This article is part of our Daily Fantasy Soccer Cheat Sheet series.
The initial knockout round the the MLS Playoffs has passed and we're left with four compelling two-match series to determine the final four teams. All of Sunday's matches feature the lower seed at home on three or four days rest. Meanwhile, the away teams all are the higher seed and are well rested coming out of their first round byes. It's also worth noting that if the aggregate score of the series is tied after two games, any team with an advantage in away goals would break the tie and avoid playing extra time. Thus, the higher seeded teams have plenty of motivation to be on the front foot even though they're on the road. Meanwhile, the mindset of the home team should essentially be to get a positive result in any way possible, even if that means grinding out a draw on tired legs and taking your chances on the road in one week's time. With all of this in mind, let's focus on some players who could thrive under these circumstances.
3:00 p.m: Montreal Impact v. New York Red Bulls
5:00 p.m: Los Angeles Galaxy v. Colorado Rapids
7:00 p.m: Toronto FC v. New York City FC
9:30 p.m: Seattle Sounders v. FC Dallas
EXPECTED CORNER TAKERS
Montreal Impact: Marco Donadel
New York Red Bulls: Sacha Kljestan
Los Angeles Galaxy: Steven Gerrard, Landon Donovan, Giovani Dos Santos
Colorado Rapids: Shkelzen Gashi
Toronto FC: Sebastian Giovinco
New York City FC: Andrea Pirlo
Seattle Sounders: Nicolas Lodeiro
FC Dallas: Kellyn Acosta
Chris Seitz, FCD at SEA: I've been writing it all season, but we're looking for two things in a fantasy goalkeeper: saves and a clean sheet opportunity. Great keepers like Stefan Frei and Luis Robles could be popular picks this weekend, but they aren't top options for me. I think their opponents, Dallas and Montreal, will be more defensive and look to absorb pressure and then counter attack. That projects for a lower ceiling than I'd like in tournament play. On the flip side, I think Frei's opponent is a great choice. The pressure is on Seattle to take a lead into Dallas next week, so Nicolas Lodeiro and company should be aggressive. At the same time, Dallas are a particularly good defensive team and I can absolutely see a clean sheet possibility for the Supporters Shield and US Open Cup winners.
Clint Irwin, TFC v. NYC: It's hard not to write up a cheap Tim Howard here, but the Colorado v. Los Angeles match projects to be low scoring with low shot totals. On the other hand, Toronto's meeting with NYC FC projects to be a high-scoring affair. New York City aren't a team that plays conservatively on the road, mostly because their defense isn't good enough that they can afford to. They'll need this road goal and will press for it. Despite being the lower seed, Toronto may be the favorite in this round, and they've proven capable of good defensive performances. Their lone weakness is defending the flanks, but City are not particularly built to take advantage. So, once again, we have a keeper behind a good defense that is likely to face considerable attacking pressure. I like that combination, and will have some shares of Clint Irwin despite him being the most expensive option on the day.
Kellyn Acosta, FCD at SEA: We've already discussed FC Dallas' defensive outlook, which benefits this Dallas midfielder who is eligible as a defensive. Also benefitting Acosta is his new role since the team's star playmaker, Mauro Diaz, suffered a season-ending injury. The talented US National Team prospect is now taking corners and some set pieces for FC Dallas, and he has talented aerial targets who can finish them at any given time. For what it's worth, Seattle are also a force in the air. Acosta also picks up peripheral points at a favorable clip, making this defender a great high-floor pick with upside. The one caution is that Mauro Rosales could take set-piece duties away from Acosta, but given his age and fitness, I see him being a second-half substitute rather than a starter.
Joevin Jones, SEA v. FCD: Outside of Ronald Matarrita and perhaps Robbie Rogers, this is your highest upside play at the position. Jones was quite active offensively in the knockout match against Kansas City, and the attack functions much stronger when their fullbacks jump upfield. Jones isn't the most technical attacking fullback, but he is quite athletic and not afraid to throw balls into the box for Jordan Morris and company. It's possible that Jones will be more reserved against a better Dallas side, and his floor is as low as his ceiling is high, but the gamble could be worth it in a game where Seattle need a result.
Ryan Hollingshead, FCD at SEA: I could give you a cheaper option to roll the dice on as a goal threat, like Roman Torres, Chard Marshall, Axel Sjoberg or Bobby Burling, but for just a little more, Hollingshead could pay huge dividends. The Dallas Swiss Army Knife could earn a role on the wing if Oscar Pareja decides to play it safe for the first portion of the match. Hollingshead has historically been a peripheral point machine, and the attacking positioning would be icing on the cake. If you're concerned about taking a risky pick in the late game, know that you should be able to pivot down to another good option in Maynor Figueroa for $500 less on DraftKings.
