The MLS season is officially over, with Atlanta United being crowned post-season champions in only their second season in the league. With no balls left to kick, we only have hindsight and reflection when looking back at the season, with some extremely talented players stepping up for contention as our MVP. Our only port of call keeps us within the realms of the newly anointed MLS Cup champions, Atlanta. Welcome to our 2018 Player of the Season in MLS Fantasy. All Aboard.
Player of the Season 2018: The Contenders
A long season that began all the way back in March concluded its regular season on Sunday 28th October with New York Red Bulls pipping Atlanta to the Supporters' Shield crown on the final day. A 4-1 defeat at Toronto during the final round of games of the season, Week 35, against the reigning champs, was a low point in the season (as was an opening day 4-0 defeat at Houston Dynamo) but it didn't reflect the state of affairs for MLS Fantasy players, at all. Whilst Toronto struggled to defend their titles, Atlanta flew out the gates.
Based on the first-half of the season, Miguel Almiron (Atlanta United) was the clear and runaway favourite for the Player of the Season crown. Due to the points scoring system in MLS Fantasy, attacking midfielders are worth their weight in gold, and in Almiron's case, this ended quite literally, with the Paraguay international back at his best in Saturday's 2-0 defeat of Portland Timbers to win MLS Cup.
In the regular season, Almiron managed 12 goals and 14 assists and was usually the first midfielder in Fantasy teams across the land. The midfielder managed 2 or less points from 32 appearances just twice last season, with Almiron scooping an incredible 101 attacking and defensive bonus points.
Almiron's case is furthered by the fact that he was the top MLS Fantasy player from last season, despite having a dip in form after Week 19 due to injury niggles, and on top of that there is no doubting his ability to entertain on the pitch. By a long stretch, Atlanta were the best team to watch last season, with Almiron playing in a free role for his side so can he find games and put his stamp on everything positive about Atlanta's attack. If it not for Almiron's industry and creativity, it would have been unlikely that Josef Martinez would have been as clinical as he was this past year.
Almiron ticked all the boxes for what we were looking for in our Player of the Season, so it seems crazy that he's not, given an incredible season.
Staying in midfield, Nicolas Lodeiro (Seattle Sounders) followed the form of his club to a tee. Start slow, warm up towards the middle part of the season, then win pretty much every game until the end of the regular season to finish in the top 2 positions in the Western Conference.
Lodeiro averaged 9.52 points-per-game from 27 appearances as Seattle's attacking midfielder. The Uruguayan play-maker only appeared 5 times before Gameweek 15, managing just 2 assists in that time. Hardly cause to parade his Fantasy output, but form and points just took off beginning with Gameweek 15.
The Fantasy football equivalent of a hungry (hungry) hippo, Lodeiro managed 8 goals and 14 assists in his final 22 appearances of the season, an average of 1 attacking return per-game. Lodeiro didn't fall below 3 points in a single game this season, and even ended the campaign with 4 consecutive double-digit returns, managing an impressive 65 points to conclude the regular season.
Lodeiro's biggest Fantasy haul in a single game came during Gameweek 31 in a 4-0 home victory against Colorado Rapids. Despite being a Double Gameweek, Lodeiro finished with an unmatched 23 points.
Nicolas Lodeiro’s Week 31 Points – Seattle Sounders 4-0 Colorado Rapids
90 mins played: 2pts
1 goals: 5pts
2 assists: 6pts
Clean sheet: 1pt
Penalty earned: 2pts
86 passes: 2pts
6 key passes: 2pts
4 crosses: 1pt
2 big chances created: 2pts
Total: 23 points
The constant burst of reliability however, were not enough to see Lodeiro placed into contention, though he does deserve some
Further up the field with MLS Fantasy Forward's, Carlos Vela pipped Wayne Rooney to our Team of the Season, with the LAFC attacker impressing with 14 goals and 13 assists in the club's first season. Vela, who missed 6 games due to the World Cup in Russia this summer, could have ultimately been the game's top player had it not been for his appearances for Mexico in the summer.
The Mexican international also provided the single biggest Fantasy score from a single fixture, with Vela producing an unmatched 27 points during Week 33's 4-2 home victory over Houston Dynamo. After Nicolas Lodeiro's 23 points two weeks before, we were certain that the score wouldn't be topped, and low and behold, it happened within a fortnight.
