This article is part of our DraftKings Fantasy Soccer series.
As the English Premier League season comes to a close, Major League Soccer should see a boost in DraftKings attention, and this week is the first sign with a slight bump in the typical prize pool for the main slate. We have four games and, in my opinion, four clear favorites, which makes this a great opportunity for new players to throw their hat into the ring with confidence. Making things even better, we'll get to see six of the eight lineups before contests kick off.
7:00 p.m. EDT
Tata Martinez's Atlanta side have cooled off considerably since taking the league by storm in the opening weeks of their debut season. They have one win in their last six matches and desperately need Josef Martinez to return close to his stellar form from March. On the flip side, Houston have remained relatively consistent and sit third in the Western Conference. That might sound appealing for this match, but if Houston are going to continue their consistency, that spells trouble in road matches. The Dynamo have only played four road games and lost them all by a combined score of 10-2. One of those losses came Wednesday, and it's worth noting that Houston could see some team rotation as they face off against a more rested Atlanta side, including Andrew Wenger hopping into a spot on the wing. The Five Stripes' haven't been dominant enough for me to count Houston out in this match, but Atlanta's fantasy options have considerably more appeal.
Hector Villalba, ATL v. HOU ($8,100): Villalba played as the starting striker last week in Portland, a role that Kenwyne Jones has been filling at times, and the team looked much smoother. Jones may be more clinical but brings much less pace. Houston are probably vulnerable to either of those elements, but the more dangerous of the two is Atlanta's blistering pace and they've proven eager to push the gas pedal to the floor in front of the home crowd. Villalba has four goals and two assists in just 10 matches, which is a productive total even before considering that seven of those were away fixtures. This slate has some forwards in even better form than Villalba, but if he starts atop the formation, I think he could sneakily be the best play of the bunch.
Miguel Almiron, ATL v. HOU ($8,400): Atlanta's star player has been fairly disappointing for fantasy purposes in recent matches, but he's the clear catalyst in an attack that has a higher ceiling than nearly any MLS side. United keep the ball better than all but one team in the league, averaging about 55 percent possession despite being on the road for 70 percent of their matches. The more they have the ball, the more Almiron will be able to influence the match. Houston are notably near the bottom (18th of 22) in possession. Critics have noted that Almiron needs to be more lethal in attack, mainly by taking more shots instead of deferring to an ambitious extra pass at times, and I think he'll take that to heart against Houston. An Atlanta stack makes some sense this weekend, and Almiron should be a centerpiece in any combination you may put together.
The right side of Houston's defense is not the strongest, and if Greg Garza ($5,500) returns then he and Yamil Asad ($7,700) could give them fits. The Dynamo transition from defense to attack incredibly quickly, and Atlanta know it. Expect Cubo Torres ($8,200) to find a handful of great scoring opportunities as Atlanta pay extra attention to defending the speed on Houston's wings.
The Rapids sit last in the league standings, and deservedly so. The 2016 proverbial prince of coaching, Pablo Mastroeni, has turned back into a frog. Sure, he doesn't have great players to work with, but he shares the blame for signing off on a guy like Alan Gordon as one of the lone off-season signings. Philadelphia have won three straight matches by a combined score of 9-0 and this is their easiest fixture of the bunch. Both teams played Wednesday, and while the Union are certainly capable of a gaffe, they should earn another confident victory against a floundering Colorado team.
Andre Blake, PHI v. COL ($5,300): Three straight clean sheets in hand, Blake is set to meet a team who has just one goal in five road matches this season. Colorado's best attacker, Shkelzen Gashi, began the year facing fitness issues and it would be slightly surprising if he starts his third match in eight days. It was mentioned on the RotoWire Fantasy Soccer Podcast this week that Colorado put a pathetic 2.4 shots on goal per match, and that low potential for save points is literally the only thing that worries me about using Blake. Even so, he should get a win and is the clear best bet for a clean sheet, making him the safest option of the night.
Haris Medunjanin, PHI v. COL ($5,600): The Union's puppet master has been pulling the strings in the midfield all year, but he has let fantasy owners down lately with three single-digit performances surrounding a 32-point outburst. This is the reality of his game, where he lies deep and largely stays out of the action apart from set pieces. He's certainly a more valuable player on the real pitch than the fantasy field, but I don't think that should discount his worth on DraftKings in this match. Against a bad Rapids side, I want the opposing team's primary playmaker and that's Medunjanin. His floor of late is a solid five or six crosses, and if Colorado falls asleep for even one second, his expert passing could easily grab us an assist or more.
