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Thread: An American Manager in America [Football Manager AAR]

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    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    Cycle 2, Part XIV: The Golden Generation


    A daunting World Cup group of Argentina, the Netherlands, and Morocco awaited us. That's a rough go of it anyway, but to further compound matters, it wasn't even in a good order. Ideally, we would have had Morocco first, to hopefully build up momentum for the even tougher matches. Barring that, I would also not have minded them right in the middle so our top players could rest up a bit before our do-or-die showdown against the third team in the group. Fate was not so kind though, and thus we had the one-two punch of Argentina and the Netherlands to start us off. For all I knew, USA-Morocco might be one of those meaningless World Cup group stage matchups where both teams were already out that only diehards ended up watching.

    Before I get to the group stage, though, I want to talk about something I was only able to touch on in the last post: Namely, the fact that this tournament no doubt represents the twilight of the most talented batch of American players we're likely to see for quite some time.

    Flash back to four years ago, and I said this about the core group that are now uniformly in their thirties:

    Quote Originally Posted by GeneralHankerchief (#74)
    Another factor to consider as we begin the World Cup: This team, while not exactly strong enough to merit the title of "golden generation", is already starting to get a bit long in the tooth. I've infused it with youth as best I can, but of our projected Ride or Die Lineup, only three of the eleven starters will be under 30 by the time of the next World Cup. I'm not exactly sure of our level of strength beyond the kids currently on the roster, but my suspicion is that it's not quite as good as the batch we got when I loaded MLS.
    That quote turned out to be pretty accurate, but there's one part I'd disagree with: Looking back, that group definitely *was* a golden generation.

    Most of my core over the past six years: Suarez, Spielmann, Appleby, Holness, Lapore, Prideaux, Musah; all of them came into the scene when I loaded MLS into the game at the end of 2027. Supplement them with the already-present Musa, Espinosa, Cherneski, and Sam Phillips, and you have a batch of players who I've leaned on time and time again over the years.

    Well, aside from the latter three, they're all on their way out. Suarez, of course, is already gone, not having survived the cut to make the final roster. But the others to some extent are just about to follow him out the door.

    As recently as a year ago, things were still good: we won the Confederations Cup, the players were happy and thriving, and we had gone undefeated in the first six matches of the final stage of World Cup qualifiers.

    But then everybody started to get old at once.

    We stumbled in the final two sets of Hex games, seeing the qualifiers out with one win, one draw, and two losses (one of them a 5-2 embarrassment to Mexico). Suarez lost his physical prowess. Holness lost his as well. In the interminable period of inactivity between the March and November international breaks, I started getting messages about how my core players were having terrible situations at their clubs. Prideaux was unhappy at Roma. Appleby couldn't make the grade at Arsenal. Suarez could no longer see any time at Juventus despite being the captain and was looking to make a move back to MLS. Only the ever-present Lapore and the still-dangerous Spielmann were immune to this downturn.





    The group had had a great run: In some variant or another, they had brought home the Gold Cup, two Confederations Cups, the Copa América, and had gone further in the World Cup than any American team since 2002. That's a haul that any country, any generation of players, would be proud of. But Time's Arrow moved on, and when I saw the World Cup group we had been drawn in, after *that* autumn, it felt like a hammer blow.

    It felt like the end.

    I did what I could to stave off extinction - tried to inject youth in the lineup, tried different combination of players, tinkering with the tactics, that whole deal - and it kind of worked. We were uninspiring in the March friendlies, and only looked good again in our final pre-tournament friendly in June against Australia. The team appeared to have averted their slide, but we were going to have to do better than that if we wanted to progress.

    The first match against Argentina drew near, and with it, so did the American Golden Generation's final reckoning.

    ---

    Argentina, winners of the 2026 World Cup, boasted a skilled, deep team whose two starting central defenders had both spent time with Cartagena after I had left that club. However, there were three main players who concerned me.

    First, striker Agustín Bustamente, an integral part of Arsenal's attack machine that won them the Premier League in 2032 and saw them Champions League runners-up in 2034:



    Second are two of what probably gives Argentina the best midfield in the world, Pablo Donato and Nicolás Aguílar (both of Manchester United, who defeated Arsenal in the Champions League final this past May):





    For us, Sam Phillips is a genuine talent, and Scott Hernández is the right kind of scrappy player for us, but there was simply no competing with that level of midfield quality. As I was also worried about Bustamente running rampant in our defense, I decided to meet their attack with the 3-5-2. The plan was to smother their dangerous striker with our central defenders and bypass their midfield entirely by hoofing long balls up to Colon and Escobedo, letting them run with it.

