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MLS Fantasy Week 16: International Break Special

There are only four games this week, but don’t forget to set your lineups.

Last Updated
11 min read

Hope everyone is ready to roll for a four-match International Break special! This week a few teams get punished for playing through the window (Minnesota is missing nine [(9!) players to call-ups], while for others it is more or less a normal match (SKC has none). Since there are only four this week, let’s walk through every game and see what we’re looking at.

New England Revolution vs New York Red Bulls

The “early” match of the week, this game kicks off an hour before the three others. Consistent kickoff times may be nice for most matches, but weeks like this the downside is really glaring. When you have just a total of 360 minutes of soccer to televise for the week, you can’t spread it out at all? Annoying, but I digress.

New England are winless in their last three matches at home, only scoring one goal in that span. And you have to go back to April 6, nine matches ago, where New England “won” the xG battle. On the other hand, they have earned a pair of road wins in their last five matches against fellow bottom feeders Chicago and mid-table Nashville. Still, the numbers and common sense suggest New England will be dominated by the Red Bulls, who have won four of their last five.

However, the Red Bulls will be missing Emil Forsberg (called up by Swedend) and Lewis Morgan (late call-up by Scotland), who each have 10+ G/A on the season. One or the other of them have started as the primary attacking mid in all of NYRB's league matches this year, so this game will be a bit of an experiment. I expect Dante Vanezir and Elias Manoel will start up top, either of which are reasonable plays this week with how weak New England's defense has been all year (they are averaging about 2 goals against per match, including by xGA, with no signs of improvement).

Red Bulls will also be without: Carlos Coronel (GK) (Ryan Meara will start in goal), Noah Elie (DEF), John Tolkin (DEF) and Corey Burke (FWD) to call-ups and a handful of players have been injured. Slim pickings here. Personally, I am staying away from the uncertainty of the Red Bulls as I just don’t see any of their individual attackers or midfielders as valuable enough over other options. I think Red Bulls will likely win, I just don’t know who’s going to get the goals or assists.

On the other side of the field, I feel very comfortable with Carles Gil ($13.0m) this week. He’s played 90 minutes in every match this season, is averaging 6.7 fantasy ppg, and is likely set for another bonus point haul given New York’s reduced options (he’s averaging 2.6 BP/game). Right now, I’ve parked Aljaz Ivacic ($6.3m) in goal on my bench, just as a speculative play. Once their match hits halftime I'll decide whether it's worth rolling the dice on Ivacic holding a clean sheet in the second half and scrubbing my starting GK or going with one of the later options. You could consider a NE defender for your bench (Henry Kessler would be the best bet if he's starting, his BPs are decent, but is out of favor with Porter), and do a similar switcheroo, but those roster slots might be more valuable.

Minnesota United vs FC Dallas

This one is set up to be a fascinating game, with Minnesota missing upwards of 10 players on Saturday. Just look at this list of call-ups:

Minnesota United FC player list: Kervin Arriaga, Alejandro Bran, Carlos Harvey, Robin Lod, Tani Oluwaseyi, Teemu Pukki, Joseph Rosales, Dayne St. Clair, and Zarek Valentin

In addition, Minnesota will be missing defender DJ Taylor for his hamstring injury and another key defender Miguel Tapias is in Mexico getting his green card and may not be back in time for the match. I have no clue how Minnesota plans to line up, and they have not made it easy by running out a wide variety of formations already.

I’d hazard a guess it is something like a 4-2-3-1: Irwin - Padelford, [Tapias/Eriksson], Boxall, Clark - Trapp, Dotson - Sang Bin, Fragapane, Hlongwane - Adebayo-Smith

That’s close to the lineup Minnesota started with against Portland on May 18th, where Lod came off the bench. “Just” need to swap GK, CM, LW, FWD and possibly CB. This also assumes Clark and Fragapane, who have been injured but were in full training, are good to start. And something to note about that match against Portland is that the match was 1-0 in Portland's favor until Minnesota made a four-player line change in the 56th minute. Minnesota would go on to score in the 65th and 82nd minutes to win 2-1.

So, while Minnesota can probably put together a functional lineup of MLS players, it will be untested and full of depth players. Meanwhile, FC Dallas is not missing any players of note (to call-ups, at least). Ferreira and Illarramendi are returning to health, which is great news for FC Dallas's attack. Dallas will be looking to get back on track after losing both their road games in LA last week, 3-1 to LAG and 1-0 to LAFC. I'll note that Dallas on the year has not been a good team. They have 13 points from 15 games and a -7 GD, backed up by a -9.5 xGD. Their defense has been average and their attack has been fairly poor. But if they can get Ferreira healthy and back in form while tightening up their defense a bit, they could go on a run.

