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Introduction to MLS Fantasy 2016

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This man is not a bad fantasy pick.
This man is not a bad fantasy pick.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

MLS Fantasy is one of the best ways NYCFC fans can engage in the rest the league. You come to learn who the players are on other teams and what their roles are, allowing you to appreciate them much more deeply when they show up in Yankee Stadium. MLS Fantasy also boasts one of the best communities of fans across the teams, as rivalries take a backseat to the thirst for "insider" tips on injuries and probable lineups. If you want to love MLS even better, MLS Fantasy is the best way to start, and so I'm thrilled to be covering MLS Fantasy for you here at HRB!

The plan is going to for weekly fantasy discussion. We're also going to hosting a HRB Fantasy League for the first time this year, the code for which is "1466-717."

BASICS

To start, go to the official MLS website and sign up. It's a fairly easy process to walk through. You'll then be asked to pick your team. You have the option to fill your team automatically, but that's a) no fun and b) your team won't be any good. I suppose if you're in a rush to finish the sign up process though you can let C-3PO fill it out, but only if you promise to return before the Gameweek starts.

MLS Fantasy, similar to the Premier League Version, is not a draft. Instead, you are given a budget of $120 Million and are allowed to select the players to fill your roster. You can pick any player from any team, and you can choose to deploy your starters in different formations (3-4-3, 4-4-2, 3-5-1, 4-3-3 are the ones allowed by the game mechanics).

You have to select 2 Goalkeepers, 5 defenders, 5 midfielders, and 4 forwards. You can have no more than 4 players from each MLS team on your team. An easy starting point is to fill one of the defenders and one of the forwards spots with the cheapest players available (they're called "scrubs" in the fantasy community as they'll almost never play) and then work from there.

After you've done that you can save your team, name your team, and then create and join leagues.

You can tinker with your team with no penalty until the first game starts on Sunday. After that, you have to "transfer" your players in and out of your roster. You are given two "free" transfers a week; any more than that and you will be penalized -4 points for each transfer over your limit. However, like your cell phone minutes a decade ago, if you don't use all of your transfers one free transfer will "roll over" to the next Gameweek, allowing you to have three free transfers for that week. However, only one transfer will roll over, so if you don't use either of your transfer, you'll still only get one extra transfer the next week.

Transfers are probably the most important part of each week, but second to that is setting your "Captain." The "captain" earns double the points! So, if you have Giovinco on your fantasy team and you notice that next week he's playing NYCFC, you captain Giovinco so you can get double the almost 20 points he's certain to get playing against NYCFC's defense.

You also have a one-time only "wildcard." This allows you to make unlimited transfers for one Gameweek without any penalty. The game has two built in "wildcard" weeks in Gameweek 19 and 33 which also allow you to make unlimited transfers.

Finally, if you have a player in your starting lineup that doesn't play any minutes, the game will automatically substitute a player from your bench.  Note this is "doesn't play," not "doesn't score any points;" a zero will not get you a substitution unless the zero comes from the player not having seen the field. The game allows you a manual substitution option, but I strongly advise beginners from attempting to use this option, as the rules for manual substitution make even the most hard-core MLS fantasy players heads spin like that girl from The Exorcist.

Prices

The price assigned to each MLS player changes throughout the year based on performance (not popularity, as it does in the Fantasy Premier League game). Every score is averaged and if a player's game is better then the average score, that player's price will go up $0.1 Million. If the player's score is a lot better than the average score for that position for that round, it will go up $0.2 Million. Player prices can also decrease along the same lines, with .1 and .2 decreases. Additionally, there's an automatic .2 deduction in player price if that player receives a red card. This often results in a -.4 loss of value, which can be very hurtful to your team.

Points System

MLS this year has made a number of changes to its points system to move the game in the direction of daily fantasy games help the game better appreciate defensive challenges. This means the "Total score" that comes up when you're looking to make transfers right now is inaccurate, as it doesn't reflect what the player actually scored. This Google doc put together by @Crollaa and @TravisLuscombe (the latter of whom contributes to the official MLS page fantasy advice columns) shows you what each player would have scored last year under this year's rules.

The details of the scoring are too numerous to go into detail in this post (they're available here) but I'll cover the highlights. For Goalkeepers and Defenders, the bulk of their points are scored when their team keeps a clean sheet (0 goals scored against), which gives them 4 points. For midfielders and forwards, their main scoring comes from assists (3 points) and goals (5 points). If a defender scores a goal, they get 6 points. Each player will get a point for playing, and 2 points if they make it 60 minutes on the field.

