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It seems like just yesterday that we were drafting out 2010 Fantasy MLS teams and saying to ourselves, "Who is Chris Wondolowski?" and "Sebastien Le Toux? He never did much in Seattle…"
Hopefully we're all a year wiser, have our crystal balls shined to perfection and can see all of 2011's surprises coming months ahead of time.
If not, there's still a reliable stable of MLS stars to fall back on until some of the surprise pieces fall into place.
Welcome back to another season of SBI Fantasy MLS. Let's get started:
FANTASY MLS WEEK 1
There's only one match on MFLS' Week 1 schedule, a technicality that will likely reward those that stock up on Tuesday's winner between the Los Angeles Galaxy and Seattle Sounders.
With the postseason rematch being played at Qwest Field, the Sounders will have their typical home-crowd advantage; however, without Brad Evans and potentially no Steve Zakuani, the Seattle attack might not be at full-blast (nor was it during the preseason).
Los Angeles could easily steal a road victory, with a healthy and rested triumvirate of Landon Donovan, David Beckham and Juan Pablo Angel leading the way.
Of the two defenses, the Galaxy's is more likely to produce a clean sheet, though it's far from a certainty.
As for the coaching selection, Bruce Arena is a solid choice. The Galaxy's schedule – save for a Week 3 match at Real Salt Lake – is rather cushy early on and should yield some 2010-like results. Sigi Schmid follows up Week 1 with a road trip to New York. While Seattle figures to be one of the top teams in the league, Schmid might be better saved for later in the season.
DRAFTING YOUR TEAM
Remember, goal differential is as important a statistic as there is in the game. You can have a player that scores a goal but has his team lose, 4-1, and you can have a player that doesn't score but wins, 2-0, and the latter comes out ahead. Identify the best teams in the league, pick their top performers and you should be in for a solid run.
We're not going to tell you which big-name, high-price players to draft. There are plenty of options (Donovan, Angel, Montero, Saborio, Wondolowski, Le Toux, Ferreira, Morales, Henry, De Rosario, Zakuani, etc.). Sometimes it's all about finding the lesser-owned players who turn into fantasy stars that makes the difference.
Here are some of the under-the-radar names that will hardly take a chunk out of your salary cap room and will help augment your squad. Should they all be starting every week? Not necessarily, but they'll help over the course of the season and be cost-effective:
Houston's Tally Hall (55) is a starter that should be universally owned. At that price, he's the ultimate back-up – someone you know will start for a team expected to contend in the Eastern Conference.
Kansas City's Jimmy Nielsen and Chicago's Sean Johnson (150 apiece) both had strong seasons, though questions about their respective defenses linger. If you're looking to free up cash to spend elsewhere on your roster, those two make for decent goalkeeping plays.
Although he's sometimes a nightmare between the pipes, New York's Bouna Coundoul (170) has the luxury of playing behind Tim Ream and Rafael Marquez and had a pretty solid 2010 campaign.
Rookies Jalil Anibaba and Kofi Sarkodie (80 apiece) could both find their ways into the Rookie of the Year discussion and worth spots on your bench. RSL's Tony Beltran (93) should get some run at fullback for the league's stingiest defense, although he isn't a guaranteed starter every match. He'd make for a nice option on your bench, though, as a low-cost alternative to Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers.
A second-year player with an expanded role this year is FC Dallas' Zach Loyd (120), who figures to play a big part for a tough defensive unit.
Looking for defenders that score? Houston's Geoff Cameron, San Jose's Ike Opara and Los Angeles' Sean Franklin (140 apiece) can all do so at a pretty discounted rate.
Overlooked in the SuperDraft, San Jose's Anthony Ampaipitakwong (50) could play a central role for the Earthquakes during the season. After four productive years in college, Ampai has a track record of getting things done.
Portland's Jeremy Hall (73) is finally at a place where his skills will be maximized, and he should be able to create some offense for the expansion Timbers from his wide midfield spot.
Sporting Kansas City's left-sided playmaker Ryan Smith (130) has plenty of options to look for up top and should put up some nice numbers in his second MLS season.
Every player from D.C. was unplayable last season, but with an improved cast around him, the speedy Andy Najar (150) is a very viable fantasy option in 2011.
Few rookie strikers have the opportunity afforded to Houston's Will Bruin (80), who may start from the get-go in the aftermath of Brian Ching's hamstring injury.
Portland's Darlington Nagbe (110) is another rookie with big expectations and could be the Danny Mwanga of this year's fantasy campaign once he heals from sports hernia surgery.
Although he was a late addition to FC Dallas, Colombian striker Fabian Castillo (120) is being touted as the next Fredy Montero. At that price, it's worth finding out if that comparision comes to fruition.
Who are you drafting for your team? Who will be the breakout fantasy star of 2011?
Share your thoughts below.