    This strategy partially worked, but it introduced its own flaws. For starters, I had to adjust our defensive plan in the 3rd minute due to Joel Pérez sustaining a concussion. Deciding to go with size and physicality over experience, I threw 18-year old Daniel Ledesma into the inferno over Prideaux. He would be facing one of the most dangerous strikers in the world in his third international cap.

    Shortly after that, we took the lead - not from a long ball, but from a free kick dribbling into the area and Espinosa being the first person to get a foot on it - but then Argentina responded literally seconds later. Their efforts to break through the center being stymied by our formation, they simply killed us on the wings. Their right winger, Juventus's Juan Manuel Chamorro absolutely blowing by poor Appleby and finding space, crossed the ball to their left. He also had space. Goal, 1-1.

    We got through the half with that scoreline intact, and halfway through the second, we had blunted all of Argentina's further attacks, giving me hope that we would survive this brutal opening match with a draw. But then, right winger Chamorro struck twice in quick succession. After already having provided an assist, he bagged two goals of his own in the 64th and 68th minutes, giving Argentina a 3-1 lead. Both goals were scored with service from Argentina's excellent midfield, and both saw Chamorro have an inordinate amount of space due to us not operating with a left back. Groaning, I wondered if I had outthought myself.

    But a minute later, our over the top approach finally paid dividends. Jeff Michaud, in central defense, got the ball after denying Bustamente the opportunity and blasted it forward. Luke Gee, (subbed in for Josh Colon, who hadn't done $#@!) got to it first and started running. He played a series of one-two passes with strike partner Patrick Escobedo, which ultimately led to Escobedo firing it past the longtime Argentina goalkeeper Laureano Romano from point-blank range.



    We were in striking distance, and Argentina were tiring. Our defenders were still smothering Bustamente, and the Argentine wingers, having run rampant for the entire match, were starting to run out of gas. Our counterattacks became more frequent and dangerous. And in the 80th minute, Escobedo - our most unselfish and team-driven striker - got a ball in the box from Phillips. With the defense collapsing on him, he laid it off to nearby (and wide open) Gee, who equalized. 3-3, and now I was starting to think about getting the win.



    We had a brilliant chance late on in the match. Gee got another long ball, shot past the defense, and had a one-on-one breakaway against the keeper, but his shot went wide and thus we had to "settle" for an exciting 3-3 draw.



    The Argentina match taught me a few things. First, the partnership at striker between Gee and Escobedo that I first detected in a pre-tournament friendly appeared to be very real. Second, the 3-5-2 was not an "all-around" formation - it had clear strengths and weaknesses and it was up to me as manager to decide when it was appropriate to deploy it. For example, Operation: Don't Let Bustamente Score was a rousing success, with our defenders - including young Ledesma - holding him to a miserable 6.3 rating. The downside of this, though, was that their wingers racked up ratings of 7.7 and 9.0.

    But third, and perhaps most elementary, we had started off the World Cup and avoided the abyss. One point was better than zero, and just as importantly, we had blocked Argentina from getting the full three.

    ---

    The Netherlands were next. Two old friends awaited us.

    First up, leading the line for them, was longtime striker Wesley Vermeer, still of Real Madrid and still banging them in at a terrifying rate:



    Vermeer had casually scored a hat trick against Morocco in their opening match and was looking for more. My PTSD of his four-goal performance against Cartagena in the 2027 La Liga title decider started coming back.

    The second was Dirk-Jan Bruinier.



    For those who didn't read the last AAR, or those who need a refresher, Bruinier was the apple of my eye for years before I finally was able to scrounge up enough money to buy him from Ajax. Under my guidance, he blossomed into the best left back in the world and was an absolutely critical aspect of how we played. Unfortunately, he was also extremely high-maintenance. Damn near every single rich team in Europe tried to get their hands on him, and fighting them all off became an extremely exhausting endeavor, especially near the end when he wanted to leave.

