Fantasy: Beasts (and sleepers) in the East

from coaches to players to referees to the little eight-year-olds herding around the ball in a six-minute halftime exhibition. But the great thing about it is that you always feel better about yourself, simply because you obviously know more than that fool does. Well it's time to put your 'knowledge' to the test.

Sign up for the MLS Fantasy Challenge and show the world how bright you really are. Need a little guidance? Not a problem. Every week this column will provide insight on who is being talked about around the water cooler (or Aquafina machine, rather) at MLSnet.com. Find out here who's hot and who's not. Learn who is on the rise and who is on the outs.

This week's column will take an inside look at the Eastern Conference and who are a few guys to keep a close eye on as you draft your fantasy team.

Forwards:

These are your big point-earners, at least in theory. With 75 points collected for a goal, the most important thing is having a striker who consistently finds the net. Be prepared to shell out a good amount of money for D.C.'s Alecko Eskandarian, New England's Pat Noonan or one of the Wiz-Twins (Davy Arnaud and Josh Wolff). Keep in mind that MLS isn't the only soccer being played in this country, so beware of players like Wolff and Noonan that are likely to miss time with their clubs due to national team commitments.

As a secondary forward, it may be a good idea to follow the advice of your financial advisor and diversify. A good complement to a goal poacher may be a quality assist man. It also never hurts to have guys who strike free kicks and penalties (Columbus' Ante Razov perhaps, though he'll have to do a little better than he did from the spot at MLS Cup 2003).

Finally, take a chance. Will Chad Barrett carry his good preseason form with Chicago into his rookie season? Perhaps one of the Q's (Santino Quaranta and Eliseo Quintanilla) will get hot for Peter Nowak's United squad. Other possibilities are new acquisitions such as the Crew's Mario Rodriguez. Remember that a player's past performances both in MLS and elsewhere don't necessarily mean they will light it up in MLS. Think Sergio Galvan Rey, the King of (two) Goals.

Midfielders:
The defensive midfielder is often overlooked and for fantasy soccer, this is often for good reason. Kansas City's Kerry Zavagnin is a very good player, but he's not going to win you too many points.

You need to start with good assist men. Fifty points is the prize for a helper, so players like the MetroStars' Mark Lisi, Columbus' Ross Paule (who also takes PKs, though he too struggled from the spot when it really mattered in '04) and Kansas City's Sasha Victorine. Also in the mix is 2004 MLS MVP Amado Guevara from the MetroStars, though you have to be willing to shell out big bucks for his services.

Players who are capable of poking home the occasional goal are also valuable. The Metros' Eddie Gaven had seven goals and seven assists in 2004. D.C.'s Christian Gomez scored four times in nine games, but he has yet to be put to the test for the duration of a very long MLS season.

Some newcomers that could also make an impact are Chicago's John Thorrington, D.C.'s Steve Guppy and the MetroStars' Youri Djorkaeff (once he is healthy). Again, these guys and draft picks are unproven and some are bound to take off, while others will struggle a little more.

Defenders:

When you choose a defender you are really choosing his entire defensive unit. For instance, Eddie Pope might be one of the best defenders in the U.S., but if the RSL backline leaks goals like his Metros did in '04, he's not going to do you a lot of good.

Shutouts and one-goal games are where these players can consistently help you. If the Kansas City defense is as strong this season as they were last, any of their back four will be good selections. You don't always have to take the biggest name to get the same result, either. Jimmy Conrad costs a pretty penny more than Nick Garcia, but as team performance goes, they're on the same page so Garcia might be the better value.

Having a big guy that goes forward for set pieces and couldn't hurt either. A few goals off the heads of D.C.'s Mike Petke or the Crew's Chad Marshall can make quite a difference.

Goalkeepers:

The most important part about selecting a goalkeeper is picking one who actually plays. D.J. Countess wouldn't have picked you up many points in 2004, for example. Similarly to defenders, goalkeepers are often all about the total defensive package.

If the defending MLS Cup champions struggle in the back after the departure of Ryan Nelsen, Nick Rimando could be a dangerous pick. Zach Thornton has repeatedly proven himself in MLS, but who will be playing in front of him remains to be seen.

Your safest bets from the East are probably Busch and New England's Matt Reis. A dark horse could be MetroStar Zach Wells. An injury to Jonny Walker will give the youngster his chance and having Jeff Agoos in front of him should make his life a little easier.

The season will be here before you know it, so start preparing for the fantasy season now. Check back to find out who in the West might figure well into your starting XI.

Jonathan Nierman and Jason Halpin will provide the fantasy dish each week throughout the season. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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