This article is part of our DraftKings Fantasy Soccer series.
Welcome back and strap yourselves in for over nine months of Major League Soccer action! If you're just dipping your toes into the waters of MLS fantasy, you have come at a great time (and, dare I say, to the right place). The influx of young talent to the league this offseason should provide plenty of excitement, and also level the playing field for fantasy managers as we all try to gauge how the pieces fit together and the expansion teams compete.
While this article focuses on DraftKings contests, it should translate well to the official MLS version that now comes with unlimited weekly transfers. For a deeper dive into both formats, check out our weekly RotoWire Fantasy Soccer Podcast - MLS edition.
Because it's opening weekend, let's get a few words on the page for each match of Saturday's slate and their most intriguing players:
4:00 p.m. EST
It's a good thing this one is first on the slate, since FC Dallas don't have the most predictable starting 11, having played a CONCACAF Champions League match on Wednesday night where they fielded approximately seven starters. It's worth mentioning that Dallas potentially have the best depth in MLS history and spent their preseason in South America playing a gauntlet of eight matches in eight days. They are uniquely prepared, talented and determined in a way that none of the other 21 teams can boast as we kick off the year.
Los Angeles, on the other hand, have yet to get a chance to gel as a team under new manager Curt Onalfo. Newcomers Romain Alessandrini and Joao Pedro didn't get a full preseason with the team, while Gyasi Zardes, projected starting striker, is also out along with extended absences planned for both veteran fullbacks, Robbie Rogers and Ashley Cole.
Giovani dos Santos, LAG v. FCD ($10,000): Despite the Galaxy attack not clicking in the preseason, dos Santos is a special talent who the only player outside of Sebastian Giovinco to have double-digit goals and assists last season. The Galaxy will have to play on the front foot to mask their defensive woes, and Gio is at the center of it all. While Alessandrini may steal some set pieces, I wouldn't hesitate to play dos Santos at home against a Dallas that that could rest some key pieces.
Roland Lamah, FCD at LAG ($4,700): This speedy and well-traveled winger was brought in as the replacement for Fabian Castillo in Dallas. I'd like to see more before trusting him as a regular fantasy option, as even Castillo wasn't a stat accumulator throughout his Dallas tenure, and Lamah was one of the shakier players in Dallas' 4-0 route of Arabe Unido in the first CCL leg. However, the matchup against Rafael Garcia at right back is too appealing to pass up. Garcia playing in the absence of Robbie Rogers has Galaxy fans panicking and angry that the team dealt A.J. DeLaGarza for a bag of cash, and I'm ready to take advantage of their potential misery with whoever Dallas lines up at the left wing.
Cristian Colman, FCD at LAG ($5,400): It's possible that Colman is one of the next great goal scorers in Major League Soccer, and we have the opportunity to buy in on the ground floor. The young Designated Player is a little raw, but he has the build to handle Jelle Van Damme's physicality and the speed to give Los Angeles fits. If the center-backs have to decide between bookending Colman or covering for fullback errors, and I think they will, Dallas should find plenty of success.
Ari Lassiter ($3,600) could start in place of Zardes at striker for the home side. Jermaine Jones ($4,600) always plays like he has something to prove, and will make his Galaxy debut. Minimum priced Reggie Cannon ($2,500) is worth looking out for in the Dallas defense when lineups are released, while a more offensive Maynor Figueroa ($4,200) projects to play on the opposite side.
Toronto FC should enter the season hungry after outplaying Seattle in last year's MLS Cup only to lose on penalties. Their defense didn't allow a single shot on target in that match, and hasn't gotten any worse in terms of personnel. Real Salt Lake look like a formidable team that will be right on the cusp of playoffs, but starting center-back Justin Glad is away with the U.S. U-20 team and Kyle Beckerman (knee) hasn't gotten any younger or quicker.
Much like the first game of the slate, I'd expect some goals in this one.
