This article is part of our DraftKings Fantasy Soccer series.
Just about a month and a half into the season, teams' true identities are beginning to take shape and pressures are mounting for the underperformers. It would be disingenuous to argue that this is a crucial time in the MLS calendar, and it follows that some teams simply come to play a late spring or early summer match and others decide to take their feet off the pedals some nights. While that facet of picking fantasy players is challenging, the beauty of this point in the season is that we have figured out most teams' styles and personnel, and injuries have mostly yet to throw a wrench into things.
Let's unravel the five Saturday evening matches in MLS and figure out where we might be able to mine some fantasy value for our DraftKings lineups.
7:30 p.m. (EDT)
It's been a frustrating start to the season for both of these sides, and a classic rivalry match might be just what the doctor ordered. Both clubs have followed a very similar trajectory, with far more questions than answers to be found in the midfield and attack. "Own Goal" is tied for the Red Bulls scoring lead with two tallies. Meanwhile, two normally strong defenses have shown plenty of vulnerabilities.
Ultimately, while the stats may not show it so far, it feels like Red Bulls have squandered more opportunities and are closer to the cusp of being a top team in the East. In particular, New York have strong possession numbers this season, while United's are weak. I project New York to control the match and D.C. to find some opportunities on the counter, but neither side should run away with this one in terms of final score line.
Sacha Kljestan, NYR v. DCU ($9,900): New York's top playmaker has had a quiet start to the year, with no goals and just two assists in a little over five matches. What may be flying under the radar is that he led the league in key passes heading into this match week. This spells good things for a home team expected to control the match, and if teammate Bradley Wright-Phillips finds his shooting boots, Kljestan will be a player you can't afford to overlook.
Bill Hamid, DCU at NYR ($3,900): If you are a frequent Tom Heaton advocate in EPL fantasy, sign up for some shares of Hamid, who made 16 saves in his last three matches. All of those were played at home. He could face an absolute barrage of Red Bulls shots Saturday evening, and he's certainly up to the task of saving all, or at least a majority, of them. Price, motivation and talent all combine to make for a great tournament play in this match against a Red Bulls side that haven't figured out at least two spots in their front seven.
He hasn't been finding himself in quite as many dangerous areas as usual, but Bradley Wright-Phillips ($10,200) may be as good a bet to score as anyone on Saturday. Depending on who starts, Fredrick Gulbrandsen ($5,500) and Derrick Etienne ($3,600) are also options if you can't afford BWP. This is a Lloyd Sam ($6,300) revenge game, and he looked like United's best player last match.
Another rivalry match, and this one features two teams that frequently use formations with three center-backs. Where the first match's teams have struggled to start the year, Toronto and Columbus have impressed. The status of Federico Higuain and Harrison Afful will loom large in this match, as neither started last week against Chicago and it showed in the Crew performance. On the other side, Drew Moor was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat this week and will miss out. For my money, Moor is one of the most valuable defensive players to his team in all of MLS, so that's a significant loss.
Sebastian Giovinco, TOR at CLB ($11,800): Columbus could have five centerbacks and I'd still doubt their ability to stop Giovinco. Doubters were sprouting up after a slow couple of weeks, and an injury, but Giovinco is very clearly the best member of the league's most dangerous attacking trio. Jozy Altidore commands enough attention that Giovinco is able to find space he wouldn't on other many teams. Victor Vazquez has brought a technical aspect to TFC that they were desperately lacking, and his presence behind Gio and Jozy will make for some magical combination play as chemistry continues to grow. With a plethora of playmakers and scorers to pick from on this slate, paying up for Giovinco isn't an easy choice, but it will likely help you avoid 90 minutes of overwhelming anxiety any time he touches the ball in the attacking third.
Federico Higuain, CLB v. TOR ($7,200): It sure looks like Higuain is going to return for this, and he may have a new weapon at his disposal in Kekuta Manneh (second half super-sub?). If he were on the road in Toronto, I'd most likely be avoiding Pipa. Something feels special about this one though. Higuain is over the hill, but still a ruthless attacking player in the sense that he will make you pay for a lazy pass, an extra touch or a half-second defensive lapse. Michael Bradley has been a little sloppy on and off the ball of late, and we already mentioned that Drew Moor will miss the match. Former Liverpool player Chris Mavinga hasn't looked up to the task of filling in for him, so we may see Jason Hernandez, who was oh-so-good at giving up goals with New York City. There's a compelling case for playing Pipa this weekend, even over the surging Justin Meram.
Victor Vazquez ($5,400) looks like an assist machine, but don't expect him to be a frequent goalscorer. At that price, and given the talent around him, assists are enough. If we like Pipa, we have to also consider Ola Kamara ($8,400), who has an uncanny ability to get into great scoring positions atop the Crew formation. If you need a desperation cheap center-back, Alex Crognale ($2,700) is a set piece threat.
If you need me to sell you on a home team playing Minnesota United, congratulations on somehow still having funds in your DraftKings account. Houston have been good at home this year, and while I'm still not sold that they're quite THIS good, they should take care of business Saturday night. One notable thought is that Houston are a team most comfortable sitting back and counterattacking. Sometimes, the heavy counterattacking teams have trouble against a bad team that lets them have too much of the ball. It sounds silly, but I'm interested to see if the Dynamo can flip the switch and really command the match with more of the ball at their feet.
Erick "Cubo" Torres, HOU v. MIN ($7,000): Even for a Cubo super-fan like me (on the field, anyway), it's hard to believe the torrid start he's had to the season. There are few better opportunities to extend a Golden Boot lead than against Minnesota, and I expect him to find some chances in this one. However, just because he is the easy and obvious choice doesn't mean I would lock him into all of my lineups. There's a ton of expensive talent on this slate that you need to choose between, and Cubo has a floor that's lower than many of them. He will be over-owned, but for good reason, as he's in great form and has a fantastic matchup.
Alex, HOU v. MIN ($6,400): If Houston can adapt to a game where they should see much more of the ball than usual, Alex will likely be the no. 1 beneficiary. While he shares direct set pieces with Cubo, and could cede some corners to Romell Quioto, he still should get a handful of points via those situations. He is also simply a more dangerous attacking player in the center of the pitch this season. Minnesota added Sam Cronin to shore up their defensive midfield, but Alex is still a strong consideration after disappointing owners last week.
Romell Quioto ($7,600) was right up there with Cubo in terms of fantasy potential before his injury, and he has trained fully all week. Whoever slots in to Houston's left back spot, Dylan Remick ($4,000) or DaMarcus Beasley ($4,100) is worth a look. I do think Minnesota find their share of chances in this one, which makes Kevin Molino ($6,100) extremely tempting and Christian Ramirez ($6,100) a choice with merit as well.
This fixture is pretty high up on the list of games this season where I wouldn't be surprised with a nil-nil draw. Each team has faced Minnesota United and still only average one goal per match. Salt Lake booted their coach just weeks into the season, and Colorado shipped out two veteran starters. For their part, RSL responded well in Mike Petke's first game at the helm last week, and he's exactly the type of manager who can light a fire under players. Colorado will benefit from star attacker Shkelzen Gashi's growing fitness, and don't lose too much in net after Tim Howard was recently suspended considering Zac MacMath is also very capable.
Albert Rusnak, RSL at COL ($8,100): Despite facing a stiffer opponent, the defending player of the week can't be ignored. Rusnak has benefitted from an increasingly healthy Joao Plata, and the young, bold Brooks Lennon on the opposite wing. There's massive potential in this front four, and like Victor Vazquez in Toronto, Rusnak will have loads of opportunities for assists. The difference is that Rusnak should have many more scoring chances of his own, and he should bury them at a higher rate. Eyes will be on some of the home attacking players on this slate, but Colorado aren't necessarily a team to fear this season, and even half of his output from last week would make Rusnak a good selection.
Mekeil Williams, COL v. RSL ($3,600): When Colorado shipped Marc Burch and Sam Cronin to Minnesota, the explanation centered around needing to be a more attacking team. Williams can give them that at left-back, and his price hasn't yet risen to the level of almost every other starting fullback on DraftKings. Even though Colorado is at home, and RSL don't have the most dominant defense, I struggle to find an attacker on the Rapids that I'm confident in for the value, so Williams makes for the easiest route to some exposure here.
Both Brooks Lennon ($3,500) and Marlon Hairston ($4,300) make for great value plays in the midfield for opposite sides. Nick Rimando ($4,200) has many of the ingredients that I look for in picking a DraftKings keeper: he's on the road, which makes him cheap, but it also ensures he should see some shots, and the opposing attack is lost at sea.
To use a boxing term, this is definitely the main event Saturday night, while the earlier four matches are the undercard. There is animosity between these two sides abound, as Portland used some goal-post voodoo against Sporting two years ago during penalty kicks en route to their MLS Cup. This season, the two sides have a combined one loss in 11 matches. The Timbers' high-powered attack should be able to break SKC's stout defense, but the road side has enough quality to potentially stymie our usual go-to fantasy plays.
Diego Valeri, POR v. SKC ($10,000): Portland's version of the Most Interesting Man in the World, Valeri sits in the top five in goals, expected goals/assists, key passes, shots, and shots on goal. I was banging the drum for Sebastian Blanco as a potential arbitrage play on Valeri for the opening month of the season, mostly because he cost nearly half as much as Valeri, but I've snapped back to reality at this point. Rooting against Valeri is impossible, if you're not a fan of a Cascadia rival team, and owning him in fantasy has been a lucrative endeavor in 2017. Sporting are a good side, but when push comes to shove, Portland's attack might be the most dominant unit in all of Major League Soccer. Letting Matt Besler, Ike Opara and Graham Zusi scare you away from Timbers attackers is probably just going to make you angrier when you hear Timber Joey firing up his chainsaw.
Gerso Fernandes, SKC at POR ($4,500): If you don't mind filling your second striker spot with a road player, Fernandes looks mighty intriguing. He's been dangerous in every match, with at least three shots in each outing, before last week when he made his lone shot count. SKC dropped three goals on a good Colorado defense, and while they are now away from home, they won't find Portland's to be nearly that caliber. Sporting will look to defend first and counter the Timbers, who have a great central midfield but plenty of vulnerabilities on the wings. Gerso has looked plenty dangerous there and his combination of speed and aggression on the ball could give Portland defenders fits.
Many of the attacking stats I mentioned for Valeri also apply to target forward Fanendo Adi ($8,900), who is nursing a hamstring injury but projects to start and is one of the league's premier forwards. Benny Feilhaber ($8,000) looks set to return from injury and his quality is a boost to every Sporting attacker. Should Sporting sit back and pack the middle of the field, as expected, Alvas Powell ($5,100) will be the highest ceiling defender on the slate.