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Fantasy EPL Methadone: Major League Soccer Fantasy

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As many of you who came over with Jeremy and me from our fantasy blog know that we are basically incapable of going any amount of time without our fantasy soccer fix. As we transition from doing things on our own to having a great wealth of resources available to us here at SBNation.com it has become apparent that it will be easier for us to provide some solid information on MLS Fantasy this year because we have a wealth of MLS team-specific blogs to use to start doing our research. With the EPL and MLS seasons overlapping the hardest part of providing useful data for MLS fantasy players in seasons past has been doing the research necessary to do good previews while simultaneously doing our usual EPL work plus, you know, our day jobs, and paying attention to our families/social lives.

When we have to choose, we make sure we take care of our EPL duties because we know that most of you are with us for the Premier League fantasy games. Many of you are from outside of the US and may have no interest in MLS, no access to MLS or in some cases both. However, in an effort to continue to push the envelope we are going to try to do some MLS this season and maybe even bring in a guest or two to help us out. For those who are interested, we hope you join us. For those who aren't, please feel free to ignore the MLS-related posts (we'll try to keep them fairly well marked).

To start off the process, I'm going to do a quick breakdown of the two most popular games. As some of you know, we standardized on the ESPN game last season and this season MLS itself has renovated and looks like it has something worth considering.

If you move past the jump, you'll find my breakdown of the two games so you can make an intelligent decision as to which one you want to play.

The Breakdown

Rather than doing serial reviews of each game, I'm going to discuss the various facets of a fantasy game and tell you what I like and dislike about each game with respect to that facet. At the end I'll give an overall opinion on which one I like more (although the chances are I'll play both).

Points

The good news (especially for us writers) is that the two leagues are very similar in what statistics they give credit for and even how many points they assign for each of those things. For those who play the Premier League's fantasy game, you'll be fairly familiar with the scoring system as it is also fairly similar to that game. The one key point of differentiation and one I like as someone who favors the Yahoo.com EPL fantasy format over the official Premier League format is that the MLS game gives players credit for what we like to call Phantom Points.

The MLS scoring rules list the standard points system common to them and ESPN but they then have categories called "Attacking Bonus" and "Defending Bonus". The attacking bonus assigns 1 additional point for every 3 successful crosses OR every 3 "key passes" OR every "big chance created". Additionally, the "Attacking Bonus" can be negative for a player who spurns a "big chance". There is also a corresponding "Defensive Bonus" based on numbers of passes intercepted, blocked shots, or clearances with downside potential for "key errors".

All things being equal, I like the MLS scoring system more because it is more complex and that's what I like in my fantasy games. It feels like it is a more accurate reflection of the players who contribute to the real game on the field. The only concern that I have with the way MLS is going about this is that having a step function to get a point (3 successful crosses = 1 point but 2 successful crosses = 0 points) seems wrong. I like the idea that when one of my players does something I can be reasonably assured that it will show up in my fantasy score. Things like assists and SCs are already a bit subjective but if I have to worry whether a) something is a SC in the first place AND b) if my player has enough of them to get a point for it then I could see being frustrated by it.

Advantage: MLS (but we'll see how they implement the "phantom points" thing)

Transfers

The thing that frustrates me about the official Premier League game is the limitation on free transfers. The MLS options have me frustrated from the start because both of these games have their own variations on the transfer limitation theme. The thing that is interesting here to me is the difference between the two games and how they handle the transfer limitations. ESPN splits the season into two "segments" and gives you a specific number of transfers that you can allocate in any way you see fit over the course of that segment. The flexibility there is nice but the downside is that once you're out, you're stuck with your roster. The MLS game is very much similar to the Premier League official game in that it allocates managers a specific number of free transfers (either 1 or 2) each week but then allows you to buy more for the cost of 4 fantasy points each.

Of these two sub-optimal options, I like the MLS/official Premier League set-up more. The drawback of the ESPN approach is that toward the end of their "segments" you may well find yourself in a pretty rough situation. Injuries, something that a fantasy manager has little to no control over, may force you to use transfers at a higher rate than you would like from a strategic standpoint. In the MLS version you would have to pay, in the form of paid transfers, to get out of that sort of bad luck but you could at least have the option. Last season in ESPN I found myself with a spate of long term injuries to expensive midfielders (Ferriera, Zakuani, and a few others) which meant having to replace them and running out of transfers a few weeks before the end of the segment. With no alternatives I ended up taking a couple of zeros in my line-up because I had an injured player on my roster and other players who weren't playing in a given match week. Very frustrating.

If you're wondering about why I am frustrated by the transfer limit thing it is as much because I write about fantasy as for game playing reasons. Trust me when I say that it is hard enough to account for all of the scenarios that fantasy managers may be facing even with unlimited transfers (e.g., holding players at discounts, different amounts of money available to fill a position). If you throw in a limited number of transfers then it becomes exponentially harder to answer a question like "should I switch out Landon Donovan for Andy Najar for this coming weekend?" To give you a decent answer I'd have to ask you five or six more questions.

Advantage: MLS (but neither are great)

Rosters

Both games have the same make-up. You must have 15 players on your roster each week broken down as follows:

  • 2 Goalkeepers
  • 5 Defenders
  • 5 Midfielders
  • 3 Forwards
You have the option of multiple line-up types all of which will mean that 3 players will end up on your bench each week. In both cases you are only allowed a maximum of 3 players from any given team during the regular season. The interesting thing about the MLS game here is that it continues into the playoffs and the roster limits change to allow more players from a given team at various stages of the playoffs.

Both games allow you a Captain (that doubles your points) and automatically substitutes players for you based on the priorities that you indicate. The MLS game allows you to designate a Vice Captain who will be promoted to Captain in the event that your Captain plays zero minutes that match week.

Advantage: MLS (but only slightly as they're very similar)

Usability
This is a little bit of a tough category to judge at this point. I have a year of experience in the ESPN game so I know all of the upside and downside whereas the MLS game is new to me in that I have only used it to create and select a team. I am guessing that the MLS game will mirror the Premier League game (in fact I wouldn't be surprised to learn that they share a common platform from Opta or something like that). There are things that are better about each. I don't like the way MLS uses so little screen real estate for searching players. On the other hand, I don't like the way ESPN's system "thinks" when you ask it to make a change and (more than) occasionally fails mid-action and forces you to start a transaction over. Neither game is tragically flawed but both will take a little getting used to.

Advantage: None really

Overall, I think I'll end up liking the MLS game a little bit more. The one random factor that might push me toward the ESPN game at the beginning of the season is that my knowledge of MLS rosters isn't nearly as good as it is for the EPL and the way beginning of season pricing is working I can afford more MLS players I've heard of in the ESPN game. A small thing but until I get better up to speed on MLS rosters the notion of having tight limits on transfers combined with high prices for "known" players (even only slightly above average ones) means I'm already frustrated with the MLS game as I try to create my first pre-season line-up.

For those interested in the official MLSsoccer.com league, I've created a private league called EPL Methadone that has a code 2423-687. Please feel free to join up.