Sebastian Giovinco, TOR at RSL ($12,200): How could we start with anybody other than Giovinco? His real world prowess is only bested by his DraftKings dominance and consistency. There's very little reason to think Giovinco starts the season slow, particularly when Jozy Altidore ($9,500) has had a healthy preseason alongside him. Most weeks, the game we play is "How many terrible excuses can I find to fade Giovinco?" and while he is on the road, we can't use tough defense or his price as legitimate reasons. The pricing inefficiencies that accompany the start of a fantasy season help us fit Giovinco in easily on DraftKings.
Albert Rusnak, RSL v. TOR ($5,000): Rusnak, a Manchester City academy product, was brought in as the heir apparent to Real Salt Lake legend Javier Morales. While he hasn't had the definitive preseason most were hoping, his multiple years of impressive European and international experience trump a few February kick-arounds. Rusnak will get to pull the strings for talents like Joao Plata and Yura Movsisyan, and he should at least share set-piece duties. It would be shocking if his price isn't soon pushing $7,000.
Justin Morrow ($5,800) is the second-priciest fullback, but deservedly so after excelling as a wingback in TFC's 3-5-2 late last year. 2017 should be the year that young winger Jordan Allen ($4,000) truly puts his stamp on a Salt Lake organization that has been waiting for him to break out.
Forgive me for not believing in the Rapids, last year's dark horse. Of all MLS sides, few did less than Colorado this offseason. That's surprising for a team that lost Jermaine Jones and had the second-fewest goals last season. 2016 was a perfect storm, with good fortune both defensively and some goals falling their way at the right time. I don't think this home match is a "gimme" against 2016 doormat New England, who return their attackers but are considerably revamped in defense. The Revs will take time to keep goals out of their net consistently, but they should be able to score enough in the meantime with Kei Kamara and Lee Nguyen finally appearing to be simpatico after a full preseason together. This could easily be a nil-nil or one-one draw, but I also see some favorably priced players.
Kei Kamara, NER at COL ($5,500): All the way back in 2015, Kamara was a must play most weeks, as he kept pace with Giovinco for the Golden Boot. If Kei took penalties, he would have won it. Ironically, after throwing a fit in Columbus over penalty duties, and getting dealt to New England last year, he simply never found a groove. After a bright preseason, and with a very affordable price, I'm eager to give him another try without hesitation.
Cody Cropper, NER at COL ($3,900): Cropper projects to be the second-cheapest starting keeper on the slate, after Houston's Tyler Deric. While he's on the road and behind a new pair of center-backs, I still think he holds some value from save points alone. Colorado scored multiple goals in just five of their 17 home games last season, lost Jones, and their best player Shkelzen Gashi, is nursing a sore achilles.
If Shkelzen Gashi ($8,800) starts, we have to consider him to be fairly healthy. He could terrorize New England if their defense isn't on the same wavelength to begin the season. Marlon Hairston ($4,400) broke out in a big way last season for the Rapids and the energetic winger should build on that in 2017.
While SKC was one of the league's biggest disappointments last season, D.C. United put together a scintillating playoff push. Both teams lack the flair of major-market spenders, and just like last year, their range of outcomes feels particularly broad. Sporting invested in their attack, making it one of the fastest groups in the league, and they have also experimented with moving last year's right wing, Graham Zusi, to right back and last year's left back, Jimmy Medranda, to the central midfield. D.C. United kept the core that turned things around last season, but are also experimenting with some position changes. Nick DeLeon's flirtations with the right back position have materialized into a full-blown relationship, while Sean Franklin's move from right-back to center-back may push salty veteran Bobby Boswell to the bench. I'm a bit skeptical of it all.
Patrick Mullins, DCU v. SKC ($7,100): Newly signed to a contract extension, Mullins is in the sweet spot for DraftKings tournaments. He's just expensive and inconsistent enough to be overlooked by many players, but boasted three big performances in the final eight matches last regular season, including a three-goal, six-shot outing. Kansas City have looked uncharacteristically rusty in defense this preseason and that's something Mullins and company could pounce on.
Latif Blessing, SKC at DCU ($3,000): Keep an eye out for a start on the wing from last year's leading scorer in the Ghanaian Premier League. He's incredibly quick, and despite being overpowered by almost every MLS player, he has potential to put up some fantasy points. Both D.C. United fullbacks have been known to get caught out of position, and Taylor Kemp particularly has some gaffes in 1v1 defending. At minimum price, Blessing could open up some interesting options elsewhere in your lineups.
