Our journey around the groups of the MLS Is Back Tournament finishes up with a look at Groups E & F.
MLS is Back Tournament Group EMLS
Atlanta United FC
Entering their fourth season in the MLS, Atlanta United FC has taken the league by storm. Not only did Atlanta win the 2018 MLS Cup, but they are one of the most exciting teams in the league. Atlanta's fun factor did take a bit of hit earlier this year, when Josef Martinez tore his ACL in the season opener against Nashville SC.
Now Atlanta has to try and replace the production of Martinez, who scored 77 goals in his first three seasons in Atlanta, including 27 goals last year. Pity Martinez and Ezequiel Barco should get first cracks at trying to fill Martinez's shoes. Barco scored in each of Atlanta's first two games before the regular season was paused, while Martinez is still looking for his first goal of the year.
Atlanta's first game in the group stage left a lot to be desired. New York Red Bulls scored early on Atlanta to put the Five Stripes in a hole which they wouldn't be able to crawl out of. Frank de Boer's squad had nearly 70% of the possession in the match but they just couldn't find the back of the net, which is something they'll need to do if they want to make it to the knockout stage. Atlanta has a chance to get back on track on Thursday when they face FC Cincinnati.
To say FC Cincinnati needs a lot of work might be an understatement. The orange and blue are just starting their second year in MLS, so it's understandable as to why they haven't seen much success yet. Last year FC Cincinnati posted a 6-22-6 record, and things haven't been any better this year, as Cincinnati has dropped their first three matches. The latest of those losses coming on Saturday night, when they were humbled 4-0 by rival Columbus in the Hell is Real derby.
It's going to take some sort of miracle for FC Cincinnati to move on to the knockout round. New head coach Jaap Stam has only been on the job since late May, so he is still trying to familiarize himself with the players he has to work with. The trip to Orlando to this tournament could bring the club together, but FC Cincinnati still has some work to do to find their identity.
New York Red Bulls
This year has already seen a bit of a changing of the guard with New York Red Bulls. Gone are the club's leading goal scorer and the starting goalkeeper from the last seven years. Bradley Wright-Phillips notched 108 MLS goals for the Metros, while Luis Robles recorded 72 clean sheets in 241 appearances. Trying to fill the scoring void left by Wright-Phillips will be Daniel Royer, Kaku, and Cristian Casseres. The trio of attackers have each scored a goal this year.
After starting the season with a win and a draw, NYRB recorded a huge victory on Saturday night, defeating Atlanta United FC 1-0. The Metros took a lead in the fourth minute thanks to a Florian Valot goal. Following the goal, New York dug in defensively, keeping the high-powered Atlanta attack off the scoresheet. With the victory, it's going to take a pretty big meltdown for NYRB to miss the knockout stage, especially with a fixture against FC Cincinnati still left on the schedule before the end of the group stage.
Columbus Crew SC
Columbus has all the makings of the most improved team in MLS this year. After finishing 10th in the Eastern Conference last year, the Crew have come out of the gates strong. Their latest win came on Saturday night, when they decimated FC Cincinnati 4-0. Lucas Zelarayan has been one of the most impactful additions so far this year. The Argentine scored the lone goal in a 1-0 win over NYCFC in the season opener. Zelarayan up the scoring on Saturday night against Cincinnati with a beautiful free kick, and followed it up with an assist later in the match.
The attack of the Crew isn't just Zelarayan. Gyasi Zardes scored two goals on Saturday night after burying 13 goals last year. Darlington Nagbe has added a steadying presence to midfield after spending the last two years with Atlanta. Pedro Santos scored 11 goals last year, but wasn't even named in Saturday night's squad. All this to say, if the defense of the Crew can hold up, the offense will give them plenty of support, making Columbus a very tough team to beat.
MLS is Back Tournament Group FMLS
Los Angeles FC
Last season left Los Angeles FC with unfinished business. In just their second season in the MLS, LAFC finished with the best record in the league, amassing 72 points before being upset by Seattle in the playoffs. Carlos Vela scored 36 total goals, establishing himself as the most dangerous attacker in the MLS. Vela has decided to opt out of this tournament though, as he has elected to stay home with his pregnant wife.
Even though LAFC won't have Vela for this tournament, Bob Bradley has a number of options that are more than capable of making up for the loss of Vela's production. Bradley Wright-Phillips was added from New York Red Bulls, and has already paid dividends, scoring in Monday's 3-3 draw with Houston. Los Angeles also has Diego Rossi, who scored 17 goals last year.
