like, your opinion, man

Even in fantasy, beauty can be in the eye of the beholder.

Last Updated
10 min read

The most fun I have had lately is obsessing over Music League. The basic concept is simple: players pick a song based on theme for each round, then once everyone has submitted, you get to vote on the songs to declare the winners. It’s a fun way to share tracks that you enjoy or hear some old favorites in a new context. Or, pertinently, find some new tracks from people with tastes wildly different from your own. And I love to see how people interpret different themes, like “songs for a monk” or “songs for when you’re betrayed.”

That does not necessarily mean I agree with their tastes or their interpretations. I’ve had songs that I submitted that I thought were perfect for the theme, but I end up only getting a few pity votes and maybe even some negative votes. I’ve withheld votes from tracks I thought weren’t good fits and weren’t even good songs (rarely but it happens), only to find I was the only one with that opinion and the song won the week.

In that same way, 10 people watching a soccer match can have wildly different takeaways from the same game. What one person sees as a heroic victory, with one team battling the odds and locking down the game through force of will after some mistakes, another might see as an undeserved win where the victors just had luck on their side.

It’s the same way for fantasy, one person might see a player on a hot streak as proof of their potential and ascension, another will see it as a fluke. We try and dig into advanced stats, or possession numbers, or expert analysis to try and figure out if we are right or wrong, but it is rarely as simple as being “right” or “wrong.” This messy beautiful game is suffused with chance and luck and even worse, referees. All we can do is the best we can with the information in front of us and form our opinions on who will succeed or fail. There are some opinions that are very close to correct (Messi should be your captain until further notice), and others that are fairly up in the air (Hector Herrera will regain his form from last year and be extremely valuable to Houston going forward).

So, when you’re reading my opinions, I’ll try and give you my reasoning and support for it so you can form your own opinions. Just remember that even working from the same set of facts, people can come to different conclusions and form different opinions. It’s not necessary that one set of opinions or conclusions is right and another is wrong. Different opinions and conclusions can coexist! That’s okay.

Week 11 Schedule

Bye: Columbus Crew

This week has another slate of mostly 7:30 PM local kickoffs, with two Sunday games: NYC hosting the Rapids, then Seattle hosting the Galaxy later in the afternoon. On Saturday, there are only two “late” games, with RSL hosting SKC at 7:30 central and then Vancouver hosting Austin at 7:30 pacific. Brilliantly, they moved San Jose v LAFC to 4:30 PM local time which is the same kickoff time as six other matches and directly overlapping with three more. For fantasy though, better pickings than some weeks, but the total dearth of earlier games on Saturday is still frustrating (and not even primarily for fantasy purposes).

General Thoughts

In terms of games I expect a lot of goals, Atlanta hosting Minnesota should be good for Atlanta goals, as Atlanta is averaging 2.0 xG at home and Minnesota is conceding 2.0 xGA on the road. Miami is at home, and though NYRB is tough, as long as Messi is healthy then I don’t think anyone can completely stop them. And there’s another Cali rivalry match with San Jose hosting LAFC. More on San Jose below.

In terms of clean sheets, I’m looking at Toronto hosting Dallas, Houston hosting St. Louis, Vancouver hosting Austin, and a hesitant confidence in Seattle blanking the Galaxy. Toronto has a decent defense and Dallas has a terrible offense (though getting Ferreria back will help). Houston has a good defense and St. Louis has an average offense. Plus, Hector Herrera may finally be able to start this week, so St. Louis may find it very difficult to get the ball. But Vancouver in the nightcap hosting Austin should be an easy and clean win for Vancouver. I wouldn’t let Austin’s recent form fool you, they’ve been pulling rabbits out of their hats recently to somehow earn four wins in their last five. They have not actually been playing that well and it is not a sustainable trend, though clean sheets have been awfully difficult to predict this year. I’m taking Vancouver defenders so we can suffer together if (when?) I’m wrong.

Then of course Seattle gets to face the Galaxy missing Riqui Puig to yellow card accumulation and likely missing Dejan Joveljic again to injury. Ragen will be back from suspension and Frei won’t be suspended, so the Seattle defense will just be missing Alex. Assuming Seattle avoids another red card, I see them as the favorites in this game and should have a strong chance at a clean sheet.