    I eventually ended the AAR with Bruinier's fate uncertain, as he had alienated half the team with his desire to leave and I was just about fed up with his bull$#@!, talent or not. Well, when I reloaded the save for this AAR and moved to the USA, one of the first things the new Cartagena management did was sell him to Chelsea - for an absolutely insane €189 million. Honestly, I probably would have done the same thing for that kind of money.

    Bruinier played with Chelsea for two years before finally moving to what I suspect was his ultimate end goal the entire time: Real Madrid. So even though I haven't been with Cartagena for seven years, my loyalties run deep. Bruinier is dead to me.

    With this match being personal, I decided to go back to the 4-3-3 and introduce the treasonous Bruinier to my current best friend. Ged Spielmann would be in his traditional position of right wing (as opposed to further back in right midfield in the 3-5-2), and the two would directly battle each other.

    The personal battle was mostly a draw. Bruinier completely neutralized Spielmann, but our right winger also tired the Dutchman out, and the end result was ironically both men being subbed off at the same time. From my personal point of view, the most interesting thing about this match was my freshly-designed corner kick tactic (mostly designed to limit Óscar Enríquez's negative impact) being tested for the first time.

    Just past the 30 minute mark, the tactic looked golden, but...



    I know this probably wasn't the smartest thing to do considering Appleby's mental state had been a bit fragile due to his poor experience at Arsenal, but I was so furious with him for missing that that I subbed him off at halftime, which I almost never do.

    Instead of putting his direct replacement, Eric Kramer, on the field, I instead decided to move striker Josh Colon (who had also turned in a pathetic first half performance) out to the left and put Luke Gee up front. This rage-induced substitution ended up working out quite well, as Colon's perfect cross to Walker Tovar (Spielmann's replacement) ended up getting us the only goal of the match.



    There was no doubt about it: we had FM'd the Netherlands. Somehow, someway, we had not only managed to score on them (eat it, Bruinier), but we had also stopped their potent attack. I largely attribute this to our, uh, spirited play.



    ---

    We had survived the two toughest teams in the group, but we weren't out of the woods yet, though. These were the standings with one match to go:



    Morocco had had a rough first two games, but I didn't want to let up at all. If we lost, and if the Netherlands beat Argentina (very, very possible), all of our good work would be undone. Even if we drew, chances were likely that we would only end up placing second in the group.

    Four years ago, we had a shot at topping our World Cup group, only to choke and draw a weak Australia team in the third match. As a result, we finished second, putting us up against Portugal in the Round of 16 as opposed to the easier Uruguay, and the grueling 120-minute battle against Portugal meant that we were in no fit state to take on Mexico, leading to our heartbreaking 4-1 extra time loss. No, I haven't thought about that sequence of events at all in the past four years, why do you ask?

    The point was, I wanted to burn Morocco to the $#@!ing ground. 80 minutes in, things were looking dicey. We had scored first, courtesy of another Gee-Escobedo linkup, but Morocco had equalized in the 35th minute and they had held us off ever since.

    Seething, I decided it was time to throw caution to the wind. Taking off defensive midfielder Pozzo, I threw on Josh Colon, and now we were playing a 3-4-3 with three outright strikers. Spielmann, supposedly resting up for the knockout round if we were to get there, got thrown in as well. This was an all-out attack like I had never ordered up before.

    It worked.



    We survived the scare and blew Morocco away in the final ten minutes, winning by a 4-1 score that doesn't really demonstrate just how tense the game had been. We had survived the Group of Death. We had topped the Group of Death, for the Netherlands beat Argentina 4-2 to finish second place.

    The Golden Generation, in their Golden Years, would have at least one more chance to ride together.

    Our opponent? Let's just say that there's a reason why I pushed so hard to finish at the top of the group against Morocco rather than accepting the draw.



    ---

    AROUND THE WORLD CUP:

    For starters, Brazil's absolute misery in these internaional tournaments continues. This was probably their lowest point since the famous 7-1 loss to Germany:



    They ended up finishing last in their group, again, tied for Qatar with a measly two points but losing on the goals scored tiebreaker (those were the only two they managed in three games). Elsewhere, this was a World Cup that mostly favored the traditional powers. Neither England nor France conceded a single goal during their three group matches to easily advance. Defending champions Mexico defeated Germany to finish top of their group, though the Germans still easily finished second. Canada put in a credible performance to ensure that there would be three CONCACAF teams in the knockout round for the second World Cup in a row.