Vela brought the total package of skill and technical finesse this season to LAFC in a memorable debut season in MLS. Bob Bradley's side were eliminated in the Knockout Round at home by Real Salt Lake in a thrilling 3-2 encounter at Banc of California Stadium. Atlanta suffered a similar fate in their first MLS season when they were knocked out by Columbus Crew at the same stage in the 2017 season, so the blueprint is there for LAFC to win MLS Cup next season.
Carlos Vela’s Week 33 Points – LAFC 4-2 Houston Dynamo
90 mins: 2pts
2 goals: 10pts
2 assists: 6pts
1 penalty earned: 2pts
5 key passes: 1pt
3 crosses: 1pt
2 big chances created: 2pts
6 recoveries: 1pt
4 shots: 1pt
Fouled 4 times: 1pt
Total: 27 points
A little bit further down the pitch, one team dominated defensively this season for MLS Fantasy players. Sporting Kansas City's ability to attract both attacking and defensive bonus this season saw Graham Zusi (SKC) stroll to the top defensive position, and nearly to the top of the overall charts.
Finishing the season with 237 points is unheard of in most Fantasy sports games and potentially in any other season, Zusi would have had more acclaim that is being let on. In a game dominated by creative midfielders, Zusi was the 7th highest points scorer in MLS Fantasy this past season and was a central figure for SKC from the right-back position.
The USA full-back had license to roam on the right for Sporting and was at the heart of most set-pieces for the team that finished top in the Western Conference come the end of the regular season.
Zusi scored twice, provided 7 assists and kept 13 clean sheets to produce a total of 22 attacking and defensive returns this season. Zusi managed 89 bonus points (both attacking and defensive combined), with the defender totalling an average of 6.97 points-per-game.
The American was indispensable for Fantasy players in 2018 and the future will probably more of the same for Sporting's defensive options. In truth though, given how the season progressed, there was only a brace of contenders for the crown of Player of the Season, and we've already shot down Miguel Almiron's hopes.
Player of the Season 2018: Josef Martinez (Atlanta)
That's right, the only place to start and end with is with the enigma that is Josef Martinez (Atlanta United). The Venezuelan international had the season to remember, one that was capped off by both scoring and assisting in the MLS Cup final against Portland Timbers at Mercedes Benz Stadium.
Martinez seized on sloppy play from Portland's rearguard a bad back-pass to round Jeff Attinella in the Timbers goal for an easy tap in. Martinez then flicked on a pin-point Miguel Almiron to the far post to allow Franco Escobar freedom at the back-post to slot in Atlanta's second.
The Forward was awarded the MLS Cup MVP award, was also recently named the MLS MVP from this past season, and ended the season having broken the scoring record in a single season, with the cherry on top coming this Saturday when he stood at the side of the stage when Atlanta's captain, Michael Parkhurst, lifted the MLS Cup.
Player of the Season 2018: Josef Martinez
In MLS Fantasy terms, Josef Martinez finished as the second best player in the game, ultimately defeated by the attraction of Bonus Points to attacking midfielders, with Forward's finding it harder to add to their tallies. Martinez managed just 27 bonus points compared to Miguel Almiron's hugely superior 101 bonus. What this tells us is that the bulk of Martinez's points came from grinding out goals and assists in matches and had this been any other Fantasy game, Martinez would have been miles ahead of Almiron, Lodeiro, Piatti, Vela, Ibrahimovic, Giovinco and Valeri on the score charts.
Martinez broke the record for most goals in a regular MLS season, with 31 goals an incredible feat from 34 appearances. Our Player of the Season also managed 6 assists, bringing him to 37 attacking returns from 34 games, and there was an opportunity for a 38th, though Martinez missing a penalty against LA Galaxy during Week 6.
Adding fuel to the Martinez fire, the Forward also scored 5 goals in 5 matches in the play-offs, bringing his overall tally of goals in the season to 36 in 39 games, a feat that might take some time to replicate (if ever).
The spearhead of Atlanta's attack stayed injury free this season and went on a 9-game goal scoring spree in the middle of the campaign (9 games between Gameweek's 18-26) and in truth doesn't need us to do the talking, his stats back up an unforgettable season for sports fans in Atlanta as their trophy drought ended in spectacular fashion on home soil on Saturday night.
As the curtain closes on the 2018 MLS season for good, of all the high-profile names in MLS, it'll be the name Josef Martinez that will be remembered.
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