This article is part of our DraftKings Fantasy Soccer series.
The MLS schedule doesn't often provide us with opportunities for a meaty seven-game slate, but here we are! Ideally, we'll get to see eight of the 14 lineups before contests lock, which is another pleasant surprise since that's usually a weakness of MLS fantasy compared to Premier League. The slate begins with a handful of fairly balanced matches, and ends with what should be three lopsided affairs in favor of the home sides. Expect some wild swings in tournament standings and plenty of scoring to go around.
Every time these two sides play it's a fascinating matchup. Both strive to be very technical, not just with possession, but also the ability to change gears at a moment's notice. With great passers in the middle of the field, and speed on the wings, this matchup often comes down to who finishes their chances better and NYC FC have a distinct advantage in that category with David Villa. After sending out two of the poorer defensive units last season, both New York and Columbus have improved to at least average, with potential for more. As an added storyline to watch, this is a prime spot for Kekuta Manneh to make his overdue Crew debut, likely in a substitute role.
David Villa, NYC at CLB ($10,300): Columbus manager Greg Berhalter called Villa the league's best striker in the lead up to this match, and it would be hard to argue with him. New York's marquee player has scored back-to-back magnificent goals that few players could match, let alone make them look as effortless as Villa did. With a goal and at least five shots in each of his last three games, I'm not letting his missed practice(s) due to illness scare me away from a premier fantasy pick.
Federico Higuain, CLB v. NYC ($7,000): A matchup against Andrea Pirlo is like catnip for Higuain. In a battle of two of the league's most prolific playmakers, at least in their primes, Higuain is likely to come out on top these days. Pipa tends to step up for these big matches, and he should have plenty of opportunities to set up mismatches on either flank with Justin Meram running at Ethan White and another speedy winger attacking the defensively deficient Rodney Wallace. It's been a chore to decide between the great Justin Meram and resurgent Higuain this season, but with Pipa coming at a $900 discount this week, I'm less torn.
At their respective prices, I'm rarely going to consider Ethan Finlay ($6,600) and Niko Hansen ($5,200), but this week is an exception as both could thrive in this matchup. NYC have values all over the field if you want to supplement David Villa or just get some City exposure. Jack Harrison ($5,500) and Ethan White ($3,600) stand out the most.
Most notably, this match marks the return of Dax McCarty to Red Bull Arena after the team shockingly shipped him off to Chicago in the offseason. Few players felt as intrinsic to a MLS club as Dax did to the Red Bulls, and while he undoubtedly will handle his return with class, he would also like nothing more than to exact vengeance against team management for how the whole ordeal was handled. While this game has potential to be quite captivating, I would expect a tightly contested and fairly defensive match instead of a fantasy friendly goal-fest.
Nemanja Nikolic, CHI at NYRB ($6,600): While Chicago have quality spread throughout their side, it's difficult to pick any single player to be a fantasy standout. What is almost certain is that their target forward, Nikolic, should get on the end of a few chances in a match where the team will be highly motivated. He's fairly boom or bust, obviously depending on whether or not he bags a goal, but at a $3,000 discount to Bradley Wright-Phillips on the opposing side, I think this is a good value play for fairly equal upside.
Daniel Royer, NYRB v. CHI ($5,700): In a surprising turn of events, Royer stepped up to take New York's penalty kick last week over both BWP and Sacha Kljestan. Since arrival, Royer has been a player that obviously has the quality to contribute more than Jesse Marsch has been able to get out of him. He's not a crossing machine, or playing in a great position for goal scoring, but he chips in a little bit everywhere and is a quality real-world MLS player. In a match where Chicago could limit New York's attacking stars, I think Royer is a smart way to get exposure to a good home attack without spending all of your cash on players likely to underperform.
It's certainly storyline related, but Dax McCarty ($4,100) genuinely jumps out as a legit option. He has a high single-digit floor in this match and will be a "discounted Bastian Schweinsteiger" more often than people think this year. Jorge Bava ($3,800) fits the mold of a cheap keeper who could earn plenty of save opportunities.