The Black and Gold have to be disappointed by only drawing with Houston on Monday night, but at least the squad has shown they can score without Vela on the pitch. The schedule for LAFC in their final two group games isn't easy, especially with "El Trafico" agains LA Galaxy slated for Saturday night. Even though they'll be tested against their rivals and Portland, smart money is on LAFC to move on to the knockout stage.
It seems some of the biggest soccer stars in the world find their way to Los Angeles to play for the Galaxy. Zlatan Ibrahimovic spent the last two years with the club, scoring 31 goals last season. There wasn't much offense from the Galaxy aside from Zlatan, as the rest of the team only scored 32 goals. Ibrahimovic has moved back to Europe, which forced the club to bring in Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez.
The Galaxy are still searching for their first win this season, drawing their season opener against Houston before falling to Vancouver in March and Portland on Monday night in Orlando. Los Angeles fell behind the Timbers 2-0, but was able to pull one goal back thanks to Hernandez. Los Angeles threatened the Timbers throughout the game, but they just didn't have the finishing touch needed to earn any points.
Monday night's setback puts the Galaxy at the bottom of the group. With a huge match against rival Los Angeles FC set for Saturday night, the Galaxy are going to need to at least earn a point if they want to see the next round of the competition. Los Angeles needs to hope Hernandez can build off his goal late in the match on Monday night, or else the Galaxy could be headed home earlier than they had hoped.
After winning the first two MLS Cup titles, Houston has really fallen on hard times. The Dynamo have now missed the playoffs in five of the last six seasons. The first step Houston has taken to try and right the ship was to hire Tab Ramos, who has spent the last eight seasons coaching the United States Under-20 National Team. To go along with Ramos, the Dynamo brought in Darwin Quintero to bolster the attack, while trading for Zarek Valentin to add some veteran leadership to the defense.
So far this year Houston has done everything but win. The Dynamo actually held a 3-1 lead over Los Angeles FC before blowing the lead and settling for a 3-3 draw. Memo Rodriguez scored two goals against LAFC, while Alberth Elis scored his second goal of the season. If Houston can challenge their final two opponents in the group stage like they challenged LAFC, the Dynamo could surprise many and move on to the knockout stage.
Portland Timbers FC
Round out this group is Giovanni Savarese's Portland Timbers. After falling to Minnesota in their first game of the year, the Timbers have notched wins over Nashville and LA Galaxy, who they defeated 2-1 on Monday night. After scoring 11 goals last year, Jeremy Ebobisse opened the scoring on Monday night, while Sebastian Blanco netted the game-winning goal just a few minutes later.
The most notable Timbers players is Diego Valeri, who scored eight goals and was credited with 16 assists last season. The hardest working player on the roster is Diego Chara, who is a fixture in midfield for Portland. Chara received a boost when his brother, Yimmy, was acquired in the offseason. They are just the eight pair of brothers to play together in the MLS.
Portland got a critical win in their first group stage match, which should help them in the quest to make the knockout stage. The Timbers are still looking for more consistent goal scoring after the Brian Fernandez experiment last season didn't work out, but they have the experience that should see them through to the knockout stage.
For many managers, their playoff prospects are dark and hot as hell heading into the final week of the fantasy basketball regular season.
But before you can compete to be grand champ, you need to stop, drop, shut your duds down and open up the waiver wire for your last gasp this regular season. Here are some names you should be looking for to give you that push you need.
Rest in peace, DMX.
Kyle Anderson Forward Memphis Grizzlies
The former UCLA star might have taken the tale of the tortoise and the hare a little too seriously, but the "slow and steady" mantra has given him a successful NBA career and impressive fantasy numbers. For the past week, Slow Mo has averaged 16.3 points on 48.9 percent shooting, seven rebounds, 4.8 assists, 2.3 made threes, two steals and one turnover a game.
Ja and Kyle Anderson having too much fun out there 😳 Off-the-glass oop 🔥 https://t.co/lbCrd3edzz— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter)1617847190.0
Anderson has been a consistent contributor throughout the season and it's tough to see his numbers take a hit even when Jaren Jackson Jr. returns at the end of the month. If you haven't rostered him yet, it would be a huge mistake.
Jalen McDaniels Forward/Center Charlotte Hornets
Staying on the court has been a problem for McDaniels this season, but the absence of Gordon Hayward has forced the Hornets to look for other options on the court and the second-year player has been one of the beneficiaries. In the last three games, the San Diego State product averaged 16.3 points on 62.5 percent shooting, two made threes, five rebounds and 3.3 assists. He even threw in 1.3 steals and one block per game.
