Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A beginner’s guide to soccer fantasy

I have received some requests from readers asking for a beginner’s guide since many people haven’t really played a soccer fantasy game before. Much of my data is tailored toward people with a basic understanding of how to select their teams, so my goal for this article is to bring everyone up to speed.

Rule 1: Read and understand the rules of the game.
This cannot be overstated. The quickest way to become a decent fantasy manager is to simply understand how your team will score points. Understand the scoring, understand the deadlines, understand how substitutions come into play, understand how the captain’s armband works.

Rule 2: Don’t forget about your team.
I see it happen all the time; people select their team and then just leave it alone. You will not win if you do this. Injuries happen, players fall out of favor, the national team comes calling, your star player’s team doesn’t have a game this week and you left the captain’s armband on him. These are all things that can kill your chances of doing well in fantasy. You have to pay at least a little bit of attention to your team so you can make appropriate substitutions and transfers. You can always check my “Upcoming doubles and blanks” page to make sure you’re staying on top of that.

There are a couple of websites that track injuries that I check the night before deadline. Neither have been updated for this season, but are valuable resources once the season kicks off.

Rule 3: Don’t choose defensive midfielders.
Defensive midfielders are a complete waste of space in your fantasy roster. Players like Alonso, Beckerman, Larentowicz, Juninho, etc. are all important players for their team in real life. None of them will ever find a spot in my fantasy team because their primary role is to win the ball, not score and set up goals. We are limited to only 5 midfielder players for our fantasy teams and there are far more than 5 viable attacking midfielders to choose from.

Rule 4: Don’t fall for early-season over-performance.
There are always a few players who score a goal/assist or two in the first couple games and everyone jumps on board and transfers them in. Sometimes this is the right move, most of the time it’s not. If they weren’t on our radar before the season, chances are their early returns will not continue. Last year had a prime example of this: Juninho scored a goal against Seattle on the opening day and a bunch of fantasy managers transferred him in. They failed to follow rule 2 and Juninho ended up ranking 49th in terms of minutes per point earned for midfielders.

This rule has a bit more leeway than the first two, as sometimes it might be a good idea to bring in a forward or attacking midfielder early if it looks like they will explode right out of the gate.

Rule 5: Pick the stars.
This one seems obvious and most people have it down. If you’re new to MLS and know a player’s name, there’s probably a good reason for that. Players like Donovan, Henry, DeRosario, and Montero are pretty safe bets that anyone should feel comfortable enough picking them.

Rule 6: Don’t pick a bunch of unknown quantities.
This is essentially the inverse of rule 4. Every season there are a few big-name transfers into MLS and a crop of rookies that get a lot of hype and people get too excited and pick those players for their fantasy team. Often, first-time MLS players take a bit of time to get used to the style of play and gel with their team. Based on ownership percentages, it doesn’t look like many players are guilty of violating this rule this season.

This rule isn’t binding by any means. Sometimes it’s a good idea to pick a player or two who you think is going to have a break-out season and is currently being under-owned by other managers. Right now, Grazzini and Koevermans are vastly under-owned in my opinion, but that could be due to neither having a game in the first week.

Rule 7: Pay attention to a player’s actual position.
There are always times where the ESPN game lists a player in a position they aren’t actually playing in. Sometimes this works in our favor, and sometimes it doesn’t. For instance, Sean Franklin is listed as a midfielder and is owned by 13.6% of all managers. He spends most of his time as a defender and was listed as a defender last season. Because of this, he won’t get nearly the same fantasy returns as he did last year and should be avoided completely. I plan to write an article highlighting some of these out-of-position players, so check back before the season starts.

Rule 8: Don’t wear your team colors.
Aside from rule 2, this is probably the most common mistake I see fantasy managers make. If you are a fan of San Jose, you can’t just pick 3 San Jose players while completely ignoring everyone wearing an LA Galaxy shirt. You’ll be missing out on a lot of really good players from LA and might be letting your fandom blind you to how bad Alan Gordon really is for fantasy soccer.

Rule 9: Players generally perform better at home.
Yes, Kei Kamara is good, but, he scored 66% of his goals at home last season. It might be a better idea to start Luke Rodgers playing at home than it is starting Kei Kamara playing on the road. This isn’t always true (Montero scored 75% of his goals on the road), but it generally holds, especially for defenders.

Rule 10: Use your transfers wisely.
We are allotted a ton of transfers in the MLS fantasy game on ESPN, 2 per week if you average it out. It generally is a good idea to look ahead a few weeks when deciding to bring in a player to make sure that the upcoming fixtures are favorable and he will be likely to produce fantasy returns.

However, sometimes there is a single fixture that is just too good to pass up. With so many transfers allotted, it probably isn’t a bad idea to bring in a DeRosario, Wondolowski, or Keane if they are playing at home against a team like New England or Portland who concede a lot of goals on the road.


  1. Thanks for the info and advice. I play MFLS and love it. One problem I have--I can only really afford one (maybe two) star players and still manage to fill my squad with better than average players. Last year I went for an All Star starting 11 and a no name $40K bench--it didn't go well for me. Now I'm taking the completely balance approach--only $335K player I've selected is DeRo (works out because I'm a DCU fan). Overall I think this will work better for me as I'm hoping the level strategy will pay off as my player values rise across the board.

    What say you? Good, bad, or who knows?
    Nick_NE (Twitter)

  2. I placed in the top 25 in MFLS when I played two years ago. I went with a strategy with the 3 cheapest players possible while having 1 back-up at keeper, midfield, and forward and 2 backups for defense. It is especially important to rotate defenders based on the match-ups for MFLS since a single goal conceded loses the clean sheet plus knocks off a point for the goal against.

    I haven't looked at MFLS this year, so I'm not sure where the value is. The trick is to load up on the teams who will have good goal differentials. LA, RSL, Seattle are my top tier with second tier being SKC, Chicago, Dallas, New York, and Columbus.