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MLS Fantasy Rekrap: Fantasy Draft Time Treatise, Part 1

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The Basics

Hey, you know who I like – who? Matthew Berry. He writes NFL Fantasy columns for ESPN and is wrong a lot but is still super popular and does the thing where he talks to himself in his article. Oh yeah, every year he writes a draft day manifesto, I should do that. I should call it something else though or he might send an army of Disney lawyers to the fantasy soccer hovel I live in and turn off my internets, here it is the, uh, MLS Fantasy Draft Time Treatise, that should be different enough to stand up to a legal challenge.

First, this is a little long, I know DSS is a blog not a book club, but this is important so pay attention. I’m like the Martin Luther of soccer nailing 95 theses to the door of the church but mine will be shorter, less significant, and won’t spark 100s of years of wars that Europeans will look back on as a cornerstone of civilization when they go onto make genocidal judgments about people in countries they want to colonize. That got bleak, without further Adi, here goes.

If you’re still with me, go join our league. We have some amazing team names in the league so far. There’s ‘Almiron Places,’ ‘U Kann Do It!,’ ‘Kings deLeon,’ ‘Kendrick Lamah,’ and ‘Villalba having fun.’ Clearly, I like puns (sorry).

This season will ask many questions: How many points will Atlanta win the league by? Does the new pricing and points system justify playing a 4 man backline? Will NYCFC sell enough Pirlo jerseys to win the MLS Cup? Will anyone come within 100 points of Tito Villalba’s total? Can Minnesota United come back from their early playoff exit last season to win NASL this season? How upset will you be when you forget an international break in the middle of the season and lose head to head to a zombie team your annoying co-worker hasn’t checked on since week 2? Will it take you a long time to learn not to pick too many players from one team in case there is a red card, blown ref call, or questionable PK? Is it ever appropriate not to captain Giovinco? What should I name my team?

Very little of that and more will be discussed below.

The Basics

Seasoned players may be familiar with this, but since Atlanta United is new to MLS this may be the first time playing for some folks, go read the rules. That has info about scoring, how many players from one team you can have, etc.

If you are already familiar with the rules, you may have missed a change this year. There are unlimited transfers in every round and week one is called the Opening Weekend Challenge. The first game week won’t count towards your total score but the overall winner this week will get some TAM (not really, you get $200 for MLS gear, a game ticket, MLSLive Subscription and other goodies). So if you want to get weird with things, week one is a freebee.

So Matthew Berry has a lot of material to work with because fantasy football runs draft leagues and there is more competition for top scoring players, what are you going to write about to discuss scarcity? The Budget!

We have $100 for 15 players, last year it was 16 players at $120. That means we can’t get the all of the best players in the game and may have to resort to picking guys in places that might be a liability, now I know how Orlando City fans feel looking at their team.

I think the best way to allocate the $100 is with $16-$17 on bench players (including a bench keeper), don’t spend a lot of money on the bench, the players on the field get you points, not the ones on your bench. $4.5-$6 on a keeper, $13.5-$18 on defense depending on if you play 4 in the back and if you want a higher priced defender in there.

Next, spend $48-51 on players in the $9-$12 range in midfield and forward and one midfielder/forward in the $7-$8.5 range. In general, you will not be smarter than the game. There is a reason that Ignacio Piatti, Sacha Kljestan, Giovinco, David Villa, Diego Valeri, Bradley Wright-Phillips and Ozzie Alonso were so highly owned last season, they scored a lot of points and you have to have points to win the game.

For the most part these players will score the bulk of your points. The part you have to figure out is when they have the best matchups and who else will contribute. The midfielders and forwards in the $7-$8.5 range who put up good numbers where ownership levels are lower are where the points that will put your team ahead of the pack will come from.

Captain Picks: Look at the matchups and pick a top attacking player and rotate based on if they are playing Houston or not. OK don’t always pick who is playing Houston, but there are good players playing bad teams every week, get one of those players as your captain. Another popular strategy is to captain a player on a team with a double game week (DGW) even if that player isn’t elite, this bets that the number of minutes played translates to more points even if that player isn’t a top player. If you have more than one player you’d like to pick but don’t know what to do and can’t trust your judgement try this.

Injuries: MLS is not the NFL or MLB, there’s an injury list but teams aren’t penalized for not providing accurate information for it like in football and there’s no DL for roster moves like in baseball to incentivize honesty. MLS managers are always looking to gain an edge and keeping injury news in the dark is one way to disrupt their opponent’s game planning. You can find the injury list here but also follow the MLS Injury News twitter account for updates.

