(With Fantasy MLS growing more and more popular, I figured it was time to incorporate a segment to help provide SBI readers with some insight into the fantasy game. Stephen Zaffuto will serve as the SBI Fantasy MLS expert and give us his weekly take on the action in the official MLS Fantasy Game. Here is this week’s report.)
With a lot of changes to the rules and scoring system from last year’s version, this year’s game is sometimes better, sometimes worse, and always confusing. Because we’re pessimists, we’ll start with the bad: the new scoring system is very unbalanced, awarding a disproportionate amount of points for the achievements of goalies (clean sheets are 20 points!) and making field players more of a crapshoot.
All players are going to be more hit-or-miss due to the fact that players are no longer rewarded points for minutes played, but only personal stats and team performance. Defenders are almost worthless – in fact, picking the wrong guy could be more of a liability than an asset, due to point penalties from receiving bookings. Midfielders and forwards also have it a little bit rougher than before, but there’s still the possibility that a few guys will put up a decent amount of points in any given week.
Now what’s the good news, you ask? You can make money! Well, not real money, but fantasy money to spend toward future transfers. It’s almost like managing a real soccer team, except virtual Wilman Conde won’t beg for a trade and you can unceremoniously dump Dema without worrying about him destroying your entire team, femur by femur, later in the year.
On a basic level, your whole goal is to buy low and sell high on players whenever possible. Well, your goal is really to score the most points, but increasing your budget should help with that in the long haul. Ok, now we sound like Alexi Lalas…
Anyway, it’s pretty intuitive that increasing your team’s budget will allow you to get better players, who in turn will score more points. Since there is only a minimum salary cap ($5 million), your team’s payroll can potentially increase exponentially throughout the year with consistently savvy moves. Each week, we’ll break down certain players into three categories: Fortunes Rising, Fortunes Falling and Off the Radar Sleepers. Without further Edu…
Jon Busch, GK, CHI ($250K) – In this year’s scoring format, goalies are king. A vast majority of the top scorers are keepers, and you will find no better value among them than Mr. Busch. Coming off two consecutive clean sheets, his price tag has inexplicably remained the same, making him much like his namesake in beer: cheap, but effective. Even though the woodwork helped him several times against San Jose, Busch should be a solid play against a KC team that has yet to play a game on proper soccer pitch.
Michael Harrington, D, KC ($443K) – Defenders are nearly worthless. There is no reason to spend money on a defender…unless that defender can score. Harrington is a true midfielder and will probably lead all D-eligible players in points by season’s end. Other than Burciaga and Bornstein, no one else really figures to play much of a role in their team’s offense The best strategy is to lock up Harrington – whose price doesn’t figure to come down – and fill the other two spots with sub $200K contracts who figure to go 90 minutes for a winning side. Which brings me to…
Sean Franklin, D, LAG ($175K) – Home vs. struggling Dynamo
Kosuke Kimura, D, COL ($175K) – Home vs. impotent SJ
Stephen Keel, D, COL ($200K) – Home vs. punchless SJ
Devon McTavish, MF, DC ($220K) – DC’s exit from the Champions Cup allows them to return their focus to league play, and while I like a good number of their players, McTavish provides the best value. Playing games at home against Columbus and Real Salt Lake over the next two weeks could spell an offensive outburst, and while guys like Emilio, Gallardo, Fred and Moreno should get in on the scoring action, McTavish only costs half as much and could potentially put up nearly as many points.
Arturo Alvarez, MF, DAL ($408K) – While Alvarez’ price has already shot up $68K, there is still a decent amount of value here. FC Dallas has shown a very potent offense thus far, and though fellow forward Kenny Cooper might be a better scorer, Alvarez is Midfield eligible and therefore allows you to effectively have up to 4 forwards in your lineup. This week, he will line up against what amounts to a reserve Chivas USA squad missing two key midfielders due to expulsion and nearly every forward on their roster due to injury. Grab him before he jumps to the next price bracket.
Santino Quaranta, F, DC ($200K) – See: McTavish, Devon.
Landon Donovan, F, LAG ($541K) – Okay, okay…so he’s one of the most expensive players in the game. Sometimes you have to pay for quality. Coming off a brace against Toronto, Donovan gets to run at a beleaguered Dynamo defense and possibly backup goalkeeper Tony Caig, who, so far, has looked like someone that SUM brought in to Houston specifically to help market opposing teams’ forwards. In standardized testing terms:
Boswell & Caig vs. Donovan & Beckham = Washington Generals vs. Harlem Globetrotters
Zach Wells & Jose Carvallo, GK, DC ($280K & $245K) – Until this situation is worked out, it’s better to stay away from both. Wait till someone earns the lion’s share, then pounce (see what I did there?).
Jim Brennan, D, TOR ($323K) – Coming into the year, Brennan had some value as a defender who could get forward and was used last year to take free kicks. However, with the addition of Robert and Guevara, it’s hard to see Brennan sneaking any goals, thereby negating his entire value. Save your money. Other notable defenders not worth their dime:
Wilman Conde, D, CHI ($473K), Chris Albright, D, NE ($425K), Craig Waibel, D, HOU ($450K)
Ronnie O’Brien, MF, SJ ($405K) – Can still make things happen, but with mediocre forwards and a team struggling to figure itself out, don’t bother with O’Brien yet.
Shea Salinas, MF, SJ ($380K) – I’m hoping no one actually has him on their roster, but…yeah. Just don’t.
Jeff Cunningham, F, TOR ($400K) – Sure he just scored a game-winner and the team has added a few offensive midfielders who are actually aware that what they are doing is “playing soccer”, but don’t expect much more at this point. He hasn’t been earning consistent minutes and who knows how much longer he’ll be a part of this team. At 400 clams you have many better choices.
Off The Radar
Amado Guevara, MF, TOR ($355K) – The man, the myth, the Lobo. While he may or may not be certifiably insane, Guevara is on form after a successful season in his native Honduras. For a player capable of putting up another year with 10+ goals and assists, as he did a few years ago for the MetroStars, $355K sounds a little low. But then again, he could also revert to his teamwrecker ways and wash out of the league by midsummer. Here’s a loony that says Guevara is kept happy all year through some combination of Mo Johnston’s rosy cheeks, Canadian strip clubs, hockey, and decent beer.
Atiba Harris, F, CHV ($223K) – SOMEONE has to play forward for Chivas USA through all these injuries and suspensions. If Chivas can break out on a counter-attack, Harris has the pace to get himself a cheap one, and reward you for thinking differently.