In a matchup of two of the league's most interesting teams, it's a shame that Diego Valeri is set to miss the match. Regardless, we still have plenty of great tactical matchups to watch for. Fanendo Adi is coming off a suspension last week, and while he typically presents a huge mismatch for opposing sides, Matt Hedges and Walker Zimmerman are an elite centerback pairing in Dallas. Each side boasts defensive midfields that nearly any team in MLS history would be enviable of, too. Former Timber, Maxi Urruti, had a couple of great outings against his old squad last season and it will be interesting to see if Portland's back line can deal with his work rate this time around.
Sebastian Blanco, POR at DAL ($7,500): Compared to expectations, Blanco has been relatively disappointing this year, despite reaching double-digit scores more often than not. Without Valeri in this match, it's Blanco's time to step up to the plate and create chances for the league's most dangerous attack. It's certainly a challenging matchup, but with talents like Darlington Nagbe and Adi still alongside him, a player with Blanco's quality has no excuses against any MLS side.
Hernan Grana, DAL v. POR ($4,700): Grana undoubtedly has some of the most attacking quality from the fullback spot in Major League Soccer, but it has only intermittently surfaced this season. Too often, he's overly aggressive or fails to string the final attacking play together as needed. That said, he still has 29 crosses in just four matches. This game features other talented defenders in Kellyn Acosta, Alvas Powell and Vytautas Andriuskevicius, but Grana stands out as the best balance of cost and production.
Darlington Nagbe ($5,500) could also step up in Valeri's absence, and he's extra intriguing after his jaw-dropper of a goal last week. Ruthless finishing has always been the one element of his game that is lacking, so when I see glimpses of it, it's tough to ignore. Kellyn Acosta ($5,100) is always in consideration, and if Dallas play with a lone striker rather than in a 4-4-2 formation, I like him even more. In his last start, Cristian Colman ($4,900) fired an ambitious five shots in 58 minutes, but none were on target.
One of these teams has the defensive aspect of MLS play figured out, and the other has the attack. Whichever one can shore up their weakness the most should prevail in this fantasy enigma of a match. Also worth noting: Kevin Molino is listed as questionable and his absence would be quite a hit to Minnesota's offensive outlook.
Jahmir Hyka, SJE at MIN ($5,400): It's not saying much, but Hyka continues to be San Jose's best creator offensively. Of players with more than 300 minutes, Hyka is tied for fifth in expected assists per game (via American Soccer Analysis). Given United's defensive struggles this season, albeit less lately than in March, Hyka playing crosses into Chris Wondolowski isn't the worst recipe for fantasy success. I like both the floor and upside for Hyka in as good a road matchup as you'll find this year.
Jerome Thiesson, MIN v. SJE ($3,400): The DraftKings box scores don't show it, but Thiesson plays a big role in supporting Minnesota's attack. Getting a home fullback with this much quality at this low a price is a rare occurrence, and a stack with Thiesson and Christian Ramirez would make for an interesting tournament strategy.
Minnesota United has some good values if you trust that they'll create offense. Ibson ($3,700) has emerged as a great passer in the central midfield, while Miguel Ibarra ($3,600) showed more versatility along the front line than his true winger role typically allows. If you're not going to play Chris Wondolowski at $7,000 in this matchup, I'm not sure you ever are, but that's totally reasonable either way.
There's a clear favorite in this latest rivalry fixture and it's Sporting Kansas City, who have kept four clean sheets in seven 2017 matches. In the other three, they only allowed one goal each. Real Salt Lake have opened up their attack under new coach Mike Petke, but it may only leave them more vulnerable in the back rather than help to break through the rock solid SKC defense.
Dom Dwyer, SKC v. RSL ($8,700): Dwyer will not have trouble getting motivated for this matchup. While he can be a streaky scorer, his work rate makes it almost inconceivable that Real Salt Lake will be able to keep him from influencing this match. With Benny Feilhaber continuing to fly under the radar as a top MLS distributor, Sporting's speed on the wing, and their reliability with Ilie Sanchez and Roger Espinoza in the middle of the pitch, Dwyer should once again thrive at the top of the attack.
Benny Feilhaber, SKC v. RSL ($8,300): Given the other options on the slate and Sporting's inability to score in bunches in recent memory, I'm unlikely to go with both Feilhaber and Dwyer. However, both stand out equally in terms of quality of play and matchup. Feilhaber is also tied for fifth in expected assists per game from players with at least 300 minutes this season. Where you choose to fit value players positionally in your lineup likely determines whether you'll be targeting Dwyer or Feilhaber, but both make for great options.
