How to DFS Soccer: General Basics Article

Hey everyone!

Welcome to my How To DFS Soccer general basics article. The idea here is to give you a very simple overview of the sport and how that relates to your success in DFS. While this article won't give you the tools to go out and immediately win, it should give you a great foundation to start learning about soccer and from there feel comfortable asking more questions. 

I wanted to give everyone a quick rundown on the world’s leagues and teams, positions on the field, general rules, how teams play, along with an explanation of how to best attack each format. I also included some relevant discussion topics around the sport in DFS and the massive variance swings you will encounter. 

I hope this helps everyone get a basic start on DFS soccer, and if you have any questions please do not hesitate to ask.

DFS SOCCER: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

The Sport

The sport of Soccer (or Football, footy, kickball, the ol’ kickaroo) is a sport less associated with North American culture and has more to do with European, South American, Asian, ESPECIALLY African….well, the whole world except for us. It’s played by two teams, each with 11 players, and the idea is to get the ball into the opposition net using any part of your body except your hands. Sites will score players based on in-game actions like offensive and defensive production, along with awarding post game bonuses for situations like keeping a shutout.

The Leagues

While the sport is extremely popular around the globe, not every nation is known for it’s footballing capabilities. Some of these countries’ bigger cities support multiple teams. This can create rivalries unseen in most professional sporting leagues, and in some certain areas when combined with tribal issues the sport becomes life and death for it’s supporters. In particular, here’s a quick list of some of the biggest league’s in the world, along with some of the bigger talking points. These leagues are commonly refereed to as The Big 5 Euro leagues.

ENGLAND: English Premier League

This is the most common league associated in the English speaking North America. While this is the league most seen on television, it’s by no means the largest. Some of the more popular teams in this league are the Manchester clubs of United and City, the Liverpool clubs of Liverpool and Everton, and the numerous world-famous clubs of London such as Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, West Ham, or even some of the lesser known EPL sides like Crystal Palace, Watford, and Fulham. England is considered the home of professional football with the EFL, or the former English Football League, being founded in 1888, making it the oldest professional football league in the world. Many of the world’s greatest footballing nations can attribute the English royal expansion efforts for their introduction to the sport. The English league brings in all the best talent from around the world, no matter language barrier. However, given new Brexit rules, English clubs will need to restructure how many foreign players they are allowed to have.

SPAIN: La Liga

Outside of England this is the most popular league in North America, and a lot of this has to do with the fact it’s one of the biggest, best, most supported, and financially viable leagues in the world. In terms of world football, different nations will come in and out of power as the most dominate force on the globe. We are currently experiencing the downfall of Spain as the dominating force in global footy, as they were previously the unquestionable, indisputable best footballing nation for the past decade (previous to them were the Italians). The most notable teams in this league are the ever popular Real Madrid and Barcelona, while at the same time Madrid hosts numerous clubs along with Real, such as the very successful Atlético Madrid and their world famous defense. Unlike England, Spanish football is extremely political as the country is one of the more politically unstable and complex nations in Europe. Teams like Barcelona were founded and supported by regions and people of Spain who wish to create their own nation (Barcelona: Catalonia, the Barca flag is shared with the anti-nationalist region). So, while this league has players like Messi, it also has it’s foundation built around political turmoil (which is quite consistent with most non-English speaking nation’s football beginnings). While the Spanish league is one of, if not the best, they tend to focus their player base around language friendly transfers, such as players from South America, Portugal, France, or domestic speaking Spaniards. Considering their nations’ vast footballing resources this hasn’t hindered their ability to perform on the world stage. Barcelona is considered one of the world’s best teams, and Real Madrid was a very close second when they fielded Ronaldo. The Spanish league is coming off their peak as the best league in the world, so while it’s still one of the best it won’t remain that way for much longer. Guys can’t stay young forever, and the new crop can’t tie the old horses shoes.

