The Major League Soccer standings look a little different after this past weekend's action. Defending champion Atlanta United sits atop the Eastern Conference, level with the Philadelphia Union (but ahead on goal difference), following their impressive 2-0 win at Portland on Sunday. Josef Martinez scored his 21st goal of the season, and has now scored in 11 straight games -- a new MLS record.
There's certainly been no change at the top of the Western Conference, however. In fact, LAFC has already clinched a playoff berth following a 2-0 win at Real Salt Lake on Saturday. The team has 13 more points than any other side in the league. In the victory, Carlos Vela scored his league-leading 24th goal of the season. He's also tied for second in the league with 10 assists.
This week, LAFC is one of six teams that will play twice -- and one of only two teams with a pair of home games. Their opponents (San Jose and the LA Galaxy) aren't easy, but Vela is still a slam dunk as your fantasy Tier 1 forward and captain this week, as far as I'm concerned.
NYCFC -- third in the Eastern Conference, but second in terms of points-per-game -- are the other team with two home games this week. They have a relatively easy fixture against Columbus (who are second-to-last in the East) on Wednesday. They then head into a rivalry match against the New York Red Bulls three days later. Valentin Castellanos had two goals and an assist in NYCFC's 4-1 victory at Cincinnati on Saturday. He has four goals and two assists in his past three games, and has averaged five shots-per-game during that stretch, despite coming off the bench once. Castellanos will be my Tier 2 forward, as long as he starts on Wednesday.
Maximiliano Moralez picked up his 10th assist of the season against Cincinnati, and would have had his seventh goal if not for Przemyslaw Tyton's penalty-kick save. NYCFC have had six penalty kicks this season and Moralez has handled all of them. Unfortunately he's only converted three of those six, but I'm hoping he continues to be their designated penalty taker. He'll be my Tier 1 midfielder this week. Meanwhile, Ronald Matarrita will be my Tier 2 defender, as he's the only player in his tier with two games this week. That makes for a very easy decision.
Daniel Royer, New York Red Bulls (Tier 2 midfielder): Royer has eight goals and six assists in 23 appearances (19 starts) this season. He didn't score in the Red Bulls' 1-1 draw with New England last weekend, but he took 10 shots in that game. Both of the Red Bulls' matches this week are away from home (at D.C. and at NYCFC), but Royer had a brace against NYCFC earlier this season.
Paul Arriola, DC United (Tier 3 midfielder): Arriola scored his fifth goal of the season against the LA Galaxy two weeks ago. He failed to score in last weekend's 1-0 loss at Vancouver, but took a team-high five shots. DC hosts the Red Bulls on Wednesday, before a short trip to face Philadelphia on Saturday.
Steve Birnbaum, DC United (Tier 1 defender): Birnbaum is second in the league in clearances (141), behind only teammate Frederic Brillant (166). DC is up against two good attacking teams this week, so there should be plenty of defensive work to do.
Tyler Miller, LAFC (Goalkeeper): As mentioned earlier, LAFC's two opponents this week aren't easy, with San Jose and the Galaxy ranking sixth and third, respectively, in the West. Still, as a plus, both games are at home. Miller has kept a clean sheet in two of his past three matches. He also has eight clean sheets in 21 appearances on the season, conceding only 19 goals. That's less than one goal-per-game.