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MLS Fantasy: Tips and tricks to improve your overall score

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Tips and tricks from playing over the years...

MLSSoccer.com

While there are over 20,000 people who sign up for MLS Fantasy every season, many people have trouble figuring out how to put together quality fantasy squads. In this guide, I will show you how to just that, at least from an intermediate player’s perspective.

I definitely don’t know all the ins and outs, but below is some some helpful advice to help improve your weekly score. To just give you the rundown, there are two parts to this guide:

  • General Tips
  • How to pick your team (tips on what you’re looking for from each position)

Fair warning, this guide isn’t necessarily for beginners; it’s more so for those who already understand most of the basics of Fantasy sports. So let’s get started.


General Tips

Using Your Bench

MLS: Concacaf Champions League-Toronto FC at Colorado Rapids

First, some background information. When I originally joined MLS Fantasy, the rules were a bit different, mainly that you couldn’t change your squad after the week’s first MLS game was played, making it so that the players on the bench were much less useful to the game overall. Therefore, I would put the cheapest players on the bench ($4m) so that I would have much more money to spend on the players who were actually in the starting XI. However, when the ‘rolling lockout’ began a few years back, the role of bench players has become much more useful.

Here’s how I use them:

When you make your team, adjust it at the end so that all of the players that play earliest in the game week sit on the bench. If one of those players performs well and gets a lot of points, swap out one of your starting XI players (often a player in the same position) with a very cheap player that will almost certainly not play. When your Starting XI replacement doesn’t play, the player with the most points on your bench will be ‘subbed in’ (however you can do this with multiple players). What does this mean? It means that the points from that bench player will be added to your score, in replacement of the Starting XI player. Why do this? By putting players who start earlier in the game week on your bench, it makes it so that you can choose whether to add them to your final fantasy score. So, if they perform poorly, don’t sub them on, and keep all of your Starting XI the same. However, if they perform well, sub them on so you can get their points in your score!

I’ll use my squad from last week (where I had 2 substitutions): I noticed that some of my players were performing well on the bench, so prior to the matches of my original goalkeeper and one of my defenders I switched them out for some cheap San Jose youngsters (Bersano and Walls) who weren’t going to play. Since they didn’t play, Eloy Room was substituted on for Bersano (as you can tell with the green font for Room’s score number) and Artur was subbed on for Walls. Notice how Artur and Walls play in 2 different positions but still subbed for each other? That’s because in MLS Fantasy, you can change formations, so in effect, the formation actually went from a 4-4-2 to a 3-5-2; but that is not fully demonstrated well in this graphic.

This tip will raise your score a lot, but it is more so for players who are willing to be a little bit more invested in the game, as you may have to change your squad a few times - so if you’re playing to win you should do this!

Brief point allocation rundown & other MLS Fantasy rules

I really like numbers/statistics and finding trends in them, which I think is a reason why I like MLS Fantasy. That being said, not everyone likes to do this. Regardless, I’d recommend everybody take a look at the ‘game rules’ section on the MLS website as it is quite helpful to briefly look over how points are allocated. A little bit of knowledge of how the game works can go a long way. The game rules will help to give you more insight into what’s valued more/less in the fantasy game, leaving room for you to be creative. Everyone is playing based off the same information, so if you see something others don’t, it can help you draw your own conclusions on how the game works, so that you can create your own strategies!

Double-Game Weeks (DGW)

This one is more for the beginners, but I thought it was still something good to note. If some MLS teams are playing 2 games in a week, make sure to choose some players from them since you have a higher chance of getting more points with those players! In previous seasons, points from both games would be added together to make the player’s final score. However, this season now only the best score is taken from the two to make up the final score. While this makes the benefit of a DGW for a player less, it is still very valuable for you to get two matches to determine a player’s score versus just one. I’m not saying pick all DGW players, but definitely consider using them more than other players.


How to Pick Your Team

Montreal Impact v Toronto FC

Now for the fun part. This part of the article is explaining how to analyze if a specific player is a good pick for an MLS Fantasy team. Think about it as ‘criteria’ for what to consider when picking your team. Picking your team is very much a subjective activity, however, I like to use quite an objective lens to look at what matters when picking the right player.

Tips for All Positions

While some of the tips in this sections are position-specific, I do want to address some of the general things to consider when picking players. These pointers should go along with all positions.

  1. Team Form
  2. Is the team of the considered player playing at home or away?
  3. Look at the ‘total points’ and the ‘average points’ of players — listed right in the player’s profile on the MLS Fantasy website.

