Do the names Mark Lewis, Hal Jones or Ted Stone mean anything to you?
Probably not, so long as you are not one of the over 3,000 MLS fans who have played fantasy soccer at MFLS.COM.
But to fans of the most beautiful (virtual) game, those men are legends in their own right. Why? Well, they are some of the most accomplished MFLS players in the U.S.
Back in 1996, fantasy (American) football had yet to become the popular juggernaut it is today. Moreover, no one had even really thought about playing fantasy soccer in America. Heck, no one had thought that much about playing actual soccer for that matter.
Yet, MLS fans (Mark Wheeler, in particular) were already hip to the game, and now MLS’s oldest fantasy site, MFLS.COM, which was created prior to MLS’s inaugural season, has returned for its 13th season.
How does it work? Well, each fantasy manager selects a coach, an eleven man squad and a few reserves from the entire MLS league roster. Each week, he puts his best 11 on the field and each individual player generates points by scoring goals, notching assists, shutting out their opposition, etc.
The rules are far too complicated (and depend on which position the player occupies), so I will spare you all the inane details. In short though, players are rewarded not only for individual merit, but also for their team’s performance. As you can imagine, there are not alot of RSL or Toronto FC players coveted by MFLS managers.
Now, I know what you are thinking: “Doesn’t everyone just load their team up with the same all-stars?” Well, no. The reason why? The same reason no one can do it in real life: a salary cap.
That’s right, you can gauge your own general managerial skills against the likes of Alexi Lalas by building your MFLS team within the league’s salary cap. Designated players, like Beckham and Blanco, receive a high, flat salary instead of their actual pay (otherwise, Beckham would exceed the salary cap by himself).
Thus, the key is not actually always having the best player, but the most productive one for the salary. Many people would assume a player like Dwayne De Rosario is a must-have, and he is a good selection (32 points in 2007), but he makes $260,000.00 a year. Meanwhile, the underrated Jesse Marsch of Chivas had almost as many points as De Rosario last season (29), but his salary is less than half as much ($119,000.00).
The key is value, not just points. A team overloaded with high-priced talent could be in trouble down the road when national team call-ups or injuries reveal a lack of roster depth.
And depth is important in this fantasy league because MFLS managers can’t just go around swapping players on a whim (a la Lalas). Since each team gets only a limited number of transfers to use throughout the season, MFLS features realistic managerial strategy at the virtual level. Managers can even decide which formation to play.
A neophyte manager (such as myself last season) may burn through their transfers too quickly and later be unable to unload an injured or underperforming player. Meanwhile, the savvy manager who judiciously uses his transfers can make late season changes that will push his squad to the top of the division.
And the divisions are plentiful. There are several reputable divisions full of die-hard MLS fans. To win in these leagues, you need time, knowledge and luck. But there are also several divisions for beginners and I have found that most divisions are extremely open to new members. My point is, you can play amongst virtual friends at MFLS even if you are the only soccer person in your real-life clique.
MFLS also has a prediction league that is widely played. Though not as fun or interactive as the fantasy game, the prediction league lets fans prognosticate about each week’s games. And its always surprising how well some of the players do. Nostradamus has nothing on Adam Witt, last year’s prediction league champion.
In my opinion, the best thing about MFLS though is that it is wholly and completely unaffiliated from MLS. While, the “suits” at MLS and SUM have a reputation for being notoriously thin-skinned and arbitrarily over-concerned about the league’s image, the folks at MFLS are about fun.
If the site’s creators were only worried about promoting the league, MFLS would lose its grassroots atmosphere and corporate-free charm (and likely its forum, where frank discussion occurs that is not always, i.e. usually not, favorable to the “suits” mentioned above).
Speaking of the forums, they are a fantastic place to discuss MLS (or soccer or basically anything on your mind at all) with fellow fans. Most MFLS players are soccer fanatics who are flat out knowledgeable about the game.
So, this MLS (and MFLS) fan would like to say “thank you” to MFLS for continuing to provide a forum where we can get our fantasy fix.
If we couldn’t get it from you, I have no clue where we would. MLS offers its own fantasy game, but its largely B.S. There are no historic divisions or forums for discussion, and each manager gets a wholly excessive six transfers a week. Basically, with that many transfers, managers do not need to use any strategy regarding their rosters and they can simply ship in and out whole squads of talent based on weekly matchups.
It’s the poor man’s fantasy soccer, even if it does give each player a ridicuolous $100,000,000.00 salary cap. And double points for whoever you designate your captain? Let’s just say the fantasy purists over at MFLS would likely not approve.
So, in short, I recommend MFLS.COM to any fan looking to become even more enveloped in the MLS 2008 Season. It’s as fun as it is addictive.