I think there’s an outside shot Charlotte has a clean sheet against Portland if Evander is too hurt to go (though I think he’s back), Orlando might be a decent pick against Cincy (though they really let me down last week), and I truly have no idea what’s going to happen in the Chicago v New England match. That one could be a 4-5 barn burner, or a sloppy and boring 0-0 or 1-0 match either way. Another one I’m planning to watch with interest is Nashville. If Zimmerman is healthy finally (14-minute sub appearance last week) and they can find a rejuvenated Mukhtar, I can see them climbing the table easily, and this match at home against Montreal would be a good time to prove it. But I’m not convinced yet.

Captain Considerations

  • Lionel Messi (MIA FWD $13.0M). What more is there to say? This old fella has a 3-week average of 15 points and still has not scored fewer than 9 points in a game this season. He keeps playing 90 minutes. A healthy Messi should be your captain. Truly absurd things he is doing this season.

Messi is really the only captain you should be considering, so I'll point out a few other good offensive options you may want on your team (or captain if you have a vendetta against Messi, I guess).

  • Christian Benteke (DCU FWD $11.9M). Benteke leads the league in npxG (6.5) and is a close second in npxG/90 (0.81 to Messi’s 0.84). We saw this past weekend he is on penalty kicks. Philly’s road defense is average. Absent another super juicy matchup, I like Benteke this week again.
  • Giorgos Giakoumakis (ATL FWD $9.5M). At home, Atlanta is a very strong side. Giakoumakis has been working back to health, and I like him to pick up his strong form again this week against Minnesota. His npxG/90 (0.55) is better than two of the other top options this week, Denis Bouanga and Cristian Arango, and comes at a discount, though I would not fault you for going with the more stable options.
  • Brian White (VAN FWD $10.6M). He’s got a great matchup at home against Austin and has the same npxG/90 as Giakoumakis. He hasn’t scored as well as some of the other options so far, especially as he’s generally lacking in the bonus point department, but if you want to seek out a surprise hat-trick, he’s a good candidate.
  • Thiago Almada (ATL MID $11.9M). As noted for Giakoumakis, I like Atlanta's matchup. Almada has been racking up bonus points, averaging 7.4 fantasy points a game this year despite only having two goals and one assist. I think he's a no brainer when Atlanta is at home and still a reasonable pick on the road.
  • Santiago Rodriguez (NYC MID $11.0M). Over the first six games of the season, Santi was averaging 4.5 points a game. Over the past four, he's averaging 10.75. Eight net bonus points in those first six, eighteen net bonus points in the past four. This could mean something has turned around for Santi and NYC, or it could just be that four of the first six were on the road and all four of the recent matches were at home. Either way, NYC has their fifth game at home in a row on Saturday, so Santi seems set to have another strong match.
  • Luciano Acosta (CIN MID $13.0M). The only other player as expensive as Messi, Acosta does it all at home or on the road. I think Orlando will be a tough road game for Cincinnati, but Acosta is averaging 8.8 points on the road. Sure, that includes easier matchups at Chicago and New England, but he's still a dynamite player who can get it done for Cincy wherever they play.