    Full breakdown:







    Last edited by GeneralHankerchief; March 6th, 2020 at 12:17 AM.
    Lenny - Today at 10:08 AM
    Atpg sometimes the paragraphs you write are pretty good


    Looking to waste an afternoon? Vamos Cartagena - Football Manager 2018 AAR (complete!)
    The sequel to the above: An American Manager in America (in progress)

  2. ISO #202
    Cuddles Wolves Mill Crab's Avatar Flake Moderator
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    USA! USA! USA! Very impressive performance to top the group. The lesson is clearly to make all of your decisions while you're in a blind rage
    Quote Originally Posted by Cron (#16505)
    another is mash

    Another powerful game of the city of crappy

  3. ISO #203
    Soul Reader OrangeP47's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mill Crab (#202)
    USA! USA! USA! Very impressive performance to top the group. The lesson is clearly to make all of your decisions while you're in a blind rage
    Indeed, I feel like I need that "Everything turned out better than expected" meme right about now.

    Also shoutout to Gambia for even making it to the World Cup in the first place!

  4. ISO #204
    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    Cycle 2, Part XV: Spielmann, Sans Shackles


    Heading into our Round of 16 match against China, things were going entirely too well. We had finished top of the Group of Death and had drawn one of the weaker remaining teams in the tournament, something that I considered cosmic penance for our rough group. The players, barring one injury, were actually reasonably well-rested at this stage. We had discovered a formation and a combination that was undoubtedly effective on offense. And, best of all, Mexico got dumped from the tournament by Switzerland in the Round of 16!

    The situation was better than I dared hope it could have been at this stage. As a result, I took my foot off the gas ever so slightly heading into the China match.

    We went back to the 4-3-3 where the bombs-away, 3-5-2 had been by far our more effective formation in the tournament. Figuring that the China match would be our final game where we didn't play world-class competition, I went with a fully rotated lineup. Ged Spielmann, for the most part rested against Morocco so he'd be fresh for the knockout round, was rested again. The striker partnership of Luke Gee and Patrick Escobedo also saw the bench in favor of the underperforming Josh Colon. I told the team to play it smart and not defend as desperately as we did in the Argentina and Netherlands matches. And so it went.

    Naturally, it took less than 45 minutes for China to demonstrate that I was an idiot.

    ---

    China played a very patient and deliberate game, taking advantage of our less aggressive defense to take their time and always find the correct pass. As a result, despite the gap in talent between our two sides, the possession numbers were fairly even and Musah even had to work to ensure that some of the Chinese attacks were unsuccessful.

    That was China on the offensive end. On the defensive end, though, they were a pack of wolves.

    Josh Colon, our striker, went down with a concussion in the 44th minute (recovery time: ~2 weeks, probably finishing his tournament). I wasn't too stressed by this, as Colon had been underperforming, but was still moderately annoyed that I had to blow a sub in the first half. Escobedo came on.

    The hits kept coming though. Liam Espinosa, our captain, suffered a gashed head. Patrick Escobedo, Colon's replacement at striker, injured his ankle and, while able to stay in, was clearly fighting through pain as he ran up and down the field. All the while, the clock ticked closer to 90 minutes and nobody was able to score.

    Gritting my teeth, I took off right back Lapore, moved left back Musa into central defense, and brought Luke Gee on as we transitioned into a 3-5-2 to try to find the winner, but it was to no avail. Our players were too banged up and had been used to the 4-3-3 for too long, and China denied our attempts at a winner. We were going into extra time.

    The hits kept coming. Musa picked up his second yellow card of the tournament in limited action in the 111th minute (somehow, the first card of the match for either side), which meant he would be suspended for the quarterfinal if we got there. In the 117th minute, Escobedo, who had been playing doggedly for over an hour on a bum ankle, collapsed. His ankle had finally given out and he couldn't go on. We were now heading into the final phase of extra time a man down and without our best penalty taker.

