yes, Rob does a lot of inquiring -- about the MLS Fantasy Challenge. My response, and I quote: "You can't handle the truth about my fantasies."
(The truth, of course, involves Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton, an automatic garage door opener, and a recreation of a scene from "9 to 5" -- minus Dabney Coleman. See, I told you Stone couldn't handle the truth. Probably doesn't want to, either.)
Stoner's e-mail also reminded me that amid the chaos of the umbrella-drink festivities surrounding MLS Cup, I never took the opportunity to gloat about winning my fantasy division last season. That's right, I may have never won an MLS Cup or the NCAA championship (heck, my Brown Bruins never even made the tournament), but I kicked everyone's butt in the 2004 MLS Fantasy game!
In fact, 2004 marked my first foray into the MLS Fantasy Challenge. I did it on a lark as a way to be one with my people: the fellow soccer junkies with nothing better to do than surf the web and wonder if Cornell Glen can keep scoring. I joined a random division, something like Division 397463965 or some other easy-to-remember name, came up with a cool name (Gabilan73, after the Gabilan Mountains out in California. Long story. Some other time), and proceeded to kick butt. What makes my triumph even more miraculous is that I joined the league a couple of weeks into the season, so I had some catching up to do. And catch up I did. I took the table's top spot around July and never relinquished it. I was like Arsenal or Juventus or Nicole Kidman. Unfortunately, my late start kept me out of the running for the overall championship, but at least I brought home the Division 397463965 Championship and my choice of absolutely nothing.
Within a month of my kick off, I had run out of "trades" and the website kept asking me if I wanted to pay for more trades. Now, see, in my Jane Fonda fantasies, I don't have to pay anything, not even the garage door opener. So I refuse to pay for anything when playing fantasy sports. That's just me. But, hey, you can't argue with my results. Did I mention that I won?
Now since it's never too early to start planning how to live out your fantasies, I've already gotten under way. And I'm preparing to dupe Stone -- and some other MLSnet.com colleagues -- into what I will call The Idiot Division. He said he's interested, but that's because I haven't told him the entry fee. ("For you, Mr. ESPN, a special price," as they say in the Greek flea markets.)
So here are some nuggets for Rob and anyone else thinking about playing along this year. (Needless to say, anything I advise should be ignored and replaced with the advice of Beau Dure, the real MLS fantasy guru.)
Begin at the start of the season. Duh! I didn't last season and it cost me the whole shebang. I'm sure of that. Overall, I finished around 867th, which is about 866 blows to my ego.
Ah, formation. Always a tough one. Whatever you do, don't play four in the back. That's the fantasy equivalent of Steve Sampson's 3-6-1 debacle at the World Cup in 1998, and we all know how well that worked. Play a 3-4-3. That way you'll get more goals, ergo more points. I didn't figure this one out til June.
Strikers are a dime a dozen, right? Nope. They're thousands of dimes per dozen. Strikers, naturally, considering that the whole point of the fantasy game is to score points, cost the most. I think Landon Donovan cost more than Ronaldinho in fantasy dollars. (Why can't you just print fantasy dollars? I'd print millions and go right to Vegas for a weekend of adventures that will happen there and stay there.) Pay the money. Get the striker. You can't be wimpy about it and try to find the next Davy Arnaud. Buy Eddie Johnson. Buy Amado Guevara or Pat Noonan. Strange how all the great strikers in MLS are on second-tier teams?
Fantasy MLS is won in the midfield. Funny how that works. This is where you'll spend most of your trades. You'll tinker, you'll second-guess, you'll jump at the in-form player, you'll curse yourself over and over and over for keeping faith with the likes of Sasha Victorine when he's in the midst of his worst offensive year ever. You'll wonder why everyone else is sniggering at you for having Antonio de la Torre, who finished with a grand total of five assists last year. (Good luck cracking the Chivas USA lineup, Antonio.)
When choosing your defenders, pretend you are the Colorado Rapids: Don't worry about their ability to play defense. This should be a no-brainer, considering the goal-scoring slant in the system, but there are too many people out there without brains. Basically, it makes no sense to pick a tough defender like Ryan Suarez, who hasn't scored since he was in Dallas. (Ha, so that's why Dallas has had such a bad run of late -- the curse of Ryan Suarez.) Best defensive pickup last year had to be Diego Gutierrez, mainly because he was listed as a defender but played midfield, so he scored more than your average bear. Unfortunately, he played for Bob Gansler, which meant he was only allowed to leave K.C.'s half of the field once per game.
Last but not least: Remember, this is no gentleman's club. This is full-on fantasy world, a tooth-and-nail battle of wits, and there better be some good old-fashioned trash talk or else what's the point? It's not like you get a trophy or anything! "Jeff Cunningham? You get a free bowl of soup with that?" or "Brilliant trade, dropping Davy Arnaud for Rusty Pierce. Have you looked into Jim Curtin? He scores all the time!" or "Sergio Galvan Rey? Might as well strangle yourself with your mouse cord now." (What would MLSnet.com columnists do without El Rey de Goles? We'd be forced to write about the Galaxy uniforms instead.)
I've been accused of living in a fantasy world by more people than my shrink. Which is fine with me. It worked for Aldo Nova, it'll work for me. Because as every great fantasy sports player will tell you, fantasy is as real as the real thing. Just without the sweat and with an automatic garage door opener.
Greg Lalas played for the Tampa Bay Mutiny and the New England Revolution in 1996 and 1997. Send e-mail to Greg at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views and opinions expressed in this column are the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or its clubs.