GERMANY: Bundesliga

Another of the world’s biggest leagues is the German Bundesliga. Germany is known for their team defense and positioning, and much like you would probably imagine they produce hard working, hard nosed, powerful players. Bayern Munich is one of the world’s better teams, along with Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen, the latter two are hoping to lead the next decade as two of the future, youth star studded teams, filled with next generational stars. As mentioned, Germany are known for their defensive exploits, so their league isn’t as exciting nor technically sound as the previous two. A lot of the German league focuses on players from Germany and surrounding nations like Holland and Belgium, however the Bundesliga is going through a youth revolt so there are numerous young English speaking players from both North America and England now in their ranks. While the supporters of German clubs can be violent, their support is based FAR more around respect and honor than previous nations. Very similar to England, these supporters see themselves defending their patch rather than their livelihood or political entity, though that isn’t true for the whole country. This is a league to watch in the coming years because on and off the pitch it’s only going to get more exciting.

ITALY: Serie A

Italy’s Serie A is another massive league of the world. Outside of England It houses some of the more historical football clubs in the world. Juventus is not only one of the more well supported teams in all of Europe, but one of the most historical as well. Italy are known for producing fearless defenders and flashy attackers, and previous to Spain, they were the title holders for the most prominent footballing nation of the late 90’s/early 2000s. Very similar to England, Italy has numerous clubs within the same cities. In fact, Milan hosts not only two of the world’s most successful clubs in Inter Milan and AC Milan, but they share the EXACT SAME STADIUM. When both teams play in the same arena it gets split half and half, mind blowing really. Unlike the previous nations mentioned, Italy has had long running issues with league/club corruption and fanatical right-wing support. Juventus was only recently demoted a few seasons ago for a match-fixing scandal, and years ago Lazio had their captain suspended for opening giving the Nazi salute during a goal celebration to the club’s massive, fanatical, right-wing supporters. It’s a really sticky situation in Italy, and while their politics also play a massive role in their fanbase, a lot of the issues surrounding corruption are from the non-supporter underworld. These factors will always hold the league back, and while every now and then they will produce an excellent team the league as a whole will always be held back.

FRANCE: France Ligue 1

The final of the big 5 leagues is France’s Legue 1. Now, some people may argue France as a nation is producing the world’s next generational standard of players; and honestly I have no argument with that what-so-ever. Considering they just won the World Cup it wouldn’t be a far stretch to suggest they are on the up and up. However, the French league has always struggled from a mass exodus of their domestic french star players to other footballing nations. Monaco, this season’s UCL embarrassment, lost no less than 11 players all under 22 years of age, and all are now either starting or regularly featuring on some of the world’s biggest teams. Now, mind you, the French league still has PSG (Paris) who has managed to hold on to some of those young stars, however as a whole this league is considered the weaker of the Big 5 as their high end is high, but their low end is easily the lowest. PSG should remain unchallenged into the foreseeable future, and while the French footballing nation may be producing the next crop of world stars, the league will continue to suffer from a lack of domestic player support.

Promotion/Relegation/Champions

Much like other major professional sports, the different professional footballing nations have leagues, usually with a Premier League, or the highest possible division, and then below that there would be a 1st Divison, 2nd Divison, 3rd divison, etc, each league being a step down in skill. While some countries like England will have upwards of 10+ leagues (5 professional, below that they considered amateur leagues), other nations like France or Spain will only have the main, premier league and one division below that. At the end of every season the first place team wins the championship; very few premier league’s have a playoff format to determine a champion. Following the season’s end the champion is determined by the league standings, nothing more. While there are champions, there are also teams that finished in the bottom positions, and they usually get relegated to the lower league, while the lower league’s Champion and 2nd place team will be promoted up a league. As you can imagine in the bigger leagues this can mean the difference between $100k and $100mil. Depending on where you are on a map, following seasons end the top teams from each nations’ premier league will join together, for example in Europe it forms a European super-league called the European Champions League (UCL). So, teams will end up competing in their normal, home league (called Domestic League) while at the same time playing in a league vs. other European competition. There is the European Champions League for European teams that either win or finish second in their domestic league, and there is also the EURO League, which is for teams that finish 3rd and 4th in their Euro domestic leagues. South America has their version called Copa Libertadores de América, and even South Asia has one called OFC Champions League. However, the European clubs are the main discussing point as they are the most popular in the world.