The form of the player’s team is very important. The reason being is that if the team is playing quite poorly, it is likely that the player will play quite poorly. However, there are some other ways to look at it: sometimes a team can have a really porous defence of late, but a really good offence. With that considered, it might be a better decision to choose some of that team’s attackers over defenders. On the other hand, if you know a team has really bad defence, it might be a good idea to consider picking attackers on the team they’re facing because they might be able to capitalize on that flaw. Make sure to check the team’s form by looking at the MLS Form Guide, on MLSSoccer.com.

With regards to the aforementioned home or away point, this can actually be a very relevant part of the thought process to determine if a player is right to pick. The reason being is that often times, players play better with home-field advantage, and consequently worse on the road. This is particularly relevant in MLS Fantasy with defenders and goalkeepers. Goalkeepers and defenders make a large amount of their points on good days from getting a clean sheet (5 points). If they even get scored on once, a large part of their points are gone right away. Being that it is uncommon for an away team to not get scored on, it is generally not the greatest idea to pick a defender on the away team. But with midfielders and forwards, you don’t have to worry as much about the goals conceded, and they get a lot of their points from passing (assists being a major part of that) and scoring — so you don’t have to worry about picking away midfielders/attackers as much as picking defenders and goalkeepers.

Now the final point I listed here; it is a good idea to take total points and average points (listed on the MLS Fantasy website) of players in account. The reason being is that they’re a quick way to analyze how a player performs on average, as opposed to going even deeper into statistics and speculation on how the player will play. However, don’t use them as your only method to determine if they’re a good player, because they can be a little misleading to how the player has played of late.

Goalkeepers & Defenders

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Toronto FC

I pick defenders and goalkeepers largely the same way. Here’s some of the main factors I consider when picking them:

  • Pick defenders/goalkeepers from teams that low ‘goals against’ and are facing teams that have low ‘goals for’. - Also, look for teams that have a lot of clean sheets in recent form.
  • Full backs can sometimes provide a bit more points than centre backs.
  • Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

I think one of the problems that many people make when picking their team, is they think ‘what are the best teams in the league?’ and then they proceed to pick players from LAFC, Toronto FC, etc. The problem about that is, you’re not just predicting if a team will have a good result, you need to think about if the team will have a good performance in a desired position. So, with goalkeepers and defence you want to make sure you’re generally picking defenders from solid defensive teams. But you also want to try and make sure, when you can, that they’re playing against bad offensive teams. The reason being is that if a solid defence is playing against a poor offence, that often leads to a clean sheet for the good defensive team. If your player gets a clean sheet, they’re rewarded 5 points, which is a lot for a defender. The easiest way you decide how good a team’s offence/defence is, is by going to MLS Supporters’ Shield standings, clicking on ‘GA’ to see how many goals a team has conceded, and clicking on ‘GF’ to see how many goals a team has scored. You can analyze by yourself whether or not you think the team has a good/bad offence or defence (you’ll get better at this with practice). Also make sure once again, to look at the MLS Form Guide to see how the team has been performing recently.

Now the point about full backs vs centre backs is more up to you to decide. But find from my personal experience, full backs often provide me with a few more points on average because they get assists on the occasion, which gives me more fantasy points over time. So that is also something to consider.

With defenders, this is particularly relevant, don’t put all your eggs in one basket! I know this may sound like I’m doing an investing for beginners presentation, but this is something to consider a lot when choosing defenders. What I mean by this, is that you shouldn’t pick 4/5 defensive players (4 defence + 1 goalkeeper) from the same team, even if you’re super confident they’ll do well! A team could always be upset, and the last thing you want is to have almost all of your defenders from the same team that just lost 4-0! Generally if I’m super confident of a solid defensive performance, I’ll pick three players from the same team, but normally I stick to two maximum if I’m any less confident.

Midfielders

Portland Timbers v Seattle Sounders FC
  • More defensive-midfielders offer more consistent points (tackles add up), while more offensive midfielders offer less consistent points, but will produce more of them in good games (assists and goals). Depending on how much risk you want to take, you can choose, for instance, between whether you want Diego Chara (defensive) or Albert Rusnak (attacking).
  • Consistent performers: one of the reasons why Alejandro Pozuelo ($15m) is one of the most valuable players at the moment, is because he consistently gets goals and assists in every single game. However, while he is expensive, those consistent points can be valuable, especially when trying to pick a captain. Make sure to see how well players have been performing in previous games.
  • How good is your team offensively (more important) and defensively (less important)?

