The 2019 MLS season kicks off this weekend and it’s not just James O’Connor wracking his brain about lineup decisions. You too can select your team, manage substitutions, and make important transfer decisions, hoping that by the end of the season you can lay claim to a championship title — albeit in a fantasy world.
MLS Fantasy returns alongside the start of the regular season and returning players may be relieved to know there aren’t a mass of changes to try and get your head around this year. Unlimited transfers and roster lockouts (the ability to select players from a team right until they kick off) return in a bid to ease the effects of the brutal MLS schedule.
There have been two notable changes, however. Firstly, the ridiculous price change system has apparently been tweaked to become less drastic and more representative of the most recent week’s performance. Secondly, fantasy managers are now only permitted to select three players from each MLS team, down from last year’s four-player limit, to hopefully encourage more diverse team selections. MLSsoccer.com has already put their chips on the table, ranking Nani as their No. 5 midfielder. Dom Dwyer is the only other Lion to make the power rankings, featuring as their No. 18 forward. Both are premium options and with managers having to look at even more players, where could the fantasy value lie in Orlando City’s 2019 roster?
Sebas Mendéz, MF ($7.5 million)
The Ecuadorian international has seemingly hit the ground running, proving a standout performer in the Orlando City Invitational match against New York City FC with the Pigeons set to return to Central Florida as Orlando’s week one opponents. He bossed the midfield, winning balls and dictating the tempo of the game. With attacking and defending bonuses both on offer in MLS Fantasy for all kinds of actions, Mendéz could easily clock up a healthy floor regardless of any additional goal involvement. He looks set to start in the middle of the park alongside former back-to-back assist leader Sacha Kljestan, whose production could rise from his new deeper role, but he costs $1 million more. Chris Mueller is also listed as a midfielder, only costs $6.5 million, and is more likely to be among the goals, but if he blanks, he has a very limited bonus floor and I like to play the numbers.
Danilo Acosta and Ruan, D (both $5 million)
Wingbacks have ample opportunity for attacking returns, coupled with the prospect of clean sheet points, traditionally making them hot property. That’s less true in MLS Fantasy, with the addition of defensive bonuses meaning that busy center backs can often reap similar rewards. While I’m not suggesting Orlando City should be your first port of call for defenders, especially off the back of last season’s record-breaking goals allowed, and with only one clean sheet in six tries this preseason, I do like speedsters Acosta and Ruan. I think they’ll get the nod on Saturday in O’Connor’s athletic 3-5-2 system and stashing one of them on your bench is low-risk, high-reward in week one if played in a switcheroo, as Orlando plays in the second game of the round — your best available bench players will sub in for any starter who doesn’t play, so use this to your advantage. An assist, a couple of bonus points, and maybe even a clean sheet would bank you double figures, while a disappointing points haul can be negated by simply transferring in a replacement starter from a later kickoff.
Tesho Akindele, F ($6 million)
This is a short-term shout. Dwyer has been sidelined since the beginning of February with a quad injury. When he’s fit, he is the Lions’ main source of goals, but with twice as many forwards now at his disposal as last year, James O’Connor can afford to not rush Dwyer back. As a result, Canadian international Akindele, brought in from FC Dallas in the off-season, could be in line for a start up front on opening weekend. He has been earning plenty of plaudits from coaches and teammates alike in preseason, seems to have a good feel of O’Connor’s high press, and, most importantly, at only $6 million, is an extremely affordable goal threat for fantasy managers. He’s exactly the sort of player that fantasy managers hunt for early value from to stretch the initial $100 million budget. Whether he makes the starting lineup when everyone is available is another question.
Goalkeeper ($4.5 million)
Adam Grinwis, Greg Ranjitsingh, and Brian Rowe are all priced at $4.5 million. That’s bargain basement for a starting goalkeeper in MLS Fantasy and could be gold dust for anyone looking to run a dirt cheap keeperoo (think switcheroo but with goalkeepers), but it’s a real punt. You tend to get what you pay for with goalkeepers in this game, and fantasy managers will be more likely looking at the likes of Stefan Frei, Luis Robles, Zack Steffen and Tim Melia all priced at an eye-watering $6 million. The flip side is that pushing more budget into your attack usually provides dividends, so budget friendly keepers are always at a premium.
We still can’t be sure who even gets handed the gloves on Saturday. Factor in Orlando’s aforementioned and heavily reported record-breaking defensive mark from last season and it doesn’t exactly breed confidence, nor does the lack of marquee defensive signings. But if you believe that this defense is greater than the sum of its parts and O’Connor’s full-bloodied preseason has drilled some defense into the Lions, then round one is primed for optimistic managers to try their luck on a keeperoo with whichever goalkeeper eventually gets the nod on Saturday afternoon.
Let us know in the comments which Lions you’ll be selecting in your MLS Fantasy team and any good Orlando City-themed fantasy team names you have.