Most to all of these professional leagues have some sort of promotion/relegation network. Now, in Spain teams in the premier league simply have a reserve team that plays in the lower division, so there isn’t the same kind of up and down. However, in countries like England this is EVERYTHING, as the three last place teams all get instantly relegated to the lower division, while the top 3 placing teams in the lower division gets instantly promoted up a division. Again, depending on your nation, England sends four teams to the UCL and two teams to the EURO, while Italty sends two and one, Spain send three and two, France sends two and one, it all depends on the nation’s ranking. But generally speaking, the top six teams in England are always battling for “European competition next season”, which is literally another $50mil in the club’s pocket.

So, while many teams play in their domestic league, and some are fortunate to qualify for Euro leagues, there are also different types of domestic tournaments called Cups. In the Big 5, each country has competition for a national Cup which is played by every professional standard team in any given nation. This can be interesting in England where you will have one of the world’s best teams in ManUtd being drawn (names out of a hat style) against a team in the 3rd or 4th divison. While this may sound like a waste of time you only have to look back to the most recent of years to see lower league clubs knocking off the big wigs in early rounds. These Cups are rarely the focus of the bigger clubs, so generally speaking they will start weaker sides in Cup games and save their bigger players for bigger games.

Odds and Ends

A soccer field is generally 100 yards in length and 60 to 80 yards in width. That’s the thing; home teams get to choose their field dimensions. Obviously there is a standard, but in terms of specifics some teams who play with wider players prefer wide fields, or some teams who are extremely slow of foot prefer shorter fields with less need for long-distance speed. There are two 50 yard halves, with each end having an bigger 18 yard box (known as the penalty area) and a 6 yard box. Any foul that takes place within the boxes is instantly a penalty shot, where any foul within the 6yrd box where the defending team takes the kick, the ball can be placed anywhere within the 6 yard box. When the ball goes out of bounds on the touchlines the last team to touch the ball concedes possession and the game is restarted by a throw. Any foul, whether physical or handball, play is stopped and restarted with a free kick, and any time the ball goes out behind the net, play will also be restarted by a kick (whether by the keeper or from an attacking corner kick). The same conceding possession rules apply.

There are two 45min halves. Each team is allowed three subs throughout the 90min games. If a team takes an injury following their third sub they must play the remainder of the game a man down. On most sites players are deducted points for taking fouls and cards. A yellow card is basically a warning, and a red card is an ejection, or game misconduct. Two yellows in the same game equal a red, however a player can be shown a straight red card for an extremely serious incident. If a team takes a red card they must play a man down for the remainder of the match. Following the 45min and 90min halves there’s a few minutes of added time where the ref will end the game at his/her discretion. This is most often used to make up lost time from a delay in the game, for example an injury, or lots of subs. This is known as injury time. If the score is tied at the end of regulation-90min and there needs to be a deceive scoreline then there is overtime, or Extra Time (ET). There is two types of overtime; the classic: two, 15min halves which have to be played out in full, or the popular, fan favorite, rarely used: Golden Goal, where it's sudden death first team to score wins. If the score is still tied following the 30min of ET then there is a penalty shootout where teams take shots from the penalty spot, a dot 12 yards from the goal line. Best of five wins. 

Positions

There are four main positions in soccer; keeper (KEP), defender (DEF), midfielder, (MID), and forwards (FWD).

Keeper: This is the goalie, or if you are really new to sports, the person who stands in the net and stops opposition shots. There is only one keeper on the field per team. Keepers make their production through saves, but also see post-game bonuses for wins and shutouts (also known as Clean Sheets, or CS bonus). Keepers can draw or take fouls, receive cards, and even in some super rare cases score goals or be credited with assists. Saves is the only statistic that is unique to a keeper as no outfield player can be credited with a save. Other than that keepers are basically scored the same as anyone else except for the obvious fact they rarely do anything other than make saves. The biggest concern with keepers is allowing goals as they lose points for each conceded goal. Salary is incredibly important for keepers as it usually defines your build and is generally the first place people will look to punt for salary savings. Judging the likelihood of the win, how many saves, how many conceded goals, and most importantly salary should all be considered when selecting your keeper. Sites generally have one keeper per card. 