JALEN MCDANIELS. THROW IT DOWN. (via @hornets) https://t.co/j6vTaidh4w— SLAM (@SLAM)1618022175.0
Hayward is expected to be out for at least three more weeks. Until he's back, expect McDaniels to continue his more proactive approach on this team.
Miles Bridges Forward Charlotte Hornets
McDaniels isn't the only one who has taken advantage of Hayward's injury. Bridges has cranked his game up a notch, averaging 21.7 points on 60.5 percent shooting, three made threes, six rebounds and one steal in the last three games. He may have even had the dunk of the year, posterizing Clint Capela on Sunday.
😤 MILES BRIDGES posterizes Capela! 😂 LaMelo’s reaction. https://t.co/y8kAanwhgq— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife.com)1618168845.0
Until Hayward is back, Bridges will get a lot more freedom to operate and that means more fantasy contribution in the coming weeks.
Reggie Jackson Guard Los Angeles Clippers
Depth has not been a problem for the Clippers the last few seasons, but it has been trouble for fantasy managers looking for consistent contributors on that team. Rest and injuries haven't slowed the Clippers' winning ways this week because Reggie Jackson stepped up for them and gives fantasy participants a short-term high performer to lean on for the week.
In a week where Patrick Beverley, Rajon Rondo and Paul George missed time, Jackson thrived, averaging 17.3 points on 61 percent shooting, three made threes, 4.8 assists, and 1.3 turnovers in four games.
With Beverley out with a fractured hand and Rondo/George/Kawhi undoubtedly taking games off to save themselves for the playoffs, Jackson may not be a bad desperation option in standard fantasy and worth tracking in daily fantasy formats.
Tim Hardwaway Jr Guard/Forward Dallas Mavericks
The Dallas Mavericks' recent success has not translated into numbers for all players. Tim Hardaway Jr. is one of them.
The Michigan product averaged 12 points on 37.5 percent shooting, 3.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists in four games last week. He did make two three-pointers per game in that span, but that is like threading a silver lining on a used rag.
Tim Hardaway Jr. missed the 3, so it won't be a highlight, but Luka just threw a pass to him in the corner from the… https://t.co/5Ncj9MbnYE— Dan Devine (@Dan Devine)1616212345.0
Hardaway is still the third scoring option on the team, so he will get more chances to increase his production, but this week was a tough pill to swallow for a lot of fantasy managers.
Derrick Rose Guard New York Knicks
Rose has found a home with the New York Knicks, but his role has not been kind to fantasy managers. We all know the former MVP can still score, but head coach Tom Thibodeau hasn't asked him to do much else.
In the last four games, Rose has averaged 14.3 points on 43.1 percent shooting, 0.8 made threes, 1.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists. That kind of one-dimensional play is a killer of many fantasy teams looking for a more diverse portfolio of contributions.
If you need a boost in scoring, Rose isn't a terrible option to consider, but if you need anything else, you should leave him on the waiver.
Lou Williams Guard Atlanta Hawks
Like Rose, Williams isn't asked to do anything other than score at this point in his career. But even in the past week, he can't even do that at an elite fantasy level. Only averaging 11.8 points per game, 1.8 made threes, 2.8 assists and basically non-existent in every other category in fantasy sports.
Cool moment from first half, as Lou Williams welcomes Isaiah Thomas back to #NBA https://t.co/vv9dImK1fA— Jim Eichenhofer (@Jim Eichenhofer)1617756493.0
It's safe to say that Lemon Pepper Lou's effectiveness as a fantasy star is gone.
Jusuf Nurkic Center Portland Trail Blazers
Okay, I know Trail Blazers have been trying to ease Nurkic back into the lineup and giving him restricted minutes. However, with the fantasy managers looking for that final push to the postseason, there might have to be an executive decision on whether Nurkic needs to be played or pitched.
Teams firmly in playoff position can hold out for him to be used properly again, but other managers won't be able to stomach another week of missed games and low-end production.
For college basketball, the madness is over. For the NBA fantasy managers, the madness is just beginning.
We are two weeks away from playoffs, and people are scrambling for solutions to their team's problems. Take a look at these waiver wire picks and see who will give you that final push you need to get into the postseason and avoid the humiliation of whatever fantasy punishment you may face.
