A daily fantasy football guide to the MLS playoffs
Prior to the invention of daily fantasy football, the end of the regular season typically marked the end of the fantasy game for players. Now, with multiple outlets that allow you to build a team into the postseason, you can still craft a solid fantasy team well into November. These are exciting times, folks.
But where do you start? What’s the best strategy for navigating the postseason when selecting your squads? True, you can look at the regular season stats and records — but anybody who follows any sport knows that the playoffs are a different animal completely. For this reason, we here at fplbet have decided to give you a primer for playing daily fantasy for the MLS postseason.
Know the rules
For starters, you should know that the format of the playoffs consists of a round of knockout games with the home-field advantage being given to the team with the higher seed. After the Knockout Round, the teams are seeded into the Conference Semifinals where each team will play a home and away match that will count towards an aggregate score. After the Semifinals, the Conference Finals will follow the same home and away match play which will again be scored on aggregate. And to round things out, the MLS Finals will pit the Eastern and Western Conference winners in a single match that will be played in the stadium of the higher seed.
With the addition of NYCFC and Orlando to the league this year, the Knockout Round has been expanded. In years past, the top five teams from each conference would advance to the playoffs with the 4 and 5 seeds from each conference playing each other. So that being said, the top three seeds from each conference got a bye in the first week of the playoffs. This year, the top 6 seeds from each conference made the cut, and the Knockout stage has been expanded to pair the 3 vs 6 seeds and the 4 vs 5 seeds. As a result, only the top 2 seeds from each conference got the first round bye.
Here’s the landscape of the first round:
(1) NYRB — Bye
(2) Columbus — Bye
(4) DC vs (5) New England — Wednesday October 28
(3) Montreal vs (6) Toronto — Thursday October 29
(1) Dallas — Bye
(2) Vancouver — Bye
(3) Portland vs (6) SKC — Thursday October 29
(4) Seattle vs (5) LA — Wednesday October 28
Historical context for each round
Even though you may be tempted to look at each match at face value, there are trends that can help point you in the right direction for which type of team to build. We went back and studied the results for the past three years of playoff performances to help paint a picture for what type of games to expect in the upcoming rounds.
Naturally, the knockout round is probably the most exciting. There is no Plan B for teams that fail to score goals in the first round of the playoffs. That being said, the first stat that should jump out at you is that the average goals per game in the Knockout round is a hefty 2.83. In fact, out of the six matches that accounted for the data, there were only two clean sheets out of the twelve teams for the sample set.
And if you think home field advantage isn’t going to matter, you’d be wrong. In the last three years of playoffs, the road team has only won once in the Knockout Round. In short, you’re going to want to play a 3 defender set if you have the option, and all of your defenders should be budget picks from home teams if possible.
After all of the scoring and desperation of the Knockout stage, things grind to a halt once the format moves into a home and away pairing. Whereas the Knockout round gave us a 2.83 average goals per game, the first match of the semis has been a dismal 2.16 goals per game average over the same three year period. And in the first round of the semis, eight clean sheets were recorded in that sample set.
Now, in the second leg of the Conference Semifinals, things pick back up a tick. The average goals per game in the second leg matches was 2.75 goals per game (again, over the last three years). Also worth noting, the home and away feature really diminishes the home field advantage — at least as far as it goes for having the higher seed advance. Over the last three years, the higher seed has only advanced to the Conference Finals 58% of the time.
Right now, the matches for the Conference Finals are set to the same dates — so unless a scheduling change takes place, there should be the required two matches on each day for the required daily fantasy events to occur. With that being said, the first leg of the Conference Finals has a recent history of being high scoring. Over the last three years the average goals per game in the first leg is 2.83. And for the second leg you’re looking at an average of 2.66 goals. But we’ll cover more of the specifics of these unknown matches as we get close to their match dates.
The Knockout Round teams
To get you completely caught up to speed, let’s take a brief look at the eight teams playing this week in the Knockout Round.