Defenders: These are the players who hold the defensive line for the team. Generally speaking most teams play with three to five defenders. There are two main types of defenders; center backs (CB) and wing backs. (WB, generally LB for left, RB for right), with one wing back playing on either side of the field. Teams will use either one (rare), two, or three CBs, and two WBs. Sometimes the wing backs play in an advanced, attacking role. The CBs focus mainly on clearances, interceptions, and tackles. Wing backs can be scored for the same statistics, however their production is generally found through crosses and chance creation. Defenders are the only other position along with keeper that receives a clean sheet bonus. However, in the case of production, unlike a keeper, the defender does not need saves to reach a high score, and in fact is usually the reason a keeper isn't making saves. Defenders can score goals and be credited much like any other player, however on DK the biggest defensive production is usually found through wing backs who cross the ball, whereas on a site like FD the biggest scores are usually found in CBs that make the most clearances and the most of their tackling situations. Wing backs have been known to take corners, so on sites that score crossing this can be extra valuable. Salary is extremely important for defenders, and along with keeper it's usually the first position people look to punt. Production, salary, likelihood of a clean sheet, and home favorites are some basic meta considerations when selecting a defender. 

Midfielders: Midfielders are players that play between the defensive and offensive players, and generally speaking they combine both roles into their positions. There are two main types of midfielders, but each type has different roles. There are center/central mids (CM), and wingers. Much like defenders, the centrals play in the middle of the field, while the wingers play on the sides. Most teams use two or three central mids, while almost every team uses two wide players; whether wingers or wing backs playing in very advanced positions. There are two or three main roles for central midfielders; some are defensive (DM), some are neutral (CM), and some are offensive (AM). Usually, teams will deploy some array of these roles, in most cases it's one defensive and the other one or two in some form. For wingers there are also two types of roles, traditional or attacking wingers. Traditional wingers are either midfielders who focus on playing very wide to stretch the other team's defensive positioning, but can also be wing backs who are playing very advanced roles (usually with three CBs and two defensive/neutral CMs, and some form of three forwards). Traditional wingers who are natural midfielders playing wide are rather outdated and in most cases today's game has either wing backs playing advanced or attacking wingers. As midfielders encompass both attacking and defensive roles their production consists of both. CM/DMs generally get more defensive production, while AM/LW/RW are scored for more attacking traits. Depending on how sites score each type of production, that will be represented through their salary. For wingers you want players who cross the ball a lot, and for CMs you are looking for players who have solid floors without eating all the salary space. In many cases the midfield is where you find the set pieces takers, so it's always something to consider as it may not generally be represented in salary. Production, salary, offensive upside, and floor should all be considered when you are selecting a midfielder. 

Forwards: Very straight forward, they are the attackers and rarely come back to defend. Teams generally use between one and three attackers, as when there are more attackers it's more likely they are spread out wide than bunched up in the middle of the field. If a team is very defensive oriented they may have only one attacker (ST) with four to five in the midfield and defense each, whereas if a team is attacking they will likely have one central attacker (CF) and two attacking wingers (LW/RW). Most of the famous clubs today use the central/two winger attacking strategy. Forwards can be scored on everything except saves, but needless to say given their position and role on teams they are far more likely to shoot and score goals thank tackle. Some forwards, especially the wide ones, are known to have excellent cross counts, so while getting goals is important, for cash very often you can rely on a players crossing to account for as much production as a goal. In a forward; you want a player who either shoots or crosses the ball a lot, has a high likelihood to score, and if you are unsure; taking a starting forward for a big home favorite is usually the safest bet. 

Formations

Teams play with 11 players each; 10 outfield and one keeper. Formations are usually described by how many DEF-MID-FWD a team has on the field. For example, if a team is playing a 3-5-2, this means they have three defenders, five midfielders, and two forwards. The most common and least amount of skill required type of formation is the 4-4-2, and in terms of amateur youth leagues this was the general formation of the 80's and what you teach really young kids. However, in most recent generations the formations have moved towards a 4-3-3, where a team has four defenders, three midfielders (three CM) and three forwards (1 CF, LW/RW). You may also see 3-4-3, where a team plays with three CBs, two wingers (usually wing backs playing advanced), two CMs, and three forwards. In the case of a defensive team like mentioned before, we would generally see some form of 4-5-1 or 5-4-1 deployed. When there is only three defenders or midfielders we can generally assume they are central and the winger responsibility is picked up elsewhere, whether by a wing back, or natural winger. When you get above three or five defenders, or ever get above three forwards, it's definitely exploitable by capable teams. 