New designated player Gerso Fernandes ($5,000) is also a value on the Kansas City wing, while Benny Feilhaber ($8,600) feels poised for one final stellar season. If Luciano Acosta misses out due to injury, last year's Hermann Trophy winner Ian Harkes ($3,000) would likely assume an impactful playmaking role.
Last year's MLS Cup victors travel to play 2016's last place runner-up. Houston have a quality new coach who should open up the offense thanks to some dynamic new signings and a restored faith in Cubo Torres, but their defense is still extremely suspect. Los Angeles Galaxy depth players, and old ones at that, now form the right side of the Dynamo defense. They were once quality but now likely past their primes. On the Champions' side, Clint Dempsey is set to return after missing last season's magical playoff run, and he loves to play in his home state.
Stefan Frei, SEA at HOU ($5,900): Last year's MLS Cup star will have a much easier task than holding Giovinco and Altidore off the score sheet in the final. Houston may have had preseason success, but they weren't playing a Seattle team in a meaningful match. While the Dynamo should get some shots given it's their home opener, Sounders center-backs Roman Torres and Chad Marshall have the experience to keep the most dangerous areas clear. If you have the cash, Frei may be the best combination of safety and upside between the sticks.
Romell Quioto, HOU v. SEA ($4,700): Last week, the Dynamo winger claimed the Copper Boot in the Desert Diamond Cup. I'll translate if that's too MLS for you: Quioto was named MVP in a preseason tournament that featured six MLS teams. The Honduran is eligible at both midfield and forward thanks to some carryover from DraftKings international soccer offerings, and he should provide Houston with an attacking spark this season. Seattle are searching for some solutions at right back, with Brad Evans (calf) injured and Oniel Fisher recovering from a concussion, which may give Quioto some extra opportunity on the left wing.
Nicolas Lodeiro ($10,700) is about as close a Giovinco approximation as you can get, and it's even possible to fit them both into a lineup this week. Jordan Morris ($7,600) is nursing an injury but would severely outmatch this Houston defense if available.
Many are predicting a fall for a Montreal side that nearly beat Toronto to represent the Eastern Conference in MLS Cup last season. They had moments of brilliance last season, particularly their lethal counterattack of Ignacio Piatti, Matteo Mancosu, and Dominic Oduro, but the team also had some embarrassing period of play. I think the season will be up and down to start for the Impact, and how they do on the road against an even more enigmatic San Jose side is a huge question mark. The Quakes brought in four players with targeted allocation money and have a side with plenty of quality but no idea how it all fits together, particularly when their talisman Chris Wondolowski only works well in two forward sets.
Jahmir Hyka, SJE v. MTL ($5,900): "Albanian Messi" is the latest in a long line of San Jose Earthquakes attempts to find a no. 10 playmaker. Hyka will likely operate from the wing, rather than as a true center attacking mid, but he could very well dominate set pieces. With big targets in Wondolowski and Dutch Eredivisie veteran Danny Hoesen, Hyka's crosses should find plenty of opportunity at a reasonable price. From brief preseason action, he doesn't appear shy to take on defenders and create chances for himself, either.
Nick Lima, SJE v. MTL ($2,500): After a strong preseason, it looks like notorious hater-of-youth Dom Kinnear is actually going to let homegrown rookie Lima test drive the right-back position. Lima would give the right back spot some attacking potential that it hasn't seen in a while, but be weary since this is the final match of the night. If Kinnear decides to give the nod to veteran Cordell Cato, we may be stuck with no minimum priced alternatives. If your risk tolerance is low, Lima may be best as a desperation Plan B to open up more attacking salary if the first few matches put you in a hole.
Ignacio Piatti ($9,700) remains one of the most dangerous scoring wingers in the league, but he doesn't always get the set-piece duties that others in this high price range boast. If you're understandably down on the San Jose attack, fullback Ambroise Oyongo ($4,800) and keeper Evan Bush ($4,300) are good values. Tommy Thompson ($4,200) looks poised to break out for his third straight season, but we'll all be right one of these days if we just keep saying so!