The 2020 MLS season is less than a month away, with a small niche of players set to immerse themselves within the MLS Fantasy game for another year. For the first time in its 25-year history, the MLS season will start in February, with the regular season ending in October. If you’re looking at playing the MLS’s in-house fantasy game, we give you a taste of what the game is all about ahead of the 2020 season. All aboard.
What does MLS Fantasy feature?
An unlimited number of transfers can be made each week, as long as you can afford the replacement. Spare money is banked. For example, if Carlos Vela is playing for LAFC at 3am in the morning and he’s out of the squad for whatever reason, you can switch him out of your squad until the moment of kick-off.
Why does MLS persist with unlimited transfers?:
MLS clubs are largely in control of their fixture schedules, with some clubs such as New York City FC, who don't own their grounds, having to fit their games around other sporting seasons. This means that the fixture list in Major League Soccer can be a minefield to navigate.
Some Gameweek's only feature a few fixtures, some involve twenty games, teams without stadiums can play away from home for extended periods, whilst summer transfer windows cut right in to the heart of the season. There's a lot to consider and to workaround, which is why MLS Fantasy sees it best to minimise the headaches and allow you to have flexibility with picking your teams on a weekly basis.
The major pro is that you are in complete control of your squad and can look at the fixture list one week at a time. You don't have any loyalty to players as you can draft in players at a whim. You don't have to take unnecessary hits and live with the frustration of injuries in training or during international breaks. In turn, this can lead to tinkering with your squads and taking out players that might end up scoring big points, though you take the good with the bad.
In FPL, prices rise and fall depending on the transfers of players in and out, but in MLS player prices rise and fall depending on the performance of the players.
- If a player does not play in a Gameweek, his price won't change.
- After each Gameweek ends, the game refreshes itself with player prices adjusted.
- Player rises and falls happen typically with $0.5m rises or falls, though some weeks can see players rise by smaller margins.
- If a player scores a hat-trick during Gameweek 1, there’s a high probability that his price will rise again the next week, even if lightning doesn’t strike twice.
For the past two years, MLS Fantasy has split its season in half with a Spring and a Fall Season. At the halfway mark of the season, player prices are reset, as is the budget for the team, as well as if a player has moved position this is adjusted in the game. The only reasoning for this is that team value rises dramatically to the point that players are in auto-pilot picking only the top players – the game attempts to keep us on our toes and ensuring that inactive players are weeded out.
That said, our main wishlist item for next season is to scrap the Fall and Spring season, but still do a price reset at the mid-point of the season. Points total should carry across until the end of the season.
MLS Fantasy is a fluid game. There is no set deadline like in FPL where your teams are locked after a singular deadline. If a player in your squad is left out, you can transfer him out as long afford a replacement. Players are locked into your team once the player’s match begins.
What does the average week look like in MLS Fantasy?:
If you're a committed player, and you have to be if you want to keep on top of your team, you will find that MLS loves midweek games, which means the first initial deadline for Fantasy players tends to be on Tuesday or Wednesday evenings. Double Gameweek's are a regular occurrence, which means as journalists that need to pay attention to the upcoming fixtures, we have to get all of our research done early in the week.
Depending on if there are games in midweek or not, you will likely make a mental note of when your captain is playing. There is no Vice Captain to fall on in MLS Fantasy, so if your main pick that earns you double points does not play, you get absolutely nothing, which means there is a slight effort to ensure you check out lineup announcements from around the league, just in case your chosen pick is on the bench or mysteriously injured.
Veteran players utilise the 'autoroo' loophole in the game to further add to their weekly points returns. You essentially fill your bench with players in earlier games. If they score well, all you have to do is transfer in a player you know won't play into your starting lineup. When the game is over and the player doesn't play, they'll have a 'DNP' (did not play) symbol appear and then your top benched player gets the points. Additionally, if the player doesn't score well, you can still replace a player in the starting squad for a second roll of the dice.
If you're able to keep up with the weekly schedule, once all the game ends, the game has a mini-reset. If games end on Sunday evening, the game is updated with updated player prices, team value, and fixtures, typically on Monday afternoon.
