Hi, my name is Dan, and I’m a nerd.
Might was well put that up front, in case you hadn’t already figured this out.
Part of that nerdiness is that I’m hooked on a couple of free online soccer games — and I highly recommend both, not only as entertainment, but as a way to learn leagues and players that might be new to you.
You don’t need to have any local connection to play these games. But if you’ve got the right codes, you can add local leagues to your generic entry, or find a custom league that includes options like USL PRO franchises.
MLS FANTASY MANAGER
This one is pretty straight forward. MLS Fantasy Manager is an online game sponsored by Major League Soccer. It’s free to play. There are monetary prizes — but don’t worry about that. With tens of thousands of participants, you’re not bloody likely to come close to winning any of them.
HOW IT WORKS: After walking you through the simple creation of your account, the game presents you with 18 empty player slots and a “budget” of $120. You start picking MLS players — each of whom begins the season at a price that will fluctuate based on their market value — to fill a roster that fits beneath that salary cap.
Once the MLS season begins, you’ll pick an 11-man starting lineup with a captain each week. The game assigns points to your players based on stats — yes, goals and assists and saves, but also obscure stats like “key passes” and “blocks and clearances.” Don’t worry about any of that now.
You’ll also make transfers — and profit from players whose value goes up. Because if you start with $120 and one of your guys goes from $6.5 to $6.7 in Week 1, your Week 2 cap will be $120.2. And so on.
Oh, and you can enter MLS Fantasy Manager at any point during the season. Miss the start of the season? Build a team and start in Week 2. Trust me — by September, that one week’s worth of points you missed will be only a small percentage of your total.
COMPETITION: The game asks you to pick a favorite MLS team, and there’s a reason for that. You’ll be automatically entered in a league comprised of everyone who listed that team as their favorite.
At the end of each week’s games, whatever score you put up will be ranked within that league — and any others you might enter.
CUSTOM LEAGUES: Anyone can create a custom league at no cost, and once it’s set up, you don’t have to worry about creating separate teams. Your one roster and lineup is entered automatically in each league you join. Leagues can be public or private, and you can share your league code lots of people or just a few.
LOCAL LEAGUES: Want to compete against people from the Lowcountry — or at the very least, people who care about Lowcountry soccer? I’ve set up a league based on this site — The CHSSoccer League. And you’re all invited to its inaugural year. Here’s the entry code: 8692-1482. Just copy that code, click on the “Create and Join Leagues” link under the “Classic Leagues” section, and then paste the code into the “Join Leagues” box.
While you’re at it, why not Like the CHSSoccer.net page on Facebook?
Speaking of Facebook, there’s an open group called MLS Fans of Charleston that my hero Bradley Simmons started about three months ago. If you’re already a fan — on leaning toward becoming one — click on that link and join the group. And then go back to MLS Fantasy Manager and enter the code 5234-874. Don’t be a loser and join the league (Charleston MLS Fans) without joining the group.
And speaking of joining, The Regiment is the official supporters club of the Charleston Battery. They’re the people you see partying in the parking lot (and frequently giving out free beers to strangers who stop by to chat about soccer — try it some time) and a big chunk of the fans making noise in the E-01 Supporters Section. Your annual membership comes with some damn fine perks, too. And one of them is that we’ll give you the code to join Year 2 of the Regiment’s MLS Fantasy League (Spoiler alert: I won Year 1. Because I rule, baby!).
Oh, what the hell, here’s the code for The Regiment League: 8692-2218. Join up! Just but be sure to stop by the Regiment recruiting table under the West Stands and enlist for the year. You can get full membership privileges for as little as $20.
If you’ve played this game before and got frustrated — it was awfully difficult to get relevant information two years ago — give it another try. MLS massively upgraded the 2014 version, and it’s really making an effort to promote fantasy play this year.
SOCCER MANAGER ONLINE
Unfortunately, USL PRO doesn’t have a fantasy game like MLS does. And if you sign up for a free account at SoccerManager.com, there are no standard leagues that you can join in which USL PRO teams are an option.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t play this addictive game in leagues that feature minor league teams from North America. It’s just that you have to spend about $15 to buy the right to build a custom league — or know someone who already has a custom league, and then take one of the available clubs.
And it just so happens that I have two custom North American leagues you can join. Now in its fourth season, The North American Pyramid League is a three-tiered promotion/relegation league made up of franchises from Liga MX, MLS, and USL PRO/NASL. Battery fan Joey Benton is currently managing the Battery, but most of the other minor league clubs are still available.
The U.S. & Canada Pro/Rel league is basically the same idea, but without the Liga MX competition. I’m managing Charleston in that one, but again, lots of franchises are available to take over from the game world’s automated management. It’s in Season Three, and I’m happy to report that despite a small stadium and the financial constraints that come with that, Charleston is the fourth spot in Division 1 with about 10 matches remaining.
WANT TO START YOUR OWN SM CUSTOM GAME WORLD? If you decide to build a game world with USL PRO clubs in it, let me know, and I’ll promote it here on the site.
To find these leagues, sign up for a free account, and then use one of your three free team slots to pick a club in one of them. To navigate to the league you want:
1. From your account home page, click the blue “Add a Club” button.
2. On the resulting page, look in the horizontal navigation bar, and at the end of it you’ll spot a link that says “Club Search.” Click that.
3. The third option in the resulting stack says “Game World Name Search.” From the drop-down menu under this option, pick “Custom Game World.”
4. A box will appear with the words “Enter at least the first 4 letters of the Game World.” Well, do that.
5. You’ll get a list of the clubs in the custom game world — with information about the available franchises. Click on a team that interests you, and you’re in control. Start making transfers and setting head-to-head lineups and tactics for your next fixture.
I know this is geeky, but a lot of what I’ve learned about MLS — and world football — came from trying to do well in these games. And the more you know about the players in that fantasy setting, the more you see when you watch them on TV or in person.
ONE LAST TIP
Believe it or not, having access to MLS teams in the preseason is a great way to get an edge in both these games. I might have invested in Jay DeMerit last season, but stayed away because I knew the Whitecaps skipper missed the Carolina Challenge Cup with “tightness.” A week or so later, he ruptured his Achilles in the first match of the MLS regular season. Plus, it didn’t take an expert to realize that Kekuta Manneh was going to be special as a rookie. I sold him for a big profits in both these games.
So think of it this way — you’re not just watch soccer tonight. You’re scouting!