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MLS Fantasy Roundup 2014 - Round 32

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In which we wind down the fantasy year with a look back and a look ahead.

Graham Zusi, doing an impression of his fantasy point totals from 2013 to 2014.
Graham Zusi, doing an impression of his fantasy point totals from 2013 to 2014.
Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

As we approach the end of the 2014 MLS Fantasy Manager campaign - an end that will surely see Richard "DamagedGoods" Matthew take the crown in the Eighty Six Forever league, barring a cataclysmic collapse at the finish line - it seems like a good time to look back and see what we can learn from this season in preparation for 2015. Goodness knows I'll need to learn all I can from this debacle to get back to my winning fantasy ways of 2013 - free games don't earn themselves.

The World Cup Effect
2013 saw Sporting Kansas City's Graham Zusi earn the moniker "Captain Fantasy" in recognition of his  back-to-back seasons of 200+ fantasy points (208 in 2012, 205 in 2013). With one game left, Zusi is sitting on 140. Zusi's SKC teammate, Matt Besler, is on a worse trajectory, having seen his minutes and points tumble in consecutive years down to a current low of 104 points in 2054 minutes. Nick Rimando's consistent fantasy totals (177pts in 2012, 173pts in 2013) also took a beating, as he has 128 points before the regular season finale. Omar Gonzalez is still looking better than his 2012 fantasy form (103pts) but his 135 is appreciably below his 2013 haul of 166.

And that's just a sample of the USMNT members called up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup, to say nothing of their counterparts from other nations. The evidence is overwhelming: in a World Cup year, expect a significant fantasy drop-off from proven national team players. Maybe that's why Jürgen Klinsmann left Landon Donovan off the roster -he's secretly a hardcore MLS Fantasy Manager nut and is too embarrassed to admit it. Jürgen, it's OK - everybody plays fantasy sports now. It's all right. Embrace it.

Speaking of Donovan...
It's a good thing he's retiring because a fantasy total of 236-plus-whatever-happens-this weekend is obscene. Unless Diego Valeri has a phenomenal weekend and Donovan doesn't even take to the pitch, your 2014 "Captain Fantasy" will be Landon Donovan on the back of an astounding fantasy season unlikely to be repeated. Heck, Valeri's 225 and Robbie Keane's 208 are pretty mammoth as well though Valeri is at least within the realm of possibility of similar numbers in 2015. 236 points in 2,626 minutes puts Donovan at 8.09pts per 90, which is unfair on a number of counts - the greatest of which being we're getting teased with that production in a retirement year. Not cool, Landycakes - not cool.

Ben Jata's Regression Countdown

Mr. Jata speaks fantasy wisdom as easily as breathing, though I'm pretty sure we all figured out to avoid Claudio Bieler pretty early on. You would do well to avoid these players in 2015.

Rookie Watch
Last year's finalists in Rookie of the Year voting were DeAndre Yedlin, Deshorn Brown and winner Dillon Powers. All three had respectable fantasy campaigns - Yedlin with 133, Brown with 114 and Powers with 131. Following an off-season price bump for all three former rookies, their points totals in 2014 were in three different places: Powers improved to 144, Brown held steady at 109 (both of those accomplishments astounding considering the state of the Colorado Rapids) but Yedlin regressed to 93 on an improved Seattle Sounders team. Once again, the World Cup anti-bump claims another victim.

So, what does that mean for the current crop of kids widely considered to be front-runners for the 2014 rookie award? Chicago's Harry Shipp has the second-best total on his team at 141, better than all of last year's finalists. Expect his price to rocket up in the offseason; expect his point total not to unless the Fire overhaul the on-field personnel. D.C. United defender Steve Birnbaum came on late in the season but still managed 91 points in 1800 minutes, good for 4.55pts/90. Considering Birnbaum's budget price, that's a fantastic return for a rookie defender. There will no doubt be a price bump in the offseason but Birnbaum is on a team heading in the right direction and could prove to be a solid pick next year.

~

As we approach the final game of the season, there's very little point in highlighting the good and bad buys. If you've been following along with this column this last few weeks, you know the drill: LA, Seattle, D.C., New England - good. Chivas USA, San Jose, Toronto, Montreal - bad. Instead, I'll sign off this week with a simple shout-out to the best score from the penultimate round, a 79 from Josh Gering's Flippy:

Round 32 86F Top Score

Also, quick shout-out to 86F contributor and From The Backline co-host Mark Dailey for only having the second-worst score of the round. Progress!

I'll be back next week with one final round-up. See you then!