There’s a lot of solid options for Dallas: GK Maarten Paes ($8.5m), DEF Sam Junqua ($7.2m), MID Asier Illarramendi ($8.4m), FWD Petar Musa ($11.1m), or FWD Jesus Ferreira ($8.7m). Dallas has not had a great defense this year, so I'd be cautious about going with more than Paes/Junqua, though Omar Gonzalez has had a few good outings this year. Really though I think Illarramendi is a great option: he's averaging 7 fantasy ppg when he plays 75+ minutes and should have plenty of room to operate as Trapp tries to cover the whole field.

Then you can try picking one of Musa or Ferreira. Musa has been more consistent this season but has been in a bit of a slump these past three matches. Ferreira has been hampered by injuries all year, but is capable of special moments when he's locked-in. Musa so far has a 0.44 npxG+xA/90, but had a 0.67 in about 3,500 minutes in the Portuguese Primera Liga over three seasons and 0.53 in about 700 minutes in his one year in the Bundesliga with Union Berlin. Ferreira's average in his MLS career is 0.50, though for 2021-23 it was 0.55-0.57. This is, of course, not a zero-sum game, so as Ferreira returns to form and Illarramendi stays healthy, I would bet all their numbers improve. Personally, I have Musa right now simply because we know he's healthy and he's more likely to play 90 minutes. This could be a great week for Ferreira though.

If you want a high-risk play from Minnesota, you could consider Franco Fragapane (MID $6.1m), Sang Bin Jeong (MID $7.8m) or Bongokuhle Hlongwane (FWD $6.0m). Fragapane has a very similar npxG+xA/90 to Lod, 0.55 vs 0.56, and will likely be occupying the central attacking midfielder spot. But Fragapane only has 1 goal, 1 assist on the year across four starts and six substitute appearances. He's been injured during the year and missed their past two matches, and he's been otherwise pushed out of the lineup. He started the first match of the year, going 75 minutes, then didn't start again until the 4/21 game in week 9, going 45, 55 and 59 minutes in his other three starts. Minnesota's bench will be thin but it's hard to see Fragapane going more than 60-ish minutes.

Hlongwane is in a similar situation, as he has gone 55, 59, 61, 63 and 64 minutes in his five starts this year. He has eight other substitute appearances, one of them a 45-minute shift, the rest between 21-31 minutes. His underlying npxG+xA/90 is slightly higher than Pukki's, and he has 3G, 1A on the year, so he's capable of goal contributions, he's just been pushed out of the lineup by Tani Oluwaseyi's incredible form this year.

Sang Bin has been able to put in the minutes this year, going 90 four times, including their most recent match against SKC. He has 3 goals in his past four matches, but I wouldn’t expect that to continue. His 0.8 xG against the Rapids when he scored twice was almost equal to his 1.0 xG across his other 12 games this year. He has no assists and his underlying xA is nothing to get excited about, equal to Fragapane and well behind Hlongwane on a per 90 basis. On the other hand, there’s an advantage to actually going with a 90-minute player, so it may be that Sang Bin is the way to go. Sang Bin may also be on corners and FKs (or share them with Fragapane and maybe Trapp) and is the only player expected to play who has taken a PK for Minnesota in league play (saved by Melia last year). So, he may be a reasonable dart throw anyway.

Sporting Kansas City vs Seattle Sounders

I won’t get too far into the weeds on this game, I’d bet most people reading here know the Sounders plenty well at this point, and SKC is simply a bad team. SKC has lost seven (!) in a row and are winless in their past 10. In that span they have zero shutouts and have allowed at least two goals in 9 of 10 matches. In their past seven matches they have exactly seven goals, spread out between the games with only one match scoring two goals. I’m no math genius, but it seems giving up at least two goals a game and scoring one goal or fewer is going to lead to bad results. Of course, only two of those games have been at home (vs Houston and Vancouver) but they still lost those games 2-1.

The Sounders are expected to win this match. They should win this match. They will win this match. Take your pick of Stefan Frei ($6.5m), Jackson Ragen ($7.8m) or Alex Roldan ($6.6m) for defensive options, and/or Albert Rusnák ($9.0m), Raúl Ruidíaz ($8.5m) or Jordan Morris ($7.8m) in the attack. SKC has only been shut out twice on the season, so it may be Alex who is the best defensive pick, given he seems more likely to get into the attack. Rusnak is the best bet in the offense, especially if he keeps up his recent form, and then I am picking Morris, betting against another Ruidiaz penalty or worldie. Morris and Ruidiaz have the same number of non-penalty goals now, with a very similar npxG/90 (0.28 vs 0.31). Morris has a huge advantage on xA/90 though, 0.19 vs 0.04. If you want a Seattle forward, Morris is the guy.

One wildcard I'm looking towards is if Reed Baker-Whiting ($4.5m) gets the start in place of Nouhou. His run to earn the “assist” to Musovski against RSL was fantastic and the kind of play that shows his growing maturity at 19, even though it was called back. Unfortunately though, he is listed as a midfielder in fantasy and probably not the best use of one of those five valuable slots. And it’s unlikely he plays more than 60-ish minutes. Still, he’ll be a player to watch for future fantasy rosters if you need to trim salary and want to do so in the midfield.

