Fantasy Soccer is for Nerds
You know what I’m not getting ready to do?
Okay, realistically, I do understand the allure of playing fantasy football (and for the record I’m referring to the American football, not the European one in this instance), but I’ve always found the actual practice of it to be rather mundane. Frankly, I’m in the school of thought that the guys who sit around playing fantasy football are the same guys who used to pick on the geeks, nerds, and poindexters in high school for playing Dungeons and Dragons or Magic the Gathering and are now essentially doing the same thing.
Regardless, I just could never find the passing interest, time, or energy to play fantasy sports of any nature. Now, a few years ago, I discovered that both Major League Soccer and the English Premier League ran fantasy soccer leagues on their websites. I joined a few and, as I suspected, I quickly grew bored, forgot about it, and stopped playing.
The fact is fantasy sports work well for baseball, American gridiron football, and even for basketball, but it is an epic failure of an idea when it comes to soccer (I’m going with soccer today as it will be too much energy to keep switching back and forth between football and football). But why? Why does fantasy soccer not work for me? There are dozens if not hundreds or possibly even thousands –I doubt millions– of people who get their pocket protectors in a twist over it.
As far as I’m concerned soccer is not about statistics. If I watch an NBA game, and I think Player Y had a great game because he didn’t score a lot of points there are a lot of statistics I can look at to prove myself wrong. Maybe he had 15 rebounds, 2 steals, and a few blocks. I can take those statistics, despite what my naked eye saw, and admit that Player Y had a good game. This does not hold true for soccer.
If I watch Player X play in MLS or the EPL, and he looked out of position to me, and he didn’t score a goal, and he had a yellow card, I don’t care that he completed 34 out of 38 passes. I don’t care that he had 4 interceptions and 2 blocks. The numerical output of Player X is not going to trick my naked eye into thinking that he had a good game. Quite simply as far as I’m concerned, he did not. Give me all the advanced algorithms you want to prove otherwise, but I’m just not going to agree with you, Steve Urkle.
Soccer is, to be a bit trite and cliche, art. It cannot be justified by numbers as much as some number crunchers want it to. Possession is nice, but it is not necessarily the end all be all — just ask Chelsea. I love the tiki taka passing, but I’ll trade it all in for one good long ball that leads to a game-winning-goal. Is that beautiful soccer? No. Is it what I want my team to strive for? No. But how much bad play over the years has been wiped away by a solitary goal in the eclipsing moments of the game? I’d wager a lot.
Truthfully, I know how to win at fantasy. You overload your team with attacking players, get the most goals, and ignore every impact player who does something other than score goals.
Because at the end of the day the most points in fantasy soccer come from goals. I may have selected Osvaldo Alonso for my fantasy MLS team, but he has yet to pay the same dividends that Thierry Henry and Chris Wondolowski have. Does that mean he is a worse player than them? No, it just means he is not an important player to have for fantasy, after all he doesn’t score goals.
In fantasy football I can take a defensive lineman who racks up sacks, and he’ll get me a fair amount of points. Fantasy soccer is not giving me the same respect for my defensive midfielders or center backs; well, either that or I’m not geeky enough to sit around and figure out which primarily defensive players will average the most tackles, blocks, and interception and actually help my team. Sorry, but even though I spend a lot of time following soccers I just don’t care to follow — or know — who leads MLS is these arbitrary categories.
Soccer is a sport to watch and feel, and the fact that I watch and feel that most of the statistics are stupid makes the idea of fantasy soccer dumb. Fantasy sports need stats that are easy to track and meaningful. Soccer doesn’t have them. The lack of meaningful soccer statistics would have you believe that Clint Dempsey is the best American plying his trade in Europe; meanwhile, I’ll argue every day of the year that Michael Bradley is better. In fact, I’d argue the lack of stats and the more subjective nature that makes me love soccer is also what makes fantasy soccer stupid — unless you have the time to analyze it, Lewis Skolnick.
But this is a new era in sports and a new era in soccer. We are being inundated with technology, with statistics, with heat maps, and passing percentages, and possession numbers. But the truth is I prefer the naked eye test. I know who is valuable and who has had a good game. Fantasy soccer is not rewarding those players. These new fangled — yet still wholly useless statistics — will prove nothing to me that my eye test couldn’t already tell me.
I get that fantasy sports are big, huge, enormous money-makers and soccer wants to get on board with it. It is just too time consuming and too odd to be giving statistics to someone’s “good” or “bad” game when many times the “goodness” or “badness” of a player’s game in soccer is more arbitrary than statistical.
And that is why I’m not even setting up a fantasy EPL team this year. But you, well you can do whatever you want. Go ahead and play your fantasy soccer, nerd. But if I find out you’re doing it, I’m taking your lunch money and giving you a wedgie.