    When the inevitable happened and we went to penalties, I tried to weave together a combination of skill, composure, and confidence for our five penalty takers (the order: Tovar > Phillips > Appleby > Gee > Holness). China goalkeeper Fu Xinyu stood all of 5'4 (162 cm), not an ideal height for a player in that position in this situation, but I had just spent the past 120 minutes learning how folly it was to underestimate China, and was not eager to continue doing so. Instead, I just buckled down and hoped for the best.

    This was one of those penalty shootouts where the game arbitrarily decided that nobody would miss. China kicked first, and although Emmanuel Musah guessed correctly more often than not, he still wasn't able to keep anything out. Our kickers were usually better at fooling Fu, but at the end of the day, there were no degrees of "in". There was only in or out.

    The first four kickers for each side made their shots, as did China's fifth (5'2 left back Jin Lichun). Lee Holness, holding the hammer and whose technical ability and calm precision was exactly the reason why he still held a spot on the roster despite his complete lack of physical skills at this point, stepped up to drill his and sent us into sudden death.

    Yin Linjie made his. Up stepped Óscar Enríquez, so long my bugbear when it came to set pieces. He too scored.

    Seventh for China was striker Zuo Háo, who plied his trade for Rangers in Scotland. At this, Musah finally both guessed correctly and to the right degree as well, as he pushed Zuo's shot aside.

    Liam Espinosa, our captain, stepped up. Playing with a gashed head, which was actually rendered in the match engine by having a flesh-colored bandage where his normally dark hair would have been, Espinosa placed the ball down, walked away, ran up, and slammed it home to send us into the quarterfinals.



    ---

    We had survived China, but the butcher's bill was high. Colon, concussed, was done for the rest of the World Cup. Escobedo's ankle, while not too bad, required some rest and he wouldn't be fit for the quarterfinal. Espinosa, the penalty hero, would be similarly unavailable for the next match. Add that to Joel Pérez, still recovering from his own concussion, and Christian Musa, suspended, and our numbers were getting perilously thin.









    To worsen matters, aside from the injuries, a bunch of our players had just gone 120 minutes in the World Cup Round of 16, again, and wouldn't necessarily be in the best shape for the quarterfinals, again. This was how the Mexico loss four years ago happened.

    To further worsen matters, our brief reprieve from playing absolutely top-class opposition had decisively ended.



    Around the World Cup:





    ---

    One thing we had going in our favor was that France had also required extra time and penalties to advance in their last match, though they had played a day before us. They too were suffering from attrition:



    Julien Phillipe, Chelsea's midfielder, was definitely a miss for France, but I was most relieved about the news that Killian Noël would be missing out. To this point in the tournament, Noël had led all players with five goals, and considering our availability issues in defense, would probably have added to his number had he played us. His replacement, PSG's Rémi Jobello, was of a fine quality and - perhaps most importantly - fresh, but was just not on Noël's level.





    As for us, all thoughts of rotation or strategic resting or preferred formations went out the window. Those are luxuries when you have a full and healthy complement of players to choose from. We were now in survival mode. Player availability, that and no other concerns, would dictate who played where.

    We had one piece of good news: Central defender Joel Pérez, out with a concussion since the third minute of our opening match, was cleared to play literally hours before kickoff. Otherwise, those rendered unavailable in the China match remained out. Escobedo was technically healthy, but his fitness levels were so low (79%) that there was no point in starting him. Espinosa, Musa, and Colon were outright unavailable.

    I started moving chess pieces around the board. Musah was obviously fine to keep manning the pipes in goal. Our defense had basically picked itself: With Christian Musa out and with Pérez available, we would be playing a back three consisting of, from right to left, Prideaux, Pérez, and Michaud. Andrea Pozzo, relatively fresh after not having played in the China match, would be manning defensive midfield. The main midfield line would see Walker Tovar, Scott Hernández, Sam Phillips, and Eric Kramer. Tovar had started against China and gone the full 120, and Phillips had been subbed in, but Tovar had to suck it up for reasons I'm about to explain.

    Striker was the real concern. Gee was our only healthy body up front. Colon was out, and Escobedo could probably only give us 20 minutes at most, 30 if I really wanted to push it. Anybody else who was listed as "competent" at the position was needed in midfield.

    So I had to do some tweaking.



    Ged Spielmann is and has been Team USA's best player ever since he got generated by the game loading MLS in 2027. He has rampaged down the right wing for us for years now, scoring and setting up goals in equal measure, and as he's slightly younger than the rest of the core of the Golden Generation, he has so far been immune to the physical decline that's hit our other longtime players.