Discipline: This is a league of rules everyone, this is soccer Donnie, it isn’t Nam. The MLS disciplinary committee, or DisCo if you are into the whole brevity thing, hands out punishments to players for red cards, dangerous play, accumulation of yellows, and in some cases it doesn’t.

There are good behavior incentives and at times what looks like preferential treatment given to the David Villas of the league. It largely resembles the indulgence system of the pre-reformation Catholic Church but somehow makes less sense. I suggest checking the list every week, you can find it here.

Switcheroo: If you want to go for a sneaky move, try this. Pick up two players you want to have in your lineup, let’s say they are Joao Plata and Dom Dwyer but your team is so good that you can only pick one of them for your starting 11. At the same time you are worried Plata might not have a good game, here’s what you do. Start a scrub player at forward who plays in a game later than Dwyer’s, put Plata as first sub on your bench and Dwyer as second sub.

If Plata doesn’t do anything, sub Dwyer in for the scrub before the SKC game starts. If Plata goes off, leave him on your bench and he’ll autosub all of his beautiful points for the scrub. The move in the example only works if Plata’s game is before Dwyers since you won’t be able to move Dwyer in for the scrub after his game starts. Obviously, timing is everything with this move so don’t forget to make the change for that second sub if your first one doesn’t get the score you hoped for or your carriage will turn into a pumpkin.

Formations: Last year I didn’t think there was any reason to play any formation other than 3-4-3 and 3-5-2. This year might be different. We have less money and defenders are a good bit cheaper than mids and forwards who scored a similar point total last season. For example, Walker Zimmerman costs $6.5 and scored 169 points last season. The highest scoring midfielder at $6.5 this year is Sam Cronin with 132 points. Walker Zimmerman scored more points than the 17 midfielders who scored between his 169 points and Cronin’s 132 and are all priced higher than him.

I think this might be the year to buy one or two premium priced defenders in the $5.5-$6.5 range and play a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3, and I’m having an existential crisis. This will allow you to have a higher priced front 6 with a high scoring defender rather than having the super cheap defenders of dubious talent and a front 7 with a player who didn’t score more points than Walker Zimmerman or Axel Sjoberg last year. It should be noted that trying to guess clean sheets in MLS is very tricky because it seems like defenders start giving up after the game hits the 75 minute mark sometimes.

Set piece takers: Free kicks, corner kicks, and obviously penalty kicks all offer players more chances to get assists and score goals. If you know your set piece takers it can help decide between two players on one team that you like a matchup for.

Home and Away: There are some nifty charts about defenders, midfielders, and forwards not scoring quite as many points on the road as at home. From a strategy perspective it means go after players on home games with good match ups. Some players are fixture proof - like Giovinco when he’s healthy, Nico Lodeiro when he wasn’t suspended, and Ozzie Alonso when he wasn’t with Lodeiro in the principal’s office.

Positional breakdown

Goalkeepers: Pick one who is starting and has a good matchup.

Defenders: The highest scorers are generally center backs who rack up clean sheets and earn points on clearances, tackles, blocks, and interceptions. Left and right backs do get forward for an assist here or there but aren’t as likely to get as many points as center backs. This is a risk/reward position though. Low risk players are center backs who can get bonus points if they don’t keep a clean sheet and high risk ones are left and right backs who need a clean sheet or assist to have a decent score.

Midfielders: There are two types who score points in the game. #10s who are the center of their team’s game plan, take some set pieces, and chip in on assists, goals, and rack up passing bonuses. The second type are holding midfielders who get some of the defending bonuses and also connect a lot of passes. Wingers are flashy and everyone loves someone bombing down the touchline but they need to put up a goal or assist to get a high score, consider them for a punt but know that they are boom or bust.

Forwards: Forwards don’t have as many chances to score the bonus type points for passing or defending but they do score goals which is how to get the most points in the game. As a kind of ideal, I typically avoid picking defenders playing against forwards I have. It might work out that one will benefit from the other failing, but I think it guarantees that I’m leaving points on the table that I could get from another matchup.

One last note before wrapping up. Rosters for fantasy lock and transfers must all be made and your lineup saved at the time the first game of the week kicks off. So this week all of your picks have to be in by 9:30PM EST. Usually teams drop their 18s an hour before kickoff. Keep an eye out for that on Twitter and get ready accordingly, this is also why I wait until the last minute that I can before finalizing my team. You can switch players from your bench to your starting lineup before those players’ games kick off though or rely on autosub to make changes for you if a player doesn’t start.