Bargain Bin

  • William Yarbrough (SJ GK $4.0M). If you are the kind of player who is constantly trying to shoot the moon, betting on a San Jose clean sheet is where it's at. Minimum price, so it is low risk to your budget, and I would not be surprised at all to see San Jose pull it together and hold LAFC out. If Austin could do it last week to the Galaxy, then San Jose certainly can do it this week. I don't recommend this, but you'll feel like a genius if it comes off.
  • Joe Willis (NSH GK $5.9M). He’s not a big bargain, but I don’t believe in Montreal’s attack on the road and, as noted, Nashville will probably (hopefully) have Walker Zimmerman back to lead the defense. Unfortunately, his match is 5:30 pm Pacific, so you’ll have to make a decision before the VAN v ATX match whether you want to pull a keeperoo into that one or gamble on one of the Sunday squads.
  • Marcelo Weigandt (MIA DEF $4.3M). Miami’s new-ish RB has been going 90 minutes lately. He’s not scoring particularly well, but anyone on the field for Miami has a potential for goalscoring contributions simply by being in Messi’s orbit and Miami have at least a reasonable shot at a clean sheet this week.
  • Daniel Lovitz (NSH DEF $4.3M). If you want a cheap entry to Nashville’s defense, Lovitz fits the bill. Very unremarkable fantasy scoring if Nashville don’t keep a clean sheet, though.
  • Léo Chú (SEA MID $6.7M). Back at home, fresh off a goal and assist through his past 90 minutes of action, Chu might be set to get in behind the Galaxy’s awful, terrible, no-good defense. Seriously, they are tied for the worst xGA in the league alongside the Revs (though the Revs have one fewer game). I am confident in the Sounders at least getting some goals in this game and Chu is a potential beneficiary of Alex’s suspension (moving Cristian to RB again and Morris to RW). I’m personally going with Albert Rusnák (SEA MID $8.4M) who has been good at generating bonus points and is very reasonably priced. Cristian is at $6.7M as well, if you want to gamble elsewhere.
  • Hector Herrera (HOU MID $7.8M). It’s hard to get a premier midfielder at this price point at this time of the season, but Herrera fits that bill. Last year Herrera was averaging 80 passes a match, was third in passes into the final third, top 10 in shot-creating actions/90 and top 5 in goal-creating actions/90. His price may not rise this week, as his two prior sub appearances will drag down his recent average, but I expect he will be joining the $10.0M club within a couple of months.
  • Prince Owusu (TOR FWD $7.0M). A man on a hot streak with four goals in his last three matches. He’s also top-10 by npxG/90, above Brian White and Giakoumakis. I’m not sure it is sustainable, or if he’ll even be starting when Insigne is healthy again, but it might make sense to ride the hot hand.
  • Jordan Morris (SEA FWD $7.1M). Jordan doesn’t have the goals that Ruidíaz does ($8.8M), but to my eye test he has created the most danger of any player on the team. And, frankly, Ruidíaz has benefited a lot from a couple of lucky strikes and PKs created by other players. I think Morris is the better player now and going forward for fantasy and on the pitch. Now, I’m not saying Morris is the best use of your limited forward slots, but if you want a cheap forward to stick on your front line and fade if your bench players come through, Morris is a great option.

Odds and Ends

  • San Jose has apparently gotten terribly unlucky this year, as their xGD is 0.0 but their actual GD is -11. That’s not good! Extremely poor goalkeeping has been part of it, as “Post-Shot expected Goals minus Goals Allowed” (PSxG +/-), which tries to measure a keeper’s performance, suggests that SJ’s guys have allowed more than six goals than you would expect from an average keeper.
  • That still leaves another six extra goals San Jose has conceded above their xGA. And it’s not some outlier games skewing their stats, in every match this season – besides the one they won cough cough and the one they tied – their opponent has scored roughly twice the goals as their xG would predict.
  • These stats are absurd and point towards either a lot of horrible luck, or the fact that these stats just aren't capturing how truly terrible their defense has been this year. Why do I point all of this out about San Jose? It's really all about Denis Bouanga (LAFC FWD $12.4M). You'll have to form your own opinion on whether you think the stats are showing that SJ is an unlucky team that will return to average, or that their defense is just that bad and will continue to be the worst in the league (by actual goals against, the stat that actually counts). That might decide whether you fade Bouanga (who has not been nearly as good on the road) or take him over some other great forward options this week.
  • With how poorly clean sheet predictions have gone recently, it seems there's growing support for a Bonus Point/Attacking Defender strategy. Ignore hunting for players who might get a clean sheet and just take defenders who are scoring at or close to 2 BP a week and/or are finding assists. Example A of this is Brooks Lennon (ATL DEF $9.6M), who’s got 21 of his 58 points from bonus points this year. Add in three clean sheets and three assists, and you have your highest scoring (and most expensive) defender in the game.
  • Just behind Lennon is Ranko Veselinovic (VAN DEF $9.2M), with 18 BP plus a goal, assist and three CS for 55 total points. However, Tristan Blackmon (VAN DEF $7.5M) is significantly cheaper since he missed the Toronto match and has no goals or assists, but has 16 BP and is averaging exactly two BP in his starts. Some other guys who fit this profile are Thiago Martins (NYC DEF $8.2M) at 19 BP, Aaron Herrera (DCU DEF $8.1M) at 13 BP and 3 assists, and Maya Yoshida (LAG DEF $9.1M) with 17 BP and 2 goals.

Good luck this week. May Messi bless us all.