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Setting some (totally fake) lines for the Conference Semifinals

It’s the Sunday of Conference Semifinals week. We’re so close to actual soccer again, y’all. Until then, though, we have to make our way together. Keep each other company like we’re stuck in a car together on a cross-country road trip. We’re about halfway through that trip which means any actual conversation has died out hours ago, I’ve refused to play your Sarah J. Maas audiobook while I’m driving and one or both of us is annoyed with the way one or both of us is breathing a little too loudly or a little too quietly. All that’s really left is violence. Or we could play some mildly enjoyable car games. Let’s play a mildly enjoyable car game.

This particular game involves gambling. Not actual money or anything, but you could potentially tell your MLS-based group chat – I know you have one in place of actual friends, you’re reading The Daily Kickoff – that you got a few picks right. Here are your totally ungambleable but potentially still intriguing lines for the Conference Semifinals.

Over/under 0.5 penalties converted in FC Cincinnati vs. Philadelphia Union

You won’t be surprised to learn the Union led the league this year in penalties. It feels like they get one every other game. They officially earn 11 this year. Daniel Gazdag took and converted all 11.

But Cincy and Lucho Acosta weren’t far behind. They finished second in the league with nine penalties earned and eight converted. In a tense and physical game, it wouldn’t be a shock to see someone go to the spot.

Over/under 0.5 goals for Duncan McGuire and Cucho Hernandez combined

With the way Orlando have been playing lately, it almost feels like this should be over/under 0.5 goals for literally anyone. But I have confidence in the Crew’s ability to shake the Lions out of their pragmatic shell.

At that point, it feels like it might come down to which one of Cucho Hernandez or Duncan McGuire strikes first. We’re looking at a matchup between two of the best strikers in the league this season in a game where one goal could be enough. Cucho scored 16 times this year, while McGuire scored 13 times. Cucho averaged 0.61 goals per 90, McGuire averaged 0.84 goals per 90, holy smokes. It doesn’t seem like a bad bet to take the over here. But are you really going to put that much faith in a single game that might be more rigid than your average regular season match?

Over/under 16.5% of his team’s touches in the middle plus attacking third for Hector Herrera

The good folks at American Soccer Analysis have a metric called “touch percentage” that’s exactly what it sounds like. It measures how often you’re getting on the ball for your team. This year, in the middle and attacking third of the pitch, no one got on the ball more for their team than Hector Herrera. Herrera averaged 17.1% of Houston’s touches in the final two-thirds. That’s higher than Riqui Puig, Thiago Almada and Bebelo Reynoso. He’s not quite the same creative threat, but everything filters through HH.

Thing is, if I know that, and you know that, then Peter Vermes definitely knows that. Will SKC try to focus on limiting Herrera’s time on the ball or will they try to slow down the Dynamo in other ways? Will the Dynamo try to create against a forward-thinking SKC team in a way where Herrera isn’t quite as involved? That’s for you to decide and for me to sit back and see if it actually mattered in the end while I pretend I knew the answer the whole time.

Over/under 2.5 goals for Dénis Bouanga

Look, I’m just saying, he’s really, really good.

Ok, fine, this one might be a little too straightforward. But I needed to soften the blow for…

Over/under 0.065 G+ differential for Seattle in the wide areas of the attacking third

ASA has a metric called goals added (G+) that works to be all-encompassing in assessing the effectiveness of on-ball actions for a player or team. Those actions can be broken down by individual areas of the pitch. When looking at the attacking wide areas of the pitch in the final third (including the wide areas of the 18-yard-box AKA “The Prime Assist Zones”), Seattle tend to be highly effective. You can see that through the eye test and by the numbers. The Sounders were second in the league in G+ differential in those areas. Basically, they consistently outperformed their opponents when it comes to the effectiveness of their on-ball actions in those areas of the pitch.

Thing is, though, LAFC weren’t far behind. LAFC finished fourth in the league in G+ differential in the wide areas of the attacking third. Seattle’s G+ differential in those areas averaged out to 0.14 per 90 while LAFC's came out to 0.07. If you’re taking the over here, you’re saying Seattle had their typical amount of on-ball effectiveness in those areas. If you’re taking the under, you’re saying LAFC limited them there in a way we don’t normally see. Considering how critical those areas are for Seattle, whoever wins this one probably has a decent chance at winning the game.

So, yeah, anyway, I’m slamming Bouanga over 2.5 goals, seems like a sure bet.

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Good luck out there. Find a way to kill some time.