    Despite this, I've mostly kept him in bubble wrap over the past couple of years. Part of this was simply because I was desperate to find an effective backup right winger (and finally seem to have stumbled on one in Walker Tovar), but part of this was because I've always wanted to save him for The Big Moments. In essence, it's been the concept of load management taken to an extreme, where Spielmann's had nearly as much "management" as he has "load". This principle was taken to its logical conclusion when I held him out of the starting lineup for two consecutive matches, under the premise that I was "saving him" for the gauntlet to come.

    Well, the gauntlet is now.

    Tovar, holding up reasonably well after his 120-minute exertion last match, retained his spot on the right. But Spielmann, being one of our few healthy remaining attackers, needed to see the field against France, that much was clear. The question was, where? Tovar could man the right. Spielmann could have played an inverted role on the left, something that I know he's good at but have never played him there myself. We were most in need of a striker to play alongside Gee up front, but Spielmann had never played that position.

    Then the solution came to me: He'd go in the hole, a bit behind Gee but not as an actual striker, while still ahead of our main midfield line. In essence, he'd be playing as a true #10, playing as far up as he did when he manned right wing for us in the 4-3-3, but unshackled from the right. It was a truly free role for our top attacker, and my pregame instructions to Spielmann consisted of a simple "the time is now. Go $#@! them up." He had license to attack from wherever he felt like, positioning be damned.

    ---

    I resurrected the "bombs away" mentality that allowed us to survive Argentina in the group stage. This time, it didn't take 75 minutes to prove effective.

    In the 14th minute, Tovar, with the ball on the right, hit a long, high cross into France's box to nobody in particular. The French defenders cleared it away, but with so little immediate danger, they perhaps weren't as sharp as they could have been and the cleared ball was picked up by Eric Kramer. Kramer hit a cross of his own, this time from much closer, and Spielmann, marauding in the center, was there to pick it up and put it past France's goalkeeper Habib Kanté. 1-0, USA.



    Seven minutes after that, Tovar launched another cross from deep. This time it had a clear target: Luke Gee, sprinting forward to try to get to it first, but he was pushed out of the way by France defender Dominique Barbet. The referee whistled and pointed to the spot: penalty, USA kick! The game had Tovar - who had the best penalty ability in our lineup - set to take the kick, but I took one look at Spielmann's current mood - "feeling confident" - and waved Tovar off. Spielmann took the kick, sent Kanté the wrong way, and just like that we were up 2-0 and France was reeling.

    France got one back in the 42nd minute, courtesy of two attack runs down the wings and a cross where we really could have used the presence of fullbacks, but Tovar made it 3-1 right before halftime, finishing off an uncharacteristic sustained and patient attack. Somehow, this bull$#@! was working.

    ---

    France adjusted, though. I'm obviously speaking from a position of knowledge, but our 3-5-2 (and its variants) that I run has a clear weakness: we're pretty good at stopping direct attacks from the center and neutralizing the striker, and had been doing so to Rémi Jobello so far, but we're quite vulnerable to attacks down the side and angled approaches.

    It took France a bit of time to feel us out, but they eventually took advantage of this and struck twice in quick succession. In the 59th minute, tiny French winger Albert Bayiha of Real Madrid, got the ball down the left and, not being particularly troubled by our defenders, sent in a perfect cross. Michaud and Pérez were in the area, but Jobello flat-out outjumped them both to put the ball on net, where it made it past Musah.



    Two minutes after that, Bayiha scored one of his own off a French counterattack. Jobello got the ball around midfield and fired a long pass up the field to a streaking Bayiha. Aaron Prideaux decided to try to intercept the ball rather than mark Bayiha, and when it ended up sailing inches over the 6'0 Prideaux's (our shortest defender's) head, there was nobody to stop the diminuative Frenchman. 3-3, and I would have taken off Prideaux at this point if the exhausted and teenaged Daniel Ledesma wasn't our only reserve central defender.



    Phillips, banged up in the move that led to that last French counterattack, had to be subbed off for Cherneski. The game, already played at a dangerous pace, started to grow frantic as both teams were desperate to avoid a second consecutive extra time period.

    It took ten minutes for the game to be decided. Spielmann was continuing to be his dangerous self, and Gee had, more than once, found himself on a breakaway with nobody to beat but the France goalkeeper, but on all of these occasions he had either missed the net entirely or had his shot saved. Not wanting to experience this unique heartache again, I instructed my players to hit crosses deeper into the box, so that way all Gee and Spielmann would have to do upon receiving them was shoot them in, no maneuvering required.

    Walker Tovar, ever the diligent player and still grateful that he got an unexpected call-up to the World Cup squad, followed my instructions. He hit a long, deep cross aimed for Gee that ended up being off target.

    Very off target.



    Kanté had been having a poor night anyway, but he really should have done better here. He was as caught by surprise by the cross's inaccuracy as everyone else, placing himself in position to stop a shot from Gee if the defenders weren't able to get to the ball first. When the cross instead ended up being perfectly placed as a shot, it was too late for Kanté to do anything about it and the Accidental Goal put us up 4-3 with 20 minutes to play.

    Looking to shore up our defense for the final stretch as well as save Gee - our only healthy striker, remember - for the future, I took Gee off for Sam Lapore. We were now playing a 4-1-4-1 with Spielmann leading the line for us. Six minutes after the Accidental Goal, he proved that he could function as a striker as well when he put the capper on the match by depositing in a cross from Nick Appleby.

    This made the score 5-3, and at last, the 90-minute heart attack of a game finally concluded. We were going to the semifinals of the World Cup.



    The 3-5-2, with the instructions I've attached to it, isn't our best formation defensively, but it sure as hell unleashes our attackers and puts them in a position to succeed. In netting a hat trick in the knockout phase of the World Cup, Ged Spielmann put himself in rare company. He now has four goals in the tournament, tied for second, and with everybody else with 4 or 5 goals out of the World Cup, I'm hoping he can get the Golden Boot. We're not sitting him for the rest of the tournament unless he's hurt. Not now that the entire world knows what he's capable of.

    We're especially going to need Spielmann's prowess in the semifinal. Our opponent held their competition scoreless for four matches in a row this World Cup before finally conceding twice to Switzerland the last match:



    Musa's suspension is over. Escobedo should be ready to go. Espinosa will probably be ready to go. Colon is out, but otherwise it's all hands on deck as we attempt to go where no American team in history has gone before.

    Around the World Cup:





    One of these things is not like the other...

    NEXT: Queen Elizabeth, still reigning at the age of 108, cracks her knuckles threateningly and fires up the death metal playlist.
    Last edited by GeneralHankerchief; March 7th, 2020 at 03:56 PM.
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    Soul Reader OrangeP47's Avatar
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    That China game was a massacre, though having watched how China plays in the WWC, that's probably realistic, assuming their tactics are comparable.

    The France game though... wow... candidate for best game of the AAR (while Mexico provides a great backdrop, the same team providing all the drama all the time does get a bit stale, so that's part of it probably). Certainly the neutrals would have been very entertained.

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    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    Cycle 2, Part XVI: Melee in Melbourne


    The United States have played England twice in the World Cup. The first time happened in 1950, in a match so infamous that it has its own Wikipedia article, saw an England team that was widely expected to contend for the championship, lose 1-0 to a scraped-together team of semiprofessional American players, the best of whom couldn't even make the trip because he wasn't able to secure time off from his day job. It is widely considered the lowest moment in English national team history and one of the most shocking upsets of all time. The second time was in 2010, the first match in the group stage. England took an early 1-0 lead, but Clint Dempsey equalized for the Americans in the 40th minute after England goalkeeper Robert Green let in the softest goal I've ever seen in my life. The match ended up as a 1-1 draw.

    The stakes for this battle are slightly higher. And while the media - led by the English themselves, naturally - have been quick to play up England's sordid history against the US despite the clear gap in talent, I know it means very little. This game isn't going to come down to some ancient hex or voodoo or revolutionary spirit or something. The team that goes to the final is going to be better-prepared and better-equipped than their opponents. That's where I come in.

    There's no doubt that, on paper, we are the weaker squad. England haven't had the injury issues we have (though my players are finally recovering). They hadn't conceded a single goal at all before doing so twice in the quarterfinals. They have been consistently ranked #1 in the world ever since I took the USA job and started paying attention to those rankings. Their team is talented and experienced, and know how to go deep in tournaments (they've finished runner-up in the last two European championships, and got 3rd in the last World Cup).

    But then again, the one time in both AARs I had a team that could actually be considered a powerhouse, I left it the following season. For controlling mostly underdogs for the past 17 years, I'd say I have a pretty good trophy haul to show for it.

    ---

    Match Details:

    Location: Melbourne Cricket Ground, Melbourne. The largest stadium in Australia, and, I presume, the site of the final, with a capacity of over 97,000 people, it's a fitting location for a battle of this magnitude. The Melbourne Cricket Ground is something of a good luck charm for me, personally, as I've never lost there yet. We played there for a Club World Cup or two during my time with Cartagena, and of course, won the Confederations Cup in this building just a year ago. Here's hoping the luck can hold out.

    Weather: The forecast is calling for "a cold and stormy evening" with a temperature of around 42°F (5.5°C). In other words, perfect weather for the English team.

    England injuries: None to speak of. Right winger Dereck Hilton, of Arsenal, picked up a bruised knee in the group stage, but he's long since recovered.

    USA injuries: Josh Colon remains out with a concussion. Of the other players who sustained injuries in the China match, Patrick Escobedo has shaken off his ankle injury and is ready to go. Liam Espinosa has been slow to recover from his gashed head and, while available to play, will not start for us (fitness rating at kickoff: 75%). Christian Musa is off his suspension. Everyone else is good to go.

    Starting lineups:



    England: Hughes ; Nicholas, Rogers (c), Dejyothin, Carter ; Hilton, Turner, Beech, Collier ; Kelly, Taçi
    Subs: Tipple, Bannister, Bojang, Ellis, Robertson, Spann, L'Estrange, Logan, Wilson, Harvey, Hinds, Crabb

    USA: Musah; Lapore, Pérez, Musa ; Holness ; Tovar, Énriquez, Cherneski, Appleby ; Spielmann, Escobedo (c)
    Subs: Rosas, Kramer, Pozzo, Prideaux, Espinosa, Hernández, Phillips, Michaud, Ledesma, Gee, Porter

    Once again, I'm starting players more based off relative freshness more than any other concerns. Ged Spielmann remains in his spot in the hole after scoring a hat trick against France from that position in the quarterfinals. Walker Tovar likewise continues to lock down the right, where he's played well for us. The biggest tactical wrinkle I've pulled is starting both Christian Musa and Sam Lapore, normally our fullbacks, as central defenders in a back three in an attempt to try to defend flank attacks better. Musa is listed as "capable" at central defender, but Lapore is not. I checked Lapore's stats, they should translate over well. I'm sure everything will be fine.

    England, for their part, are playing their traditional flat 4-4-2, with their wingers presumably supplying crosses into their two strikers. This worries me a little bit, as we've been vulnerable to these types of goals, and part of the reason why I'm giving Musa and Lapore starts in an attempt to compromise.

    Matchups to watch:

    Leon Kelly (England ST) vs. Joel Pérez (USA DC): Because of the changes made to my back three, Pérez is the only natural central defender in there, and he's got his work cut out for him. Going against him is Chelsea captain and legendary striker Kelly (2032 Ballon d'Or winner, four time Best Player in Europe; approached by the Conservatives, Labour, and the Lib Dems to stand for Parliament once his playing career ends), who's already got three goals this World Cup and is England's all time leading goalscorer. The two of them have gone up against each other regularly in the Premier League (Pérez plays for Liverpool), which is part of the reason why I'm starting Pérez over Michaud and Prideaux.

    England's other striker is the Kosovo-born Albert Taçi. Should either of them falter, their first reserve striker is named John L'Estrange. That apostrophe isn't fooling me; they're trying to sneak a Death Eater on their team. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.



    Chris Rogers (England DC) vs. Patrick Escobedo (USA ST) and Ged Spielmann (USA Swiss Army Knife): England does not play with a dedicated defensive midfielder, so the task of preventing another five-goal performance from us largely falls to their central defenders. England captain Rogers, playing for Real Madrid, has just the right combination of skill, physicality, and guts to endear him to his national fanbase. My hope is that his comparatively low Determination and Composure come back to bite him, though; we're going to try for an early goