It's been a bit of a different off-season than of years past for the New York Red Bulls. Before 2015, there was always a mass exodus of half the team when the season ended, which was followed by bigger names that tried to fill voids that were open. To be fair, 2015's preseason was the same way as the whole Petke drama unfolded as well as the emptying of the roster from 2014's starters such as Eric Alexander and Jamison Olave.
This preseason has felt very different. Only six players left the team through options being declined, none of which were regular starters in 2015. The Red Bulls also released RBNY II goalkeeper Santiago Castano. Then made a huge transfer sending Matt Miazga to Chelsea.
On the acquisition side, until February 9th's signing of Ghanaian defenseman Gideon Baah, seven players were brought in. And they were ALL Homegrown players. The Red Bulls have more Homegrowns (9) than any other MLS team. Many of the players whose we all know and love from last year's Shield win were signed to new contracts. At the moment, RBNY have 29 rostered players when the limit is 28, so someone else will have to go to make room for Baah.
Now that the context is out of the way, let's get to managing your MLS Fantasy team. Barring any huge changes to the rules of the game, you can only carry four players from the same team. In order to get the biggest impact for your main starters, you will want players that will consistently be on the field. I have narrowed it down to a few main players you will want to look at before making your final selections. None should be a major shocker:
*All statistics based only on regular season
1) Luis Robles (GK): Games Played: 34; Clean Sheets: 9; Saves: 86; 2015 Fantasy Points: 137 (8th for GKs)
Robles is the reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year. He's played in every minute of every (league) game since the start of the 2013 season. He is a shoe-in to play each game for 2016. Other keepers will make more saves than Robles since their defenses stink. But Robles' fantasy numbers are modest since his defense has been solid the last three years. He may not be your first pick for goalkeepers due to his scoring, but he is always a safe bet for someone to get time between the sticks.
2) Sacha Kljestan (MID): Games Played: 33; Goals: 8; Assists: 14; 2015 Fantasy Points: 201 (3rd for MIDs)
Kljestan made a big splash in his return to MLS in 2015. He started the season modestly, but after returning from a mid-season red card, he caught fire. He was the main CAM for the team when they ran the 4-2-3-1. It's rumored this year that RBNY is changing to a 4-2-2-2, so we'll have to see where he factors into that lineup. Speaking directly from fantasy performance, Kljestan increased his value a whopping $1.9M over the course of the season, more than anyone else on the team. He'll make the offense churn.
3) Bradley Wright-Phillips (FWD): Games Played: 34; Goals: 17; Assists: 7; 2015 Fantasy Points: 180 (3rd for FWDs)
After scoring 27 goals in 2014, critics thought BWP would fall off heavily without Thierry Henry around to provide service. BWP silenced them by changing up his game a bit. He scored 10 less goals than in 2014, but picked up an additional five assists. He became a much better rounded player. 2016 should be more of the same as he has the same guys to look towards for giving and getting assists.
4) Dax McCarty (MID): Games Played: 32; Goals: 1; Assists: 8; 2015 Fantasy Points: 155 (9th for MIDs)
Even though Lloyd Sam scored more fantasy points (158), Dax played in, and started, more games than Sam. Captain Dax is a core player for RBNY. The team's strategy is to heavy press down the wings, so they get gassed late in the game. Most of the substitutions each game came on the wings (SWP for Sam. Veron for Grella). Dax isn't a player the team wants to take off the field due to his leadership and control in central midfield.
5) Felipe Martins (MID): Games Played: 34; Goals: 3; Assists: 5; 2015 Fantasy Points: 142 (16th for MIDs)
A lot of the same sentiments for Dax hold true for Felipe. He was a staple in midfield alongside the captain. Knee jerk reactions came when Jesse Marsch brought in Martins to NY after coaching him in Montreal. But he paid dividends immediately. He ended up playing almost 150 more minutes than Dax last season, which is a tribute to his performances and importance.
Honorable Mention: Lloyd Sam, Mike Grella, Gonzalo Veron
These wingers may not get all 90 minutes each game, but they will be the ones pushing the pace on offense and pressing on defense. Ali Curtis and Marsch's plan should continue to work the wingers hard and sub them after 60 or 70 minutes. Unfortunately for fantasy managers, it will be difficult to predict if these guys will get the start day-to-day. They will rack up points, but it will be a bit of Russian Roulette when they will pay off for your team.