Bogdan Bogdanovic Guard/Forward Atlanta Hawks
While one Bogdanovic struggles through a subpar season in Utah, another is thriving in Georgia. Bogdan, the younger of the unrelated pair, missed 25 straight games this season due to a knee injury and had trouble finding consistent minutes on this Hawks team. This past week, he caught fire with John Collins and De'Andre Hunter out with injuries.
The @ATLHawks set a new NBA record for threes made in a quarter without a miss, knocking down 11 of 11 in the 3rd q… https://t.co/Vsemb5lOV6— NBA (@NBA)1617760124.0
He is averaging 37.1 minutes, 21.5 points on 51.6 percent shooting from the field, 4.3 made threes, 4.8 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.3 turnovers the last four games. He is only rostered in 74 percent of Yahoo leagues but should be rostered in 100 percent.
Robert Williams Center Boston Celtics
The Time Lord continues to impress, proving that Danny Ainge made the right choice at the trade deadline to deal Daniel Theis to the Chicago Bulls. In three games last week, Williams averaged 14.3 points on 82.6 percent shooting, nine rebounds, five assists, 0.7 turnovers, one steal and two blocks.
All eyes might be on Tatum and Brown as fantasy studs, but Williams is establishing himself as a legitimate seven-category contributor in 9-cat formats.
Gary Trent Jr. Guard/Forward Toronto Raptors
Trent might not have walked into a playoff-contending team in Toronto this season, but the opportunity for production has benefitted fantasy managers. After a rocky two games, he hit his stride, averaging 23.3 points on 51 percent shooting, five made threes, and 1.7 steals.
GARY TRENT JR. WINS IT AT THE BUZZER 🔥 https://t.co/L5GiM7SdeU— NBA on TNT (@NBA on TNT)1617672392.0
Despite having a bad season, the Toronto Raptors are still within striking distance of a play-in spot. If they want to make it, they're going to look to Trent's shooting to help them get there.
Kelly Olynyk Forward/Center Houston Rockets
Gonzaga could've used the former Spokane stud in the National Championship Game on Monday. In the last four games, Olynyk is averaging 18.8 points on 57.4 percent shooting, 1.8 made threes, 5.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.3 blocks.
The Rockets may be playing for the future, but Olynyk has proven to be a dependable fantasy option for the present.
Moses Brown Center Oklahoma City Thunder
After spending last week rebounding like he was Dennis Rodman, he spent this past week looking a bit more human. After averaging 16.8 rebounds last week, Brown dropped down to 10.5 and the rest of his numbers slipped as well. He averaged 9.3 points on 42.3 percent shooting and only shot 60 percent from the foul line.
Moses Brown has been HOOPING recently... and the Thunder have awarded him with a multi-year contract. Love it. https://t.co/z0jFDmcbPR— Legion Hoops (@Legion Hoops)1616970263.0
He is averaging about five fewer minutes a game than he did in the previous week, which could be contributing to his drop in production. With Al Horford completely shut down and Mike Muscala hurt, he will have plenty of chances to increase his numbers
Seth Curry Guard Philadelphia 76ers
Slumping shooters are the most at risk to be on this "bust" list and this week it's the younger Curry brother. He still contributed 2.5 made threes, but he only shot 38.1 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from the free-throw line.
If shooters aren't hitting, they're basically an empty slot in a fantasy lineup. Still, Curry isn't worth dropping because of his potential to get hot, but these are the rough patches managers are going to have to deal with.
Kyle Kuzma Forward Los Angeles Lakers
With LeBron James and Anthony Davis out, now would be the time for Kyle Kuzma to shine. His star is looking more like a lantern fantasy-wise.
He did average 17.3 points last week, but he only shot 44.4 percent and 63.6 percent from the free-throw line. He's also only making 1.7 threes, grabbing 5.3 rebounds and turning the ball over three times in that same time span.
Lebron watching Kyle Kuzma air ball free throws like https://t.co/jy0HzCWdu3— Rich (@Rich)1617567541.0
If Kuzma wanted to prove himself a star, this period of time was not that moment.
R.J. Barrett Guard/Forward New York Knicks
The former Duke player's career season hit a speedbump this past week. In the last four games, Barrett has averaged 13.3 points on 41.7 percent shooting, 1.5 made threes, 3.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists. The Knicks have unsurprisingly lost three of those games.
Fantasy managers in a position to make the playoffs can be patient with Barrett, but those who are fighting for a playoff spot may need to look for other options.
Welcome to the Mock Draft lab.
