MLS players are really into fantasy football (the other kind)

The 2022 NFL season begins this Thursday, much to the delight of fans everywhere, and especially those (ourselves) who play fantasy football. The usual ups and downs of fantasy soccer will be felt by millions, including players in Major League Soccer.

In many MLS dressing rooms, fantasy football is a big deal. Like a really big deal.

“I’m a passionate fantasy football player,” said Houston Dynamo goaltender Michael Nelson, who also serves as the team’s fantasy football officer. “It’s getting pretty hot. The guys get into the drafting process, week after week, the trash talk in the dressing room, the controversy over trades…everything.”

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ESPN spoke to players from several MLS teams about their respective fantasy football leagues, and while there are some teams that don’t have an organized league — “That’s pretty sad,” said DC United midfielder Russell Canouse — those revel in the Activity.

Generally, most teams have a 12-team league with 0.5 PPR (points per reception). Ironically, most league commissioners are goalies.

“Usually it’s the smart guys on the team who take over, so I’m not surprised,” said New England Revolutions shotstopper Earl Edwards Jr.

The process of joining the fantasy league is usually open to anyone interested, unless it’s the Seattle Sounders.

“You have to get voted into our league,” said Sounders forward Will Bruin. “If a guy moves from Seattle, that position will open up, but you have to apply. We have two positions open this year.

Edwards Jr. was certain that fellow goaltender Matt Turner would join the Revs’ Fantasy League for the 2021 season, but after returning from last summer’s Gold Cup win with the USA men’s national team (and since from New England had switched to accession). Arsenal) Turner’s plans changed.

“Matt dumped us last year. He was on an all-international team so it would be great if you throw that in,” Edwards quipped. “We thought he just wasn’t bought into fantasy football, but after a few weeks into the season we found out he was in a national team league.”

“Keeper conspiracies and bad chicken wings

Once the league is organized, the next agenda is a draft team selection. It can get hairy here.

Take the 2021 draft of the Revs. Edwards serves as the league commissioner, and he used a “closest-to-the-pin” golf contest to determine draft order — with Edwards’ pitching wedge. Edwards himself emerged victorious, sparking outrage from his teammates.

“They knew the rules in advance; they can’t contest the results after the fact. That’s on them,” said an incredulous Edwards.

Meanwhile, in 2019, Djimi Traore found out the hard way what happens when you skip the Sounders’ draft.

“When Djimi was on the coaching staff, he had a last-minute excuse not to be in the draft and he had first pick. He said, ‘Put me on Autodraft’. This was the year that Andrew Luck dropped out late in the preseason so we made him get lucky with his first pick since he dropped out at the last minute,” Bruin said.

Nashville SC takes their fantasy football very seriously so the draft is a big deal. Just don’t do what Jack Maher did at Dan Lovitz’s draft party last year.

“I ordered food and Jack wasn’t paying attention,” Lovitz said. “He brought 100 dry rubbed chicken wings which were awful and nobody ate. He had to leave them at my house… He brought them from a taco shop!”

To their credit, Nashville found some pretty ingenious ways to determine draft order.

“We found an old horse race where there were 12 horses and the race record was available. I checked the race, got the names of the horses, didn’t look at the odds and results, put it in a random number generator and assigned a horse to each player,” said Nashville commissioner and goaltender Joe Willis.

Once the NFL season gets underway, the banter in the locker room will go up a notch.

“Everybody goes into the locker room and talks about a deal they want to make, a win that just happened. When the season starts there’s always fantasy football talk,” said Dynamo defender Tim Parker.

“The daily chats with news, games, injuries… are great. It creates a distraction that has a positive impact on team culture,” Canouse said.

The teams just have to be careful that it doesn’t go into matchday preparation.

“For a year in DC, Felipe Martins tried to get everyone to agree to a deal with Donovan Pines. I think he was frustrated that the guys said no, and that was about an hour before a game warmed up,” recalled current Dallas FC player Paul Arriola.

Build bonds with teammates from abroad

Fantasy Football is also an opportunity for overseas boys to learn more about US sports culture. Brazilian Joao Paulo in Seattle has become a fantasy football fanatic, Sweden defender Adam Lundqvist in Houston can’t get enough of it, Revs Ghanaian Emmanuel Boateng gets a glimpse of Patriots training camp and Vancouver Whitecaps’ Julian Gressel even plays a league with his brothers back home in Germany.

But as this fantasy season begins, FC Dallas’ Dutch goalkeeper Maarten Paes might be the most intriguing overseas player. New to the US, Paes is trying his hand at fantasy football, although he doesn’t get much help from teammates.

“Ever since I’ve been here, I’ve wanted to learn all American sports. I don’t understand the rules very well, but I love the competition,” said Paes. “My teammates don’t help because I’m up against them, so there are friends who live in my apartment complex and help me.”

Paes, too, quickly learned who considered himself the best fantasy player in the FC Dallas locker room.

“Paxton Pomykal is a guy who is really on his own when it comes to his fantasy football team, so I’m excited to see if he can live up to his own predictions,” said Paes.

If Paes manages to win the league with FC Dallas in his freshman year, he would join a list of iconic fantasy football moments in MLS.

Michael Parkhurst had a perfect season with Atlanta United in 2017, while Nelson rose from a 5-0 start to win the league in Houston last year.

“I’m not saying it was an inside job, but I think there’s something that should be investigated… Maybe a committee should be formed,” said a skeptical Parker.

You’re the last to finish. 5K, Waffle House or Stand Up?

More memorable are the penalties for the boys who finish last. For example, don’t be surprised if you see a Dallas FC player in full uniform running a 5K next spring.

However, when it comes to the last spots, Nashville takes it to another level.

“In the first year, you had to sit in a waffle house for 18 hours and you could cut an hour out of every waffle you ate. This year’s loser ended up eating 10 waffles and only had to stay there for six hours…I know I don’t want to name names but he’s a centre-back with a blonde ponytail,” Willis said.

It doesn’t take long to figure out that would be USMNT defense attorney Walker Zimmerman.

“Our loser from last year will be doing 5-7 minutes of stand up comedy at a local open mic night here soon,” added Willis.

After the MLS season ends, a group text message keeps the trash talk intact, but the real fun is when everyone’s still in the dressing room. Fantasy Football is the perfect antidote to a long and tiring season.

“It’s a fun competition outside of football. He brings people together. You connect and it distracts you from things when things aren’t going well, or makes it even better when they’re going well,” Bruin said.

So as you experience the ups and downs of your fantasy football league this fall, perhaps you can take comfort in knowing that some of your favorite MLS players are experiencing the exact same thing. MLS players are really into fantasy football (the other kind)

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