Sacha Kljestan, NYR at MTL: New York Red Bulls are my favorite to win MLS Cup, and Kljestan is a large reason why. With everyone around him applying relentless pressure to win the ball back quickly, Kljestan has plentiful opportunities to both create and finish plays, and it has resulted in one goal and four assists in his past three matches. Few forwards in the league are as in-form as Bradley Wright-Phillips, which helps Kljestan both in terms of earning assists and in drawing attention from the attacking center midfielder. Montreal will be hard-pressed to keep up with New York, even with the match being in Montreal, and I expect that to result in some goals for the visitors. As an added bonus in case you've been hiding under a rock, Kljestan is the primary corner-kick taker on a team that earns them in spades.
Frank Lampard, NYC at TOR: In his return from injury during the last week of the MLS regular season, Lampard grabbed two assists in just 17 minutes. He has been highly effective when healthy and on the pitch this season, making smart runs into the box when David Villa draws players away and opens up space. With Toronto likely to focus on helping their fullbacks sustain pressure, I can see the wily Lampard once again finding room to operate. In terms of narrative, it will be fun to see how Lampard responds to the demands of his first playoff match, and given his record for proving his MLS doubters wrong it would be surprising to see him not produce some exciting moments. Consider Lampard your high-upside midfielder at a discounted price because of an uncertain floor.
Marlon Hairston, COL at LAG: While Hairston has an assist in three straight appearances, his price remains low. While Shkelzen Gashi and now Kevin Doyle have received much of the attention, Hairston is a breakout player for the Rapids and constantly finds himself involved in their most promising attacking moments. Hairston is closer to an athletic Jermaine Jones-type attacker than a clinical Kaka or Mauro Diaz, which makes him a less safe play, but also helps keep costs down. Colorado are the fresher team in this match, and will have an underdog mentality despite nearly winning the Supporters Shield. While I think it's a low scoring and closely contested match, I also don't see much appeal in the cheaper Seattle Sounders midfielders (Alvaro Fernandez, Erik Friberg, Brad Evans). Hairston will need to suffice if you need the savings, and that's not such a choice.
Sebastian Giovinco, TFC v. NYC: On the RotoWire Fantasy Soccer Podcast this week, we discussed the merits of Giovinco over David Villa or Bradley Wright-Phillips. Toronto's star gets a juicy matchup against the post-season's worst defensive team, but he also costs about $2,000 more on DraftKings and is expected to be heavily owned. While I'm tempted to pivot to Villa, who will almost certainly be neglected by fantasy players in favor of Giovinco or BWP, I think I'll largely be sticking with Gio. The potential point total from Giovinco make it worth downgrading a midfielder to squeeze him in, namely two straight games with a goal, assist, six shots, and a combined 18 crosses. He is everywhere on the field, ensuring that defenders will have nightmares all offseason, and he now has a Robin to his Batman in Jozy Altidore. You'll want exposure to both the Red Bulls and TFC attacks, but Jozy and BWP will actually cost more than Giovinco and Mike Grella. I know which pair I want.
Emmanuel Boateng, LAG v. COL: Many fantasy players will flock to Matteo Mancosu for $500 less, but I'm looking towards Boateng this weekend. The young Galaxy attacker had his breakout match against Real Salt Lake in the knockout stage, and I don't see him slowing down. He relentlessly runs at defenders, and now, thanks to the advice of Landon Donovan, has been switching sides of the field to give each fullback a taste of his unmatchable speed. What impresses me most is that his speed and small stature don't stop him from being a physical player. He's not afraid to use his body if it helps him keep possession to finish a play or draw a foul. Robbie Keane may return for this match, and Giovani dos Santos is the high upside play, but I'll strongly consider using Boateng if I can fit his salary in as a second forward. You may not like the small sample size, or recency bias involved in this pick, but players who have a performance like Boateng did days ago rarely disappear so soon.
Tesho Akindele, FCD at SEA: For those looking even cheaper than a Boateng or Mancosu at forward, there are a surprising number of options. Kevin Doyle / Dominique Badji, Alan Gordon, Mike Grella and Carlos Ruiz / Tesho Akindele all could prove valuable. I've given Grella a lot of attention in recent pieces, and while I think he's a great play once again, I'll throw out a different pick here. Akindele could be vastly overlooked this weekend. With other attacking options on his team, like Maxi Urruti and Michael Barrios, and players like Kevin Doyle and Alan Gordon punching above their weight class recently, I don't suspect many will opt for the FC Dallas fringe starter on the road in Seattle. However, Tesho nearly always has performed when given the opportunity. He's responsible defensively, physically imposing and a capable finisher. While Urruti will make dangerous runs to open up the back line, and Barrios will try to use his speed to press from the wing, Tesho should be expected to make some trailing runs into the box and bury any scoring opportunity that presents itself. Seattle are in a tough spot, as their fullbacks really enhance their own attack, but activating them leaves their defense vulnerable to one of the league's best counterattacking sides. If Tyrone Mears gets caught upfield, expect Tesho to take advantage.