This is where we are running experiments, crunching the numbers, and proving hypotheses, so you can reap the rewards of our hard work. The rules for this exercise were simple: Take the best pitcher in each round without reaching more than 10 spots away in either direction. (This kept us honest and realistic as to who would be available and prevented any major overpays for talent.)
The first simulation that I'm offering as a tool going into your fantasy drafts is a breakdown of the best pitcher available in each round left for the taking. This has been achieved by studying the results of numerous mock drafts, cross-referencing those results against average draft positions, and the plain old eye test.
How should something like this be applied? Well, imagine yourself in this situation: You've gone best player available for the first six rounds and realize that starting pitcher is a bigger hole on your team than the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Reference this handy-dandy sheet to assuage those concerns. Not to fear, there's plenty of talent to be had in the next round, the round after that, and the round after that.
This is based on a mid-round draft position in a 12 team league. Obviously, higher rated players could fall because there's no accounting for the taste, or lack thereof, of your fellow managers.
|1||Shane Bieber - CLE|
|2||Max Scherzer - WSH|
|3||Luis Castillo - CIN|
|4||Tyler Glasnow - TB|
|5||Lance Lynn - CWS|
|6||Liam Hendriks - CWS|
|7||Kyle Hendricks - CHC|
|8||Ian Anderson - ATL|
|9||Zach Plesac - CLE|
|10||Chris Paddack - SD|
|11||Patrick Corbin - WSH|
|12||Sixto Sanchez - MIA|
|13||Devin Williams - MIL|
|14||James Paxton - SEA|
|15||Alex Colome - MIN|
|16||Mike Soroka - ATL|
|17||Dustin May - LAS|
|18||Jose Urquidy - HOU|
|19||Ryan Yarbrough - TB|
|20||Jameson Taillon - NYY|
|21||Matthew Boyd - DET|
|22||Tony Gonsolin - LAD|
|23||Zach Davies - CHC|
As you can see, there is talent at every level of the draft, both for starters, relievers, and guys who can do both. The highlights:
Beginning at the beginning, I can't tell you how much I like getting Shane Bieber anywhere in the back half of the first round. The reigning Cy Young winner looked transcendent last season, and I've seen just as many fantasy projections that squarely place him in the conversation as the #1 overall pitcher. Getting a guy who led the league in strikeout percentage, strikeouts, ERA, and wins is a no-brainer. It's not his fault that he doesn't pitch in New York.
A couple rounds later, I believe you can still snag a dude that's about to prove he could be an ace on pretty much any staff. His numbers have improved from year to year, specifically cutting his walks and increasing his strikeouts. Without Bauer in the rotation, Castillo will be the Opening Day starter and can use this chance to solidify himself as a premier pitcher.
This Luis Castillo dude seems to be pretty good at throwing baseballs. https://t.co/jVcslXwKDi— Cincinnati Reds (@Cincinnati Reds)1600307193.0
In the middle rounds of the draft, I am all about jumping on Devin Williams. The man has a pitch so mesmerizing that it got a name: "The Airbender." He uses a normal circle change grip, but himself sees it as a reverse slider, or what was one time known as, a screwball. He's been ridiculously valuable as Hader's setup man, piling up holds left and right and center. Look here for the possibility of him assuming the closer role if the trade talk surrounding Hader finally comes to fruition.
Nearing the end and looking to fill out your roster, I think Jameson Taillon provides a ton of upside this season. He's coming off of a second Tommy John surgery, and the Yankees have already said they plan to ease him into the rotation by having Cole take two starts before his first. (This sets him up to face the Baltimore Orioles, by the way, a team who doesn't have a clear second baseman on the team). However, he's completely rebuilt his throwing motion, which should be more sustainable for his elbow.
Of course, exhibition games don't predict future success, but Taillon has looked tremendous in his four outings. He has one earned run and 14 strikeouts over the 8.1 innings, and this could, finally, be the season that he lives up to the lofty expectations of his high draft status.
Jameson Taillon is bringing a new and improved throwing motion to the Bronx for his first season with the New York… https://t.co/w862Pq5NvK— YES Network (@YES Network)1611673320.0
In the final round, I'm a big fan of Zach Davies, who put together a respectable season for the Padres last year, proving to be a valuable waiver wire addition. Once San Diego decided they were going the nuclear route and compiled the best staff in baseball, Davies saw himself dealt to the Cubs, as a part of the Darvish trade. The increased use of his change up resulted in more strikeouts. The change of scenery to a weaker division should provide a boost to his stats across the board.