MLS Fantasy 2019 Week 1: Behind the Numbers

Fantasy MLS is back for 2019 and so am I! This year, this space is graduating from a data provider to a full-fledged column. Strategy, player picks, and recommendations.

For your number crunching and point projections check out @mlsfantasystats and @thedummyrun on twitter. They do some great matchup and player projections. Thanks to @thedummyrun for providing the data for this article.

Disclaimer: Since we have no 2019 xG data to draw from yet, all stats in this article are based 2018’s xG numbers. Obviously, a lot has changed since last year, so the numbers are open to interpretation at this point in the season.

Fantasy philosophy

My default way to play is to choose 11 field players and 2 GKs each week. This lets me do both the Keeperoo and 3 for 2 autoroo. However, I’m still partial to the fantasy mullet: putting as much money as I can into the midfield and forwards.

The key to this strategy is to find the cheapest defense I’m happy with (or as the season goes on, to just have buckets and buckets of money…). The caveat to this is in the first few weeks of the season when the value players are still harder to find and less reliable. I usually spend a little more on defense the first few weeks to avoid getting smoked by the field in the first few weeks. Also due to the smaller budget, I spread my 11 field players in a 4 – 5 – 2 or 4 – 4 – 3 instead of a 3-5-3. However, having the defense be part of switcheroo does have the benefit of upping the clean sheet hunting odds.

So let’s take a look behind the numbers.

Week 1 Defense Rankings


Budget Target: $10 – $11M

As I mentioned in the intro, the keeperoo is my preferred mode of operation for the GK position. The math says giving yourself two shots at a clean sheet will bear fruit over the long run. The issue is the opportunity cost of having two high priced GKs and what that does to the other positions. My compromise is to grab two GKs on the cheaper side and hope one hits. These won’t be the players in the top matchups but gives two shots at a CS and some insurance against #becauseMLS.

Unsurprisingly, I look for teams at Home, with solid defensive xG numbers, and early in the season, good continuity year over year. It also helps if the team they’re playing was a mess last year or has had a complete overhaul and hasn’t gelled yet. @thedummyrun puts out his projections for clean sheet probability and this week there are some good options. On the higher end of the price range, I’m looking at $5.5 Bingham from LAG and A. Blake from PHI. @thedummyrun puts their CS odds at 36% for LAG and 29% for PHI.

On the cheaper side, $5.0 Willis from HOU and $4.0 Vega are tempting. Vega is definitely one watch lineups with, but he started their last preseason game and’s preview lists him as the starter. Their CS probabilities are pretty close to their more expensive counterparts with the numbers expect only 1.03 and 1.25 xGA respectively. Remember we’re going for quantity over quality here.


Budget Target: $23.5 – $25 (four starters + one $4 scrub)

Defenders offer more opportunity to matchup hunt that goalkeepers do simply because there are so many more of them. Generally, at this point in the year, I’m looking for a $4.5 – $5 player, maybe a $5.5 if they rack up the bonus points. Early in the year, it’s important to hedge safer. Values will appear, but they’re a lot riskier in Weeks 1-3 than they are in Week 4. Some of the teams I like for week 1 include FCD, SEA, PHI, and LAG.

  • FCD is generally expensive with good reason, but it looks like one of Pedroso ($5) or Hollingshead ($4.5) should start at left back and offer good value against a rebuilding NER team.
  • SEA is my team and is also playing expansion team and CDM aficionados FC Cincinnati. SEA is a great example of leaning on team continuity early in the season. Both Smith ($5) and Leerdam (5$) will offer attacking potential and a great shot at a clean sheet.
  • Both LAG and PHI have budget-friendly options on the back line…if you can figure out who’s starting at outside back.

Week 1 Offense Rankings


Budget Target: $64-$66.5 (7 starters + one $4 scrub)

Here’s where the fun can begin. At this point, we’ve got 7 spots and one $4 scrub to fill. This allows us to pick 7 players with an average price or $8.5 – $9. Generally, I like to tier my selections as a starting point. Something like this:

  • Two $11 players
  • Two $9 players
  • Three $8 players

Usually, I end up falling in love with a budget guy or two to free up some top end funds.

Top Offenses for Week 1

According to @thedummyrun’s xG rankings, the top 5 offenses this week should be HOU, LAG, VAN, FCD, and PHI.

  • VAN is basically an entirely new team, so that’s too much risk for my blood.
  • HOU and LAG are strong options. Manotas ($9.5), Quioto ($9), Elis ($9.5) and Martinez ($9.0) are all exciting choices. Just be sure to keep an eye on HOU’s CCL action to see how much rotation happens on the weekend. LAG have top options in Zlatan ($11) and Alessandrini (10.5). The also have a possible budget option in Antuna ($6) filling in for an injured Lletget.
  • FCD is VALUE CITY depending on if they can execute. They rattled off three 2-1 victories to end the preseason for what its worth. Perennial budget superstar Badji is only $7 and Acosta ($7) and Pomykal ($6) are tempting me into breaking my no newcomers rule.
  • Toronto is really bad right now, they just lost 4-0 to Panamanian CCL debutante Independiente. I’m maybe unfairly hyped about PHI but they have a strong stable of FWDs and Marco Fabian who has been lighting up the preseason. Combine that with PHI new pressing style and I’m thinking they come out and punch TOR in the mouth. Marco Fabian ($9) is pretty boom/bust in his career but interests me as a punt candidate.

Beyond the Numbers

Outside the top 5, I’m really interested in SEA and DCU.

  • I expect Cincinnati to get off to a slow start…and Jordan Morris is very very fast again. On SEA, Lodeiro ($11) and Victor Rodriguez (8$) sets up as one of the top xFMLS points/$ players from @thedummyrun’s calculations.
  • ATL struggled early in CCL and will have to go hard to overcome their 3-1 deficit just 3 days before the opener on the road at DC. DC was a ton a fun at the end of last season and I rode the Lucho Acosta ($10.5) train to glory.

2019 Week 1 BTN Team

If you piece this whole strategy together, you get a team that looks something like this:

About Kyle Mcelhinny

Scientist by day, soccer fan by night. Nerd always. Using stats to overcome my lack of knowledge about the beautiful game.

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  1. Kendrick Mensink

    Awesome article Kyle. I’m also scientist by day, soccer fan by night, and by day sometimes too. And now getting into MLS Fantasy after playing fantasy football for a couple years. I love your numbers approach and opinions, which were pretty good for week 1 despite the unpredictability of a new season.

    • Thanks! Always great to meet another scientist. My biggest regrets this week were that I didn’t stick to my guns. I swapped out Manotas and Acosta for Elis and Alessandrini…such sadness…

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