Set Pieces

When a team fouls someone, numerous things happen. The person who made the foul loses points, and the person who drew the foul gets points. However, the main key here is the person who takes the set pieces. In the case the foul was outside the 18 yard box, someone takes a Free Kick and either directs a shot on net or a cross into the box, crediting the taker with a shot or cross. In the case the foul was inside the team's penalty area, the opposition gets a penalty shot, or a free shot on net from 12 yards away. The shooter can be any player on the field at the time of the foul, including the keeper. Most teams have a player who is designated to take these kicks, so from a DFS standpoint set pieces are massively important in soccer as you can easily predict the production. Salary is rarely represented through players taking set pieces, so in cash you can find a set pieces taker for cheap because of their floors and poor role/position on the field. Very often they stay cheap if they play in a position that doesn't produce consistent points, like a CM/DM/CB. There are numerous sites online which have information on each team's set pieces takers, but needless to say if you can find one on the cheap playing a team that concedes lots of fouls, you have yourself a cash lock because he's guaranteed numerous crosses and a great floor. 

DFS SOCCER: HOW TO PLAY

Slate Analysis

When first examining a soccer slate it's best to start at keeper. There’s much debate as to whether or not you want to start your cards by selecting a keeper, however there’s no debate that keepers most define how sites predict the slate to play out. In particular, on a site like DraftKings the more expensive keepers are almost exclusively the biggest favorites of the slate. So, without having any idea of what team is expected to win or by how much, DK will have the pricing set out for you. From there it can be as simple as remembering the biggest favorites and where the players are playing and parts of your card can build itself. However, on a site like FanDuel, saves are considered more valuable, so very often favorites won't be as obviously priced through their keeper salary. The main objective in DFS soccer is to obtain goals, or at the very least production from a goal, or production that would have lead to a goal. The reason for this is simply; upside, you can't win without the goals from the slate on your card, and you can't get anywhere if you don't give yourself to opportunity to get there. Taking someone you know won't cross the ball on a site that scores crossing is a bad idea. However, taking someone you know crosses/shoots the ball and playing on the biggest home favorite of the weekend is a good idea. In many cases picking a card that has no downside is as important as finding one with upside; soccer is a massively variant sport, imagine the pitchers in MLB, but literally any and every position on the field. 

Cash

For cash, you only need points and that one guy everyone else will have, and much like any other sport you should look to diversify from each game. In many cases slates have only one or two guys who are looking at serious goal props, so in cash that is generally the first place to start; make sure you don't miss out on the goal scorer. For a basic target look to have everyone finish double digits, but in particular 2.5x salary. For a forward on DK you can get away with someone that scores at least 6fpts, but not both only scoring 6fpts. That's the general rule, you want people who will finish with at least 6fpts, but you can't have everyone finish with that score. In terms of midfield you can either spend up on someone you know has a high floor or spend down on someone you know has a limited floor but a cheap enough salary to get you up to the goals (while at the same time giving you at least 6fpts, but preferably the best shot at double digits). Defenders and keepers are a totally different story. It's very unlikely that the slate breaker comes from either position, as the likelihood of a moderately expensive and value wing back on DK finding the same fantasy score is very high. So, you can usually look to spend down at defender and try to find someone that will finish over 6fpts and save you some money, or be that slate breaking, raw points defender. On DK it's generally a bad idea to play CBs in cash as they don't have the same kind of production floor volume, however on FD crosses aren't as valuable so you need to consider who is viable. For keeper it depends on the slate. You want the safest win but at the same time salary is more important. You can just as easily get away with a value keeper that you're sure won't get blown out. In cash only chase assured production like saves, shots, crosses/set pieces, and not extras like CS bonuses, goals, and penalties. You can usually make up for a goal in a player that crosses, but needless to say there's nothing like the relevance of a goal to help you cash. 

GPP 

Things are a little different in GPP. With the idea being ceiling we are looking for all the extras. Guys with multi-point upside, someone who will score you 20fpts on DK, ownership, all the usual GPP tactics come into play. However, it's important to understand how to implement that DFS knowledge into soccer because it’s not so cut and dry. Outside of ownership one of the most important aspects to GPP is stacking your cards. Game stacks are relevant, however there are more sport-based stacks in soccer. The Clean Sheet chase, or CS chase is the most popular. The idea is to load up on players who will receive a post-game bonus for keeping a shutout, usually the keeper and defenders from the same team. This can be massively valuable when you have two, three or even four players on DK making up an extra goal's worth of fantasy points following the final whistle. While set pieces can be valuable, finding the player who regularly is "on the end" of the cross is just as important and can make for great, low owned stacks, as the guy "on the other end" is usually a random CB. Getting a goal from your CB is as big of a boost as there is in DFS soccer. While it is rather rare and less easy to predict, it's generally super low owned, and on a site like DK it's guaranteed to cost you next to nothing in salary. Taking a home, clean sheet chase CB in GPP is great when they don’t cost an arm and a leg, that way literally anything good that comes will be worth more at 90min+. Other stacks can include stacking one side of the field (LB, LW, CF) hoping the team will run it down one side of the field (like Chelsea, for example), or even if you think a game stack is in order take forwards from either side of a game will be a super low owned stack. You can take both forwards from the same team, or a wing back to a forward if you think there will be a lot of crossing to header chances. A lot of this carries over, but generally speaking you want players that will be low owned and (somehow, someway) have the ability to set you up to win the slate. 

DFS SOCCER: UNDERSTANDING RESULTS

Variance

Soccer is arguably the most variant sport in DFS. Especially in cash you rarely find the same ownership swings as you see in soccer. Since such few players have legitimate shot at goals it creates scenarios where single players to sets of players will go 40-75% owned in cash every slate. With cash midfielders are generally slate dependent, but from slate to slate you will almost always find the same forwards and defenders. However, given such condensed ownerships, one blip in the radar, good or bad, and it that contains massive relevance to the outcome of the slate. One mishap on your card and your entire slate is ruined. One massive rare goal and your weekend is made. One of the best ways to avoid the issues of variance is taking 90min guys who don't take fouls. Simply put, coming off early or losing points for fouls is a great way to ruin things. In the case of cash, losing points is not as important because it doesn't ruin your ability to absolutely shred (which you don't need to for a dbl up takedown), but for GPP if you lose minutes or points from fouls that’s just extra work you need to make up the lost equity.

Where in some sports you can get away with one low scoring player on your card, in soccer that is basically your doom. Chances are when your 40% owned guy scores the “one of the four goals” from the entire slate, there will still be 50% of that 40% who are without your dud simply because there are so few viable players being played. There aren't the kind of options you find in other sports, so when it's good it's incredible, and when it's bad you are looking in the mirror wondering what just happened to your life. 

Sport in DFS

Outside of NBA and their scratches, soccer chalk is some of the highest owned chalk in the industry, so working with it can be extremely challenging. Considering the market for the sport in North America; the DFS structure is still lacking. The payouts are quite poor, and given most games are played in England, kickoff times are always a factor. However, without question soccer is one of the biggest edge games in all of DFS. Where NFL, NBA, and MLB are readily available for information and general social consumption, soccer is hard to come by. Not only is it less discussed, but numerous states and countries outside of Europe hold no rights to distribute any kind of media on the sport. So, unless you know or know someone who knows, chances are you have zero idea. Unlike other North American sports where you can walk down the street and ask anyone, soccer is rather exclusive and there still isn't a lot of DFS content on the subject.

CONCLUSION

While there aren't the payouts you find in other sports, soccer still holds massive upside from general knowledge. The sport is extremely dynamic in terms of results, so while some sports are easier to track, soccer only happens once to three times a week. Soccer is my main sport but it shouldn't be yours; it's extremely hard to stay ahead, and without years to a lifetime of experience in the game it can be near impossible to simply pick it up like other DFS sports. However, once you do, the edge is incredible as you will find there are such few resources of information, a lot of people end up doing the same thing, good or bad. That being said, it's one of the least popular DFS sports, so any kind of advanced knowledge you posses and you're already well ahead of the field. 

I hope that helps everyone get a better understanding in the world of DFS Soccer. Good luck everyone, thanks for reading.