C.J. Sapong ($7,500) is playing the best soccer of his career but his price doesn't show it. Fafa Picault ($4,100) and Ilsinho ($3,500) also look extremely dangerous with newfound regular minutes, but if Jim Curtin opts to rotate the squad it's also worth considering Fabian Herbers ($5,500). Somewhere deep inside themselves, Colorado still have a sleeping giant defensively, so in tournaments, I could easily cheer on a contrarian play of Tim Howard ($4,100) in net.
Sporting put a beating on the reigning MLS champions Wednesday thanks to a Gerso Fernandes hat trick. They continue to be one of the league's most dominant sides while Vancouver are once again a mediocre team that has far more downside than upside. While the lengthy travel, short turnaround and playing surface all should give us some pause about SKC getting another tidy victory, they really are the better team in this one. Vancouver allow more shots per game than almost any other team, and Sporting put more on target than nearly every other team. I have a strange feeling that there could be a surprising result in this one, but for fantasy purposes it's still hard to buy into the unpredictable Whitecaps and ignore the team that's firing on all cylinders.
Latif Blessing, SKC at VAN ($5,700): Blessing earned his first start for Sporting last weekend, when Dom Dwyer sat due to yellow card accumulation, and he subsequently bagged two goals. With whispers that Dwyer picked up a knee injury midweek, Blessing could be thrust into the spotlight once more as SKC's center forward. To say Blessing is diminutive is a bit of an understatement, but his small stature comes with blazing speed that could give big defenders like Kendall Waston and Tim Parker fits. Whether or not you use Blessing comes down to lineup construction preference, as his output is less predictable than a normal midfielder, but getting an extra forward into your lineup via a midfield spot could be appealing.
Cristian Techera, VAN v. SKC ($6,100): Since Vancouver play with three defensive midfielders, we're typically left with only their forward, Fredy Montero, and the two wingers as fantasy options. One of those is Christian Bolanos, who has had some true rollercoaster performances of late, looking excellent one second and rather poor the next. The other is Techera, who has been siphoning some free kick duties from Bolanos and is the more dynamic of the two. For $1,300 less than Bolanos, I'm willing to bet on Techera as my exposure to the Whitecaps attack in hopes that SKC show some tired legs after recent fixture congestion.
Brek Shea ($5,400) has embodied the term "super sub" in his last two appearances. If he earns a start on the wing in this match, he's definitely worth using a defender spot on. Gerso Fernandes ($6,100) saw his price drop $300 after his Wednesday hat trick and 41-point outing; I'd call that good value. Benny Feilhaber ($8,300) normally is a front-page fantasy option but given Vancouver's propensity to clog the midfield with three defensive-minded players, I'm less keen on him than normal.
With all the talk of SKC and Toronto's dominance this season, it has gone somewhat under the radar that Dallas have yet to lose in their nine MLS matches. Oscar Pareja's side may have fizzled out of the CONCACAF Champions League, but they're likely still Supporters Shield favorites in league play. San Jose have only scored three goals in six road matches this season and are working with less rest after a home draw Wednesday. Dallas have virtually every advantage in this closing match of the slate.
Maxi Urruti, DAL v. SJE ($8,800): The beauty of Urruti is that he has easily become the most predictable producer for FC Dallas. While Kellyn Acosta, Roland Lamah and Michael Barrios are all dangerous in their own right, it's very difficult to project which one will have a big game on any given match day. Other Dallas forwards, Cristian Colman and Tesho Akindele, have also been inconsistent, at best, in their fantasy production. Urruti is enjoying the best form of his MLS career, with eight goals in eight starts, and he seems to be a nearly perfect fit in Oscar Pareja's system. Against a formidable Earthquakes defense, I still have very few reservations about playing the Argentine goalscorer.
Hernan Grana, DAL v. SJE ($5,200): San Jose allow teams to push their fullbacks high into the attack, thanks to their relatively slow and conservative players on the wing. Grana loves to join the attack, even when it leaves him out of position defensively. Even Colorado looked like a good side last week when they were able to push their fullbacks upfield in a 4-0 rout of the Earthquakes. Maynor Figueroa actually projects to have the easier assignment defensively, if Jahmir Hyka starts on Grana's side, making both Dallas defenders enviable options. That said, Grana's attacking tendencies still sway me to pick him if I have the extra $600 in my budget.
Kellyn Acosta ($6,900) is no longer a fantasy "cheat code" after DraftKings corrected his position from defender to midfield. He's a little pricey for my liking, but he takes set pieces, it's a good matchup and he's having a great year. Jahmir Hyka ($5,800) is San Jose's most threatening creator, and we discussed above that Grana has been known to get caught out of position. If Hyka starts on that wing, he's a good tournament thought. In case he doesn't start his third match in eight days, you may want to make sure he's in your utility spot and have a spare $200 to pivot to Barrios, a dangerous winger on the opposing team.