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How Mauro Diaz will make a difference this week

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Plus fantasy tips to kill your team

MLS: New York Red Bulls at FC Dallas Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

It was early September, and the playoffs were in reach. The season had started early due to the CONCACAF Champions League but, despite a game effort, the club bowed out to the eventual champs. A malaise had hit the team dragging it far from its standard; lofty ambitions in the domestic league for regular and postseason silverware seemed far adrift as normally outstanding international caliber players misfired, an expensive Paraguayan striker struggled to score, and the team looked a shell of its former self.

After a dreary stretch and the addition of a classy South American playmaker, the team showed immediate improvement and made a mad dash to clinch a playoff spot. Fighting from one of the lesser seeds, the energized side dispatched favored sides all the way to the finals which culminated in hoisting the MLS Cup in December. That team was the Seattle Sounders. Do you see where I’m going with this?

With a full speed Mauro Diaz last year, FC Dallas won its first two trophies in a long time. Had he not gone down with an Achilles tendon rupture against the hated Sounders, the gang would have been solid favorites to win MLS Cup. Lacking that one piece of silverware, the club even went so far as to say MLS Cup was its primary focus coming into the season; implying to some degree that it would be at the expense of the Supporters’ Shield and USOC. Adding a fully operational maestro to this team should help to right the ship. Even better, there’s good data that’s exactly what will happen.

Lost in the gloom of two months worth of bad results is the fact that Mauro came back earlier than expected. The team certainly flourished with a pair of home wins against Toronto and DC in his second and third starts, but it seems, in retrospect, a case of too much too soon. Super Mauro indicated that even he wasn’t projecting himself to be at his best until sometime between the end of August and the end of September. We’re firmly in the middle of that window and, with a couple of good individual showings for him (albeit in a draw and a loss), it seems like we’re about to all systems go. That’s extremely important.

Lost in the narrative of free fall and disaster is the fact that FC Dallas still has the best regular season record since Oscar Pareja took over the team in 2014. Even a terrible run of form, bad luck, international absences, and Butthole Dome grand openings couldn’t remove the club from that perch. Since Papi’s return, the club averages 1.76 ppg with Mauro Diaz in the lineup (About 60 points over the course of a season) and 1.43 ppg with Mauro out of the lineup (49ish). That’s a large enough sample to conclude the difference between FC Dallas being a fringe playoff team and an elite team is one Mauro Diaz.

This isn’t because he’s an elite scorer (although he does rack up assists at a healthy clip) or because he has blazing speed that must be accounted for. Mauro makes the parts better. For all of the kvetching about this team just not having enough talent, the club boasts a top goal scorer (Urruti), a top assist man (Barrios), and a boatload of players that have represented their respective national teams this year. Seriously, stop with the lack of talent; FC Dallas has been the best club in the league over the course of almost 4 seasons.

Minus Super Mauro, however, the parts don’t fit as well together. That’s demonstrable, and that’s the missing ingredient for this team. I think Diaz passes the eye test now. He’s fit and should be relatively fresh going in. His presence will make the parts better in short order, and the club will make the playoffs unless he gets hurt again.

Alas, there’s no accounting for connective tissue and muscle injuries, but goons are another story. Mauro’s teammates (C’mon, Hardass Kellyn!) need to embrace their inner menace as best they can to make sure the David Guzmans of the world don’t try to break him (they absolutely will). If the club can keep him healthy down the stretch, they’ll go from a middling fringe team to one of the best again just in time for the playoffs. And if they end up punching their ticket to MLS cup in two months time, you’ll barely even remember the summer swoon. It’s almost as if they knew this in February...

Fool’s Gold: (Round 26. 2-2 (4.7), Season 16-13 (4.4 avg))

  1. Leandro Gonzalez Pirez D $6.7
  2. Freddy Montero F $9.2
  3. Kendall Waston D $6.1
  4. Brad Guzan G $6.2

When I started this I was looking for players that the community would standardize. While a DGW player like Feilhaber ended up worth fading last round, Jack Harrison was definitely useful at a fair price point. What I was really looking for was a player that would be frequently owned and captained but put up a low number.

Toronto had a glorious matchup last week against San Jose (they’re not good, and Dom is laughing his ass off in LA), and that was easily bet-able. 9 of their players ended up with 8 points or more last round against the awful Quakes, but none of them were Giovinco. He finished with one. RIP season.

I’ll keep this section alive, but be warned- I’ll place a player on this list out of spite. One of those is Gonzalez Pirez, who could have been given a straight red for a dangerous tackle on Kellyn this past weekend. I want bad things to happen to him (also, he’s on Yellow Card warning). Montero is on yellow card warning and so is Kendall Watson. Gantar is the ref for Vancouver’s 1st match of the double dip- kind of middle of the pack as far as giving cards. Hopefully, he’ll make up for that tonight. Finally, I’ll double down on fading Atlanta’s D this round. I don’t fancy their chances at a cleansheet in either match. Frankly, New England and Orlando are set up better to score on the Five Stripes this round.

Again- this is the avoid pile. Do so at your own peril. These are all popular players I’m fading in order to catch up. This end’s this week’s disclaimer.

Byrd’s Ballers: (Round 26. 2-3, Season 71-33-20)

  1. Miguel Almiron M $10.2
  2. Josef Martinez F $9.6
  3. David Ousted G $5.5
  4. Lee Nguyen M $11.0
  5. Albert Rusnak M $10.0

Bad Kompany isn’t gong quietly. He’s slipped to 3rd but did manage the top score last round in the BigD League. Phil’s lead is still somewhat comfortable, but he’s also within reach. His boring play may be his downfall if you want to catch him (looking at you Tom and Geoff).

If I’ve had a losing record on the Ballers before last round, it was only once. The opportunity cost of that was fatal for me, alas. The simple recipe for this round is own Atlanta offense and Vancouver defense. Fill in the rest. Lee Nguyen has two road games, but that first match...let’s just say there’s going to be some scoring. My lone single week player on the list is Rusnak. RSL have been silly fun at home as of late, and you can almost bank on double digits with him against a shaky Portland defense that will be missing Diego Chara.

Skinflint’s Specials: (Round 25 3-2-0, Season 64-62-0)

  1. Tim Parker D $4.9
  2. Teal Bunbury M $7.0
  3. Jordan Harvey D $4.3
  4. Jacob Nerwinski D $4.4
  5. Alphonso Davies F $4.4

Did I mention going heavy on Vancouver this round? For what it’s worth, I’m dubious that Nerwinski starts both games and that Davies starts at all, but both of those guys have scoring upside. Bunbury probably needs to make his mark in Atlanta since the Spork game will be closer to the vest. That said, I think the game at the Butthole Dome will be a barnburner tonight. Give me as much offense out of that match as I can get. That’s all. My team sucks. Love you.

Update: Apparently Fagundez is ready to go. If you have to have another special, Aly Ghazal has some poor man’s Ozzie Alonso appeal. Like you’re reading this anyway...

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