(3) – Montreal Impact
Montreal really came alive when Didier Drogba showed up, and that’s pretty obvious to just about everybody that watched him play. But Montreal, like all teams, have a few trends going for them that are worth taking note of. First off, the fact that Montreal are going to be playing at home is no small thing. Montreal were 11W-4D-2L at Stade Saputo this year…and their road record was an abysmal 4W-9D-4L. Montreal also come into this match against Toronto having won their last five consecutive home matches. It’s hard to root against Giovinco, no matter where he’s playing — but Montreal and Toronto followed their scripts this year, and each time the two teams played, the home teams won.
(4) – DC United
DC United really have been a mixed bag at the end of the year. They won two of their last three home matches, but they lost three out of five altogether. With DC, you really have to focus on their home record of 11W-3D-3L as they head into their home match against New England. The big knock on DC going into this playoff match is the fact that they’re the only playoff team with a negative goal differential. And what that basically boils down to is the fact that they can win close games, but when they lose, they lose big.
(5) – New England
New England have a tough road match against DC, but they’re holding their own in the Road Wins department on the year with a 5W-10D-2L record. The good news for New England is that they’ve won three out of their last five home matches. The bad news is that they haven’t managed to beat DC yet this year. It will be a tough task for New England to get this win — but Lee Nguyen had a pair of goals and three assists in last year’s playoffs, so he should be prepared for the big game.
(6) – Toronto
So this comes down to Giovinco…and everybody else on the Toronto team. Giovinco won the Golden Boot, but his team still couldn’t muster a positive goal differential. Toronto scored 58 goals and conceded just as many. So even with the brilliance of Giovinco, Toronto finished the year with a road record of 4W-10D-3L. Can Giovinco overcome the odds this week? He’s worth owning on your team either way — but limit your Toronto choices to him and only him.
(3) – Portland
Portland scored precious few goals this year, just 41 in all. But amazingly, Portland has scored 10 goals in their last three matches, and they took three points from each match in that run. Portland, though shaky for many stretches during the year, have been competent on both ends of the ball when needed. Fanendo Adi finished eighth in the league with 16 goals on the year, and Adam Kwarasey co-led the league with 13 clean sheets on the year. SKC beat Portland the last time they were in town, but Portland have played much better after that game.
(4) – Seattle
When Dempsey and Martins are healthy and playing together, anything can happen. Seattle having home field advantage tips the scale in their favor just based on the amount of fans they can fit in their stadium — but regardless of how they win at home, the fact remains that their home record is 11W-4D-2L on the year. Stefan Frei provided 10 clean sheets on the year (good for 4th in the league) and Dempsey and Co. are now firing on all cylinders in the offense again. Seattle haven’t been shutout in their last eight matches, and they were able to score 3 goals in their last outing. They should be able to give LA all they can handle.
(5) – LA
LA are in trouble. Let’s not mince words here, the superstar team is only super when they play at home. LA are a dreadful 2W-9D-6L on the road this year, and they’ll need a bit of that star power to push them over Seattle this week. Robbie Keane may have finished second in the Golden Boot race, but the LA defense is the biggest worry. Donovan Ricketts, between Orlando and LA, has only managed three clean sheets all year. Asking Keane to simply outscore Dempsey and Martins may be more than LA can manage.
(6) – SKC
What happened to SKC this year? For a while they dominated. And then, as soon as August rolls around, they collapse. SKC have only scored 4 goals over their last five matches — and when you pair that stat with their 4W-9D-4L road record, you have to give the nod to Portland in that match. The only thing that SKC can hang their hat on is that they were able to beat Portland on the road in a 1-0 game this year. No matter how you dissect the numbers, SKC are going to have a rough go of it in the first round.
We at fplbet would like to thank you for reading our MLS tips all season long. We hope that this guide is a benefit to you, no matter where you play daily fantasy.