Midfielders are a crucial part of the game. While defenders can offer quite a lot of points, particularly attacking midfielders can offer 10s of points (do you see what I did there?) after merely one good game. A lot of people (including me) like to captain attacking-midfielders who are expensive but generally get a decent amount of points (7+ is fairly good) almost every single game. Last week, I chose Alejandro Pozuelo, and he ended up getting me 14 points, however, he was quite an expensive player then ($14m at the time). Anyway, while more offensive midfielders can be a little more on the risky side for points (because if they don’t get an assist or goal they might only get 1-4 points), more-defensive midfielders can provide consistent performances in MLS Fantasy. Take Diego Chara for example, while he doesn’t normally get 10+ points, he’ll often get 5 points or more based on his passing and tackles. So if you want more consistent, pick a defensive midfielder. Beware though, that they do not have as much potential to generate as much points from a solid performance as an attacking-minded midfielder.

For midfielders, both the team’s defensive quality and offensive quality matter a lot. The reason being is that midfielders are rewarded 3 points if their team gets a clean sheet, 3 points for an assist, and 5 for a goal. With that in mind, attacking quality/performances matter a bit more since you can only get a clean sheet once, while a player can get multiple assists and goals in a game.

Once again, the home or away factor is still relevant with the midfield, however, less so. Midfielders will often still be able to get some decent points while on the road, but I would shy away from picking attacking midfielders who are going to play against really good defensive teams on the road.

Forwards

Los Angeles FC v Seattle Sounders FC
  • How good offensively is the team of the player you’re considering?
  • Quality of opposing team’s defence
  • Consistency of forward (Remember to consider the player’s form)
  • Does the forward you’re considering get assists too?
  • How fit is the opposing team’s defence? (more subjective)

The first two points are very similar to ones made in part about picking defenders/goalkeepers. When considering who to pick, you have to consider is the opposing defence bad or good? And does the forward you’re considering to pick play on a team with a high amount of goals? For example, when I’m picking my forwards, I always think to choose someone like Carlos Vela or Diego Rossi, because I know the team as a whole is good at attacking (and they’re great individual players), so therefore it is likely they will get an assist or a goal at least, while on the pitch. This ties into the next point: How consistent is the forward? Although I know Jozy Altidore is good, he hasn’t scored this year, and has had rather bad fitness, making him unreliable for consistent performances. So I have generally tried to stray away from picking him this season. However, Raúl Ruidíaz on Seattle is quite consistent, always seeming to score a goal or two almost every game. So he is almost always top of mind when picking forwards. Consistency is one of the biggest factors when choosing a midfielder or forward, for me.

Although most people think of forwards as goalscorers, many of them are assist-makers too. While I often consider Gyasi Zardes of Columbus Crew SC to pick as a forward for MLS Fantasy, one of the factors that I also consider against picking him is the fact that he doesn’t get many assists. He gets a lot of goals yes, but I find assists can act as a bit of a safety net to make sure that your striker will get decent points even if they have a bad day with regards to finishing. This is why I often pick Diego Rossi, and consider Christian Pavon (when LA Galaxy is performing well), because they offer both goals and assists.

The final major thing I consider is the speed of the forward vs. how fit the opposing defence is. A lot of the time, when there are too many older, slow defenders on a team, they really struggle when they play against a youthful team. Attacks like Atlanta’s or Houston’s can often lead to absolute trashing of unorganized slower defences (remember Minnesota’s first home opener vs Atlanta in 2017?).

Picking a Captain

NYCFC v Toronto FC: MLS Cup Eastern Conference Semifinal Match

I got this knowledge from an MLS Fantasy Boss post last year, but I thought it would be a good thought process to share for picking a captain. Generally, it is not a good idea to pick a defender or goalkeeper to wear your side’s armband since they don’t have as much scoring potential as a midfielder or forward. As mentioned, a defender or goalkeeper’s points are also very dependent on getting a clean sheet, which can be quite risky.

So, the two remaining options are picking between a forward or midfielder. I generally alternate between them both, but there are definitely arguments to be made towards picking either side. Here is the main difference: Forwards are a more risky pick, as they can produce a really large amount of points (especially if they get a hat-trick), but on the other hand, will produce very little points should they record no assists or goals. Midfielders, meanwhile, are more of a reliable pick, but there is also less potential to get a big points total in comparison to a striker who performs really well. So really, the difference between picking a midfielder or a forward is largely a question of how much risk you want to take.

When I do pick strikers as captains, I generally like to pick someone who can notch assists and score goals just to open up all the avenues towards getting points and to provide assurance if the striker doesn’t have his ‘shooting boots’ on that day.

Anyway, that’s all for my guide on how to improve your MLS Fantasy points weekly. Of course, my thought process and methods are not perfect, but they have been developed and learned (mainly just by experimenting) over the past few years to my benefit. So while you don’t have to think the same way I do when picking your team, it’s always good to consider someone else’s methods to improve your own. I hope you all will have fun playing for the rest of this season! Good luck!