I remain impressed by Gerso Fernandes ($5,400) but would like to see more shots or assists created as a result of his dynamic play on the wing. With even more freedom to attack under Mike Petke, Albert Rusnak ($8,400) will likely be in fantasy consideration for the foreseeable future regardless of matchup.
Barring a complete and total fluke, Seattle are the only side worth considering here. New England have produced offensively far better than they have appeared offensively, and at some point that will come to a halt. Even with a fairly depleted defensive group, I like Seattle's chances to earn a clean sheet and score multiple times as New England venture across the country for a largely meaningless game.
Nicolas Lodeiro, SEA v. NER ($10,800) and Clint Dempsey, SEA v. NER ($8,800): Last year's catalyst in the Sounders' Cup run is back at it again. Over his previous four matches, Lodeiro is averaging more than 11 crosses. Questions about whether he and Dempsey could coexist in the same lineup have largely been quelled. Instead, Dempsey and Lodeiro seem to be trading outstanding attacking output in meme-worthy "Hold My Beer" fashion. For his part, Dempsey has taken seven shots in two straight matches. These two players could have an absolute field day against a Revolution side that often lack ideas and purpose, and in contrast to Dwyer and Feilhaber, I can totally justify opening the wallet for both.
Joevin Jones, SEA v. NER ($5,400): For this brief moment in time, Jones has assumed the role of best attacking fullback in the league. Harrison Afful, Justin Morrow, Taylor Kemp, Chris Tierney, Ronald Matarrita and several others have all staked their claim to the throne in recent times, but the less polished Jones is outworking them all. In a great matchup, with dynamic players to play alongside when he pushes upfield, Jones is the standout pick if you're intent on spending up for a defender. Only the aforementioned out-of-position Kellyn Acosta can make an equal case.
Jordan Morris ($6,500) was moved to the wing last match and subsequently scored just his second goal of the season. It's tough to stomach Will Bruin up top for the reigning MLS Champions, but if it makes Morris more comfortable and bumps Harry Shipp from the starting 11, I can deal with it. Diego Fagundez ($4,900) is playing well and remains inexpensive if you for some reason must make a New England selection.
Here's another tough road match for a team flying all the way across the country. While I think this is a third straight lopsided match for the home team to end the slate, I can envision a world where Philly surprises us. These teams' combined 2017 points total a measly nine, which would still sit outside the playoffs in either conference. Although the Union blew a three-goal lead last week to continue their miserable start to the year, they've shown periods of good play during most of their recent run of fixtures. Ultimately, this match could go any number of ways, but I think the Galaxy get it done at home.
Giovani dos Santos, LAG v. PHI ($4,600): When somebody pointed out dos Santos' price to me this week, I didn't even believe them. This is an absolute steal for a player who has been a fantasy must-play previously in his short MLS career. Sure, his start to 2017 has been slow, and newcomer Romain Alessandrini has overtaken most set-piece duties and largely carried the attack, but we're talking about a player who ended last season (and began this one) with a $10,000+ salary. For his part, dos Santos has attempted multiple shots in every game he's played more than 45 minutes. I fully expect the production to come around for one of the few players to get double-digit assists and goals last season.
Roland Alberg, PHI at LAG ($5,000): Speaking of good values, we have Alberg coming off a brace last week. In his short time playing in the United States, Alberg has always been hot and cold, and whether or not his coach trusts him still is up in the air. However, with the Galaxy being a defensive mess to start the season, I think Philadelphia find their chances and there's a good chance that Alberg will be involved. Haris Medunjanin is $100 cheaper and has a much better floor, given set-piece duties, so pick your Union player based on what you feel you need to round out your lineup (or just jump on the Giovani dos Santos rollercoaster with me).
What Romain Alessandrini ($11,500) has done offensively this season cannot be understated, but man is that a hefty premium to pay when Lodeiro is on the board for less. At some point Alejandro Bedoya ($3,800) has to produce like the leader of this team instead of just acting like it in the media after each loss. I've tried to time his breakout game this season several times with no luck, but if you really want to go cheap in the midfield, he could pay off.