With the game reset, it's time to pick your squad for the upcoming week, with your squad value slightly higher (the case most weeks), with your team over the course of half a season able to afford more of the premium players that you've had your eye on, but couldn't quite afford.
Performance Based Points System:
If like us, you have been playing the Fantasy Premier League game year on year, the general frustration can sometimes be that the best player in a game can get rewarded with absolutely nothing, as the cornerstones of FPL points are built on goals, assists, clean sheets save points for Goalkeeper’s and bonus points. Everything else is arbitrary and for us, it doesn’t really reflect the game of football that you just watched.
MLS largely fills in that void, with matches representative of the 90 minutes you just watched. In FPL a ‘Bonus Points System’ (BPS) is tallied for each player, with the top earners in a single game getting rewarded, though this is largely predominant on the player achieving an FPL cornerstone. MLS Fantasy does away with that and just outright rewards players based on their contributions, creating an overwhelmingly positive scoring system that produces more average points per Gameweek.
This free-scoring system is mainly is advantageous to attacking midfielders and defenders that are in the thick of the action with passes, interceptions, recoveries, and tackles. Forward’s, due to their limited interactions with the ball, are largely reliant on goals and assists to pad their numbers.
Point Scoring in MLS Fantasy:
Playing in a game: 1pt
Playing at least 60 minutes in a game (includes points mentioned above): 2pts
Each goal scored by your goalkeepers or defenders: 6pts
Each goal scored by your midfielders or forwards: 5pts
Each assist: 3pts
Each second assist: 3pts
Goalkeeper clean sheet (must play 60 minutes): 5pts
Defender clean sheet (must play 60 minutes): 5pts
Midfielder clean sheet (must play 60 minutes): 1pt
Penalty miss: -2pts
Penalty save: 5pts
Every penalty earned: 2pts
Own goal: -2pts
Own goal assist: 1pt
Every 2 goals conceded by Goalkeeper's or Defender's: -1pt
Yellow card: -1pt
Red card (includes any yellow card points): -3pts
Every 3 saves: 1pt
Every 35 passes and 85% success or more: 1pt
Every 70 passes and 85% success or more (including above points): 2pts
Every 4 shots: 1pt
Every 4 fouls received: 1pt
How does a player accumulate Bonus Points in MLS Fantasy?
4 clearances = 1 bonus
2 blocks = 1 bonus
4 interceptions = 1 bonus
4 tackles = 1 bonus
6 recovered balls = 1 bonus
Error leading to a goal = -1 bonus
3 crosses = 1 point
3 key passes = 1 point
Every big chance created = 1 point
The nature of the points system, for us at least, means that though there is still an element of luck involved with player picks as MLS is a massively inconsistent league (the better teams can still lose to the worst of sides at a whim), the game offers a more statistical and analytical approach to the game's reporting, which makes mini-leagues ultra-competitive at the top end of the table.
There is Always a Plan B:
The best feature of MLS Fantasy when it comes to picking your team on a weekly basis is the diversity that comes from having an inclusive points system, as well as having a larger pool of players in contention.
We draw from our experience of playing FPL heavily here as we feel that the player prices dictate the exact team to pick. You are pigeon-holed in to selecting a few concrete players, otherwise your season will no doubt fall to pieces. This reliance has created a culture around Premier League players like Sergio Aguero and Mohamed Salah, who are reliable contributors season-to-season, whilst also turning low cost players into legend – Sheffield United’s John Lundstram has become that cult figure this season having started the season at £4.0 million in the game, playing out of position as a midfielder, yet being listed as a defender.
Typically, premium players are capped at $11.0 million to allow room for their price to rise and fall depending on their performances. With each club typically utiilising their Designated Player spots for attacking players, there is a lot of diversity of options, meaning everyone is graded on the same pricing curve. 26 clubs mean that there will always be favourable fixtures in places in the league that you might not have thought to consider at first glance.
This all means that you won’t have a templated team, which is more often than not the case with FPL players relying on a few good eggs. Being able to play your own game, knowing that the outcome might not be completely catastrophic, means you aren’t hesitant on playing your own game without too much added risk – though in instances where one player dominates the game, a scenario last season with Carlos Vela totalling a mighty 363 points, the only time in MLS Fantasy in which a player has recorded 300+ points in a single season, you still have a duty of care to ensure you fit in the essentials.
The Drawbacks to Engaging with MLS Fantasy
The glaringly obvious band aid that needs to be ripped off is the development of Major League Soccer as a whole. MLS is lightyears behind top leagues in Europe and even a step behind Mexico’s Liga MX in the North American continent.
For the 2020 season alone, two new teams have been granted entry in to the league, with Nashville joining the Western Conference, whilst David Beckham’s Inter Miami side join the ranks in the Eastern Conference. There are plans to grow the league even further.
With the league entering its 25th season, there is a big element that American culture is still playing catch up with the growing culture of football and until the game is accepted (if ever) in to the wider culture of society, MLS Fantasy, which typically attracts 30,000 players annually, will struggle to push through as a popular median.
There is also a smaller issue of player attraction, with the league’s development putting big restrictions on bombarding the division with luxury overseas players as MLS executives favour involving its member clubs with community initiatives so young US and Canadian players can breakthrough to a good level. It is a good practise to have, though ‘soccer’ doesn’t act in a divisive nature like the NFL, NBA and MLB do. Currently in MLS, there is an overall wage bill for clubs, with a trio of Designated Players allowed to exist in the club’s structure, which allows players such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sebastian Giovinco and Carlos Vela to add quality and more eyeballs to the game.
Club culture at football clubs in virtually every other country on the planet widely reject the idea of players being traded, drafts for younger players, as fans demand the best product with the best teams formed. Imagine is Trent Alexander-Arnold of Liverpool was the top draft pick and had to go to newly-promoted Norwich. This not only curtails player development, it acts against the best interests of clubs, national teams and the potential financial rewards that happens when good players develop. MLS will refuse to allow this to happen as long as it adds building blocks to its league, otherwise financially powerful clubs such as Atlanta threaten to swallow up the league given how fragile some new teams are – Minnesota United largely struggled in their debut season in 2017, whilst FC Cincinnati were well behind the standard during 2019.
With fantasy football players scattered around the world, time differences play a factor too. Western Conference games don’t typically kick off until 3am in the morning (GMT time), which makes watching Californian teams (LAFC, LA Galaxy) hard to follow, especially as MLS Fantasy is a fluid game where you can switch players in and out of your squads until the second their game kicks off. A few times in the 2019 season, we captained Carlos Vela, only for the Forward to be out injured, or rotated, which means you have to be on the ball with laser focus for 7-8 hours per day, which can become exhausting when you have to monitor team line-ups from halfway round the world – an even more daunting prospect to consider now that the league has 26 teams and 13 weekly fixtures.
All of these outside factors will unfortunately play a factor when deciding whether or not to invest a year of time and upkeep for a game that has most, if not all, of its basics nailed on the head. We’re not saying this because we have a vested interest in making this work, but the game, much like Fantasy Bundesliga, is a more immersive experience and actually rewards dedicated and loyal players, we just want to see MLS Fantasy grow and develop as much as the league has been in recent years.
Want to know more about The Hype Train?
The Hype Train is an entertainment website founded in 2015, specialising in Fantasy sports reporting, starting with Fantasy Premier League (FPL), before expanding to MLS Fantasy coverage in 2018.
We pride ourselves in providing beautiful graphics, statistics, in-depth analytical reporting and free weekly insight for hopeful players attempting to climb rankings tables. We are also occasional media reviewers, with a keen interest to review games, live sport, and professional wrestling.
In 2019, Hype Train Football Club was formed, becoming the first Fantasy Football website to take to the field. HTFC is a socially active team across social and web channels, providing regular match highlights, match reports, comprehensive player statistics and unique player profiles.
The Hype Train were nominated and shortlisted for the 'Best Football Blog' in 2016 by the Football Bloggers Association at their annual Football Blogging Awards (The FBA's), and were again shortlisted as a finalist in 2019 in the 'Best Fantasy Football Blog' category.
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