The homer in me cannot in good conscience recommend any SKC players. Underlying numbers suggest FWD Willy Agada is the best attacker on SKC, though he has no goals or assists in his past 7 matches (4 starts, 3 subs). You could go with MID Johnny Russell, who always seems to do something crazy or extremely annoying against Seattle, but he has not been having a particularly good year. MID Erik Thommy seems to be having the best year for SKC in fantasy, but he missed their past two games to injury. If you really want a piece of SKC’s defense because you have zero faith in Seattle, despite SKC keeping one clean sheet all season, you’d probably want Dany Rosero as he seems to have the best BP numbers plus a pair of goals on the season. Really though, I’d stay away from SKC players.

St. Louis vs Portland Timbers

The match I’d imagine is the “title” card for the evening for fantasy purposes, you gotta expect a big haul of goals in this one. STL have conceded 2-3 goals in their past four matches and five of their last seven; Portland has done the same in 11 of their past 13 matches. Portland has done a little better recently, holding SKC to 1 goal at home then shutting out Austin on the road a little over a week ago, but this is still a bad defense. Neither team is good, but Portland have won three of their past five. I expect a shootout and one team to win 3-2, though it’s hard to pick one or the other squad. I’d lean towards a St. Louis win though as Portland is missing Crepeau and Miller in their defense.

The three St. Louis players I like: Tomas Totland (DEF $8.1m), Eduard Loewen (MID $9.2m) and João Klauss (FWD $10.0m). Totland gets into the attack, earning two goals and an assist this season, plus 5 BPs from key plays and 2 BPs from fouls suffered. He’s not a great option most weeks, but is the most likely to benefit from a high-scoring game. Loewen is still returning from his break to be with his wife, who is fighting brain cancer, but he showed early in the season to be a major force in STL’s attack (8 BPs in the first three matches of the year plus a PK goal and assist). He played 82 minutes last week and delivered an assist off the bench against the Sounders the week prior. I expect this will be a great game for him to return to form. Klauss is the focus of STL’s attack and their most goal-dangerous player. Celio Pompeu and Indiana Vassilev in the midfield have decent underlying numbers, if a little uninspiring in actual production, but they could be worth a punt if you don’t like your other midfield options.

Evander ($13.5m) should be a lock on a weekly basis and even more so with depleted rosters this week. The other Portland players to consider are Santiago Moreno (MID $8.7m), Jonathan Rodriguez (FWD $10.6m) and Felipe Mora (FWD $9.3m). Moreno has 3 goals, 4 assists on the year and is averaging at least one BP a game. He’s probably 9th or 10th on my list of midfielders this week, but I would consider him as he’s had some strong outings this year. Rodriguez is the headliner at the forward position, as he’s had 6 goals, 3 assists since joining in week 5 and is averaging 6 fantasy ppg. However, Felipe Mora has 8 goals, 1 assist in that same time span, despite starting 3 fewer matches and playing 300 fewer minutes. Mora’s npxG/90 is 0.76 while Rodriguez is at 0.31. Rodriguez has the edge in xA/90, 0.28 vs 0.05. Of course, Mora has only gone 90 minutes once, while Rodriguez has gone 90 minutes in 9 of his 12 starts. It’s clear that Rodriguez is seen as the more valuable player. Mora is a high ceiling, low floor player, while Rodriguez has a medium high ceiling and a medium floor. You’re probably better off going Rodriguez though Mora could be a strong differential play.

Captain Considerations

  • Evander ($13.5m) is the most obvious option for captain this week. He has gotten it done week-in, week-out, on the road or at home, and St. Louis does not present a particularly difficult challenge. He's got a high floor and a high ceiling. Probably the most sensible option this week.
  • Carles Gil ($13.0m) is the second-most obvious option. His numbers have been down this year, and he's been overshadowed by other players, but his 6.71 fantasy ppg average is still 13th best in the league and 2nd best of players playing tomorrow (Rodriguez is 3rd at 6 ppg and Klauss/Loewen are tied for 4th at 5.33). Personally, he's my choice since he's at home and NYRB are missing a bunch of key players.
  • João Klauss ($10.0m) gets to face Portland's very bad defense. I would bet he's the best differential captain choice. He doesn't excite me though.
  • Asier Illarramendi ($8.4m) gets to face Minnesota's second-choice squad. As I noted above, his 7 ppg average when starting and going 75+ minutes is very strong. If you think Minnesota will fall apart missing so many players, giving Dallas free rein to attack, Illaramendi could be a very fun and very lucrative captain option.

I’m skipping the bargain options this week since you should have plenty of leftover budget (I have $31m salary left over!). Good luck everyone! Hope this week is fun and not as boring as it might be.