All of that is the same as the year before. Players can earn additional points by doing a certain number of valuable activities, and it's here MLS has made massive changes. The highlights of the changes are that shots, fouls against, pass completion percentage and tackles are now part of this structure.

What this means is that Defensive Midfielders, who were basically unplayable before, become viable fantasy candidates, although they still on average score less then your classic central attacking midfielder or forward.  That chart helps you think about which players you want: CAM, CBs, and Forwards (as opposed to poachers, for instance, like Will Bruin) on average are the better fantasy choices then Fullbacks and wingers.

General Tips on Picking Your Roster

I'm going to save discussion on particular players until my next posts, when I hope to cover the question of which players I think are excellent choices. However, there are some general things to keep in mind.

First, while for most of the year attacking players are dominant, for the first few weeks offenses have tended to struggle leading to more points for goalkeepers and defenders. This means that while I'd normally recommend only playing 3 defenders in your starting lineups normally, this is the time of year where you consider 4 defenders.

Second, the most important thing to do whenever you make your roster decisions is to look at the schedule, and that's certainly important here. MLS's schedule allows for "Double Game Weeks" or "DGWs." These DGWs means that in a Gameweek, your player plays two games and gets credited for both games in the player's total game week score. That means that ideally you want a lot of your team to be playing on a DGW on the 11 DGWs there are in this 34 week season. Looking at the first 8 weeks, Colorado, DC United, FC Dallas, Montreal, NYCFC, Red Bulls, Revolution, Timbers, Quakes, Sporting Kansas City and Vancouver all have DGWs. In fact, FC Dallas, Revs, Timbers, SKC, and Vancouver have two DGW weeks in this time. If you're having trouble starting your selections, go look at those teams.

Third, look for consistent starters. Kwadwo Poku might be a great player but he's worthless for fantasy unless he actually sees the field. Putting a guy like Poku who's in and out of the roster and may only get sub appearances is an avenue for disaster. If you're not certain a guy isn't a locked-in starter, look elsewhere.

Fourth, if a player has a super low value compared to the amount of points he scored last year, there's a good chance that's because the people at MLS Fantasy think he's probably getting moved out of the starting lineup or getting moved to another position that will result in less points. If a price is too good to be true, do some digging to see why the price may be so low.

Fifth, don't load up too much on one team. You can have up to 4, but to me, I would normally carry only 2 from each team and a third only if there's a DGW. Having too many players usually means even if the team is successful the players cannibalize points from each other, whereas the downside is that if that team puts up a stinker, you have 4 roster spots not producing.

And finally: don't be a homer. You might want NYCFC to have clean sheets every week, but if you play a defender from our beloved Pigeons, you're insane. Feel free to pick up some Red Bulls players, since they have a really good team.

Resources

The way you still stay ahead of your competitors and moving up the leaderboards in this game is information. The best way to succeed is to be aware of all the information you can know to make the most informed decisions you can. My goal is to bring much of this information here to you each week, but I want to give you an overview. After all, though based on experience, these opinions are simply my own. And the more opinions you have, the better you can understand these decisions.

Many of these resources aren't fantasy-branded. An MLS Live account is a great tool as watching their recaps can be a very helpful way to know how the match really went moreso than the scoreboard. I'd also recommend making sure you read everything written by Matt Doyle (publishes on MLSsoccer.com; @MLSAnalyst on Twitter) as he can describe formation changes that teams are making better than pretty much anyone. These formation changes will often impact how players on those teams (and their opponents) will do in fantasy, so this can keep you a step ahead. SBNation team blogs can also help, no time moreso than now as everyone scrambles to figure out which players will actually start Game 1.

As for fantasy, MLS publishes a fantasy advice column about once a day, although many of those became focused on daily fantasy towards the end of last year. Those columns are a pretty good resource for beginners. However, if you want more in-depth numbers and statistical analysis, MLSFantasyBoss and MLSFantasyViz produce a number of statistics and charts that incredibly helpful. If you're into podcasts, "MLS Fantasy Insider" covers the sport very well.

Reddit hosts a subReddit dedicated to MLS Fantasy as well. This subReddit has fans of each team who will post news and information about their team, as well as be willing to trade advice and make suggestions. If you're starting out with the game, take ample advantage of their "Rate My Team" day in which users post their fantasy lineups and get feedback on ways to improve them.

Finally, feel free to ask me any questions. My twitter is @MikeDatTiger and I'll be happy to help you with any questions you have.

Next Time

I'll be doing a preview of the players themselves coming up this week, with a team by team breakdown by conference. In the meantime, don't forget to join the HRB league (1466-717).  If there's a topic you want me to cover more in depth or if you have specific questions, let me know on twitter or in the comments below and I'll be happy to discuss them.