This article is part of our DraftKings MLS series.
Lineup No. 1: Differentials in Defense
The crux of this lineup is that we're spending more salary than most opponents will on defense and goalkeeper. While there are plenty of quality attacking options, I think there are some pivots to cheaper players that could produce equal returns.
First, we have Clint Irwin ($4,300) and Steve Beitashour ($3,100) from Toronto FC. They'll face a Vancouver Whitecaps side that is playing their third match in eight days and will be without forwards Masato Kudo and Octavio Rivero. Blas Perez proved menacing last match, but his aging legs may not be able to break this defense down. A clean sheet is very possible.
Next, I picked up two attacking fullbacks who did not play Wednesday night, but their opponents did. Harrison Afful ($5,000) hasn't given owners a huge outing yet this season, but he does have at least nine fantasy points in seven of his nine matches. The potential is there for more, and I wonder if Kei Kamara's departure could open up the game going forward for Columbus' quality set of fullbacks. Ambroise Oyongo ($4,100) and the Montreal Impact will host an overachieving Philadelphia Union team who played to a tough 2-2 draw against the Galaxy just three days ago. Oyongo has begun to push forward on the wing more and more as he warms up to the 2016 season, and the Montreal attack is capable of another big outing following last week's 4-4 thriller in Columbus.
The biggest result of our defensive spending is that we can't afford a third top midfielder. However, I think Justin Meram ($5,100) could provide similar returns to Federico Higuain, who will be on everyone's radar following the Kamara kerfuffle. Rather than pay up for an over-owned Pipa, we can take a shot on Meram, who should see his attacking responsibilities grow. If Ola Kamara (Not Kei) is a straight replacement atop the formation, then expect Meram to cut inside often as Ola makes runs to drag defenders wide. I'm also using Ola Kamara in this one, thanks to a cheap price, a decent matchup and a talented surrounding cast.
In the other forward spot, I'm looking to Tesho Akindele ($4,400) to provide great value. FC Dallas look like they will be without Maxi Urruti, which gives the 2014 MLS Rookie of the Year a great shot to impress up top. Tesho is both fast and physical, and the players behind him should create plenty of opportunities for Dallas at home. I'll also use Herculez Gomez ($3,900) in this same match. The Sounders have been finding a lot of fantasy production in their new veteran signing and if Herc continues to take corner kicks, he's too good a value to pass up. If Andreas Ivanschitz returns, it's worth reconsidering Gomez, and I may just use the equally priced Marco Donadel if I see him start in the early match.
A lot of the top midfielders feel pretty similar this week, but I'm tabbing Lee Nguyen ($6,500) and Shkelzen Gashi ($5,800) as two reasonable prices with plenty of upside. Nguyen should benefit from New England's acquisition of Kei Kamara, the imposing target forward the team has desperately needed. Much like Columbus did, New England would be foolish to not lob in crosses all match. Whether Kei starts or not, expect a big morale boost from the Revolution players. Gashi sat out the midweek fixture, but he has long looked like Colorado's most dangerous player. He hasn't quite had a breakout game, but against a so-so Columbus defense, he has potential for multiple goals. Our opponents will likely stick with Jermaine Jones from the Rapids, but he's becoming far too popular for such limited upside.
Last, and admittedly perhaps least, we have $3,500 for a utility player. I'm looking at either Roland Alberg ($3,100) or Ilsinho ($3,200) from the Philadelphia Union. One plus is that we will know if they are starting in the first match of the day. Montreal are a good defensive side on paper, but not in practice for much of the season and Alberg's talent has yet to be fully displayed.
You could take this template team and adjust it to suit your tastes. Shifting a pricey defender to a lower cost would allow you to turn Meram into a top midfielder, or Ola Kamara into Joao Plata. Clint Irwin could be downgraded to Stefan Frei for a savings of $1,400. There's lots of wiggle room here, and as lineups come out the optimal route may become clearer.
Devil's Advocate: If we aren't rostering a top forward, we should strongly consider making sure the midfield is loaded with talent instead of investing in defense. Sure, our cheap picks may do well, but will they ALL do well? Afful and Oyongo may make our defense top notch, but we may be giving too much up elsewhere in the lineup.
Why We'll Win: This style of lineup construction relies largely on the cheap forwards scoring and the rest of our team doing what is expected. Both of our cheap forwards are on fresher teams, at home, and have definite goal-scoring potential. The rest of our lineup has both safety and noticeable upside. If everything comes together, this is a good recipe for a tournament victory.
Lineup No. 2: Real and (Mont)Real
The stars of this lineup are Didier Drogba and the Real Salt Lake attackers. Houston remain one of the most vulnerable teams defensively and Real Salt Lake will return Joao Plata to their arsenal. Javier Morales may be a less popular play after a disappointing last fixture, but it's highly unlikely he follows it up with another flop. Juan Manuel Martinez will also benefit from Plata's return and will undoubtedly find plenty of space and opportunity. Houston play their second match in four days and simply have not found a way to stop any single aspect of opposing attacks. Sure, Houston are at home, but it feels like you're doing something wrong if you don't grab some exposure to Real Salt Lake this weekend.
Drogba gives us exactly the kind of scoring punch that we'll likely need to win a tournament. If we aren't willing to buy Sebastian Giovinco for $9,900, then Drogba for $2,400 less is a great compromise. The eldest Impact player has scored 78 points in his past three matches! I'm also going to pair Drogba with Marco Donadel, who should be on corners and some other set piece duties. Ideally, we get a healthy number of crossing points and at least an assist to Drogba. This is far more palatable than putting all of our eggs in one basket and paying up for the inconsistent Ignacio Piatti.
Two players who won't be heavily used, but offer exposure to some promising offenses are Diego Fagundez ($5,500) and Tsubasa Endoh ($4,900). While these players won't offer you the safe floor of some pricier midfielders, they do bring some upside. Endoh featured last week right behind Giovinco and Jozy Altidore in the Toronto FC attack, and he could reprise that promising role once more. Toronto continue their home stand against a tired Vancouver side. Fagundez will benefit from a lack of defensive attention, with Lee Nguyen and Kei Kamara drawing the opposition's eye. The youngster's talent sometimes gets overlooked when we discuss fantasy picks, but he's been imposing himself more and more this season and may have a little extra juice given the team's latest acquisition. New England host a weak Chicago Fire side who must travel all the way from Vancouver, where they lost 2-1 a few days prior.
Herculez Gomez jumps into the side again, as a promising budget option with goal-scoring potential. While Gomez wasn't on the team at the time, Seattle will be eager to avenge the penalty shootout loss in Dallas last postseason.
Defensively, we're left with a small budget, but some acceptable options. Steve Beitashour returns from the first lineup, while Walker Zimmerman ($2,700) and Demar Phillips ($3,400) find spots on our team as well. Phillips brings us some crossing upside, while Zimmerman brings an aerial threat as shown last week. Ideally, we see a cheap fullback pop up throughout the day to plug in and upgrade elsewhere.
Finally, we're going with Stefan Frei in goal. The Seattle keeper is a vision of consistency for both club and fantasy owners, as he's reached 10 points in five of his last six appearances. He can certainly steal a match, and if Dallas miss a beat without Maxi Urruti, Frei might come away with a clean sheet and plenty of saves.
Devil's Advocate: It might be pragmatic to take a safer approach in the midfield, eschewing Fagundez and Endoh for more conventional choices. The defense isn't terribly inspiring either. Are we foolish to skip out on the Columbus Crew attack sans Kei Kamara?
Why We'll Win: Real Salt Lake should reward our faith with multiple goals and if they come from Burrito Martinez or Javi Morales, we'll be in for a good night. Drogba shows few signs of slowing down now that he has gained positive momentum. We also found cheaper ways into good attacks with Fagundez and Endoh that others may have ignored.