Fantasy: Diamonds in the rough

who has been with the Los Angeles Galaxy since their inception in 1996 -- is an example of the rare exception to this rule. He is the only MLS player from the league's inaugural season that is still with his original club. Italian legend Paolo Maldini is an example from abroad. He has incredibly spent his entire pro career with AC Milan, racking up more than 500 appearances in Serie A in 20 years of competition.

It is much more common for players to be shipped from country to country and club to club. MLS is no different. Throw into the mix a group of rookies that enters the league and you've got plenty of new faces every year. This week we'll take a look at first-year MLS players -- not all necessarily rookies, as a rookie is only a first-year professional -- and assess which ones are best equipped to help your fantasy team succeed.

GOALKEEPERS:

There are two first-year 'keepers in MLS this season, but it remains to be seen how long either one will stay in their respective lineups. On Chivas USA, neither Brad Guzan (a true rookie) nor Martin Zuniga has locked down a starting spot and the Chivas USA defense is shaky at best. With these two carrying the highest goals against averages in the league -- 1.89 for Guzan and a whopping 3.25 for Zuniga -- your best move is to steer clear.

In Columbus, Bill Gaudette (also a true rookie) is currently starting for the Crew in place of two injured 'keepers. The Crew are committed to him for the time being, but that could change if his performance falters.

DEFENDERS:

This is the position with the most newcomers that have shown that they can hang in MLS. Interestingly, some of the best new talent comes in pairs. The Chicago Fire, L.A. Galaxy and Colorado Rapids all have two regular starters in defense that are new to the league and have done well so far.

Out of the Windy City, Ivan Guerrero has proven to be one of the best attacking backs in MLS, though lately he's been playing in the midfield (in the MLSFC he's listed as a defender). The Chicago defense has looked strong and he will also provide you with the odd goal. Samuel Caballero has also been solid.

Many questioned Steve Sampson's selection of Ugo Ihemelu so high (fifth overall) in the 2005 MLS SuperDraft. The Texas native has started nine games as the Galaxy have allowed only 12 goals in 11 matches. Ihemelu's teammate Pablo Chinchilla has also performed well in the absence of Chris Albright.

The duo from Colorado consists of Guy Melamed and Hunter Freeman. Don't pick up Freeman now, as he is with the U.S. U-20s in Holland, but he should be a good bargain upon his return.

Other top first-year defenders are Michael Parkhurst (New England), Bobby Boswell (D.C.) and Tim Ward (MetroStars), though Ward is also with the U-20s and injured.

MIDFIELDERS:

It's all about foreign talent in the midfield. The Ramirez "brothers" in L.A. -- Ramon at Chivas USA and Guillermo with the Galaxy -- both came in with reputations. The Guatemalan "Pando" has always looked dangerous, while the Mexican Ramon is still trying to help Chivas USA put it all together. And no, they're not really related.

Hector Cuadros has been one of the few bright spots for Chivas USA. However, he didn't start last weekend for the first time this season, so it might be best to see how Hans Westerhof chooses to use him this weekend before making a spur-of-the-moment purchase.

Thiago (Chicago) and Leslie "Tiger" Fitzpatrick (Real Salt Lake) round out the top of the first-year foreign-born midfielders, while U.S. national team coach Bruce Arena obviously has been impressed with D.C. United newcomer Clyde Simms. But as a mostly defensive player, don't count on Simms to be racking up goals and assists.

FORWARDS:

The best new faces up front are also foreigners. Youri Djorkaeff (MetroStars) is back from injury and combining well with Amado Guevara. Djorkaeff's lone goal so far this season was a blistering long-range effort. There's probably more where that came from.

Slovakian marksman Lubos Reiter got his first out of the way last weekend. Perhaps the confidence-booster will propel him to new heights. With the way Chicago's offense has been playing of late, he's not a bad option up top. His American-born rookie teammate Chris Rolfe has also been impressive. He might even be the best attacking player in this year's rookie crop.

If your roster is getting a little heavy on Fire men, Roberto Mina (FC Dallas) is someone to consider. With Carlos Ruiz and Eddie Johnson both out with injuries and likely to miss further time in future national team call-ups, the Ecuadorian is sure to see his playing time increase.

Jonathan Nierman is a contributor to MLSnet.com. He will cover the fantasy leagues, along with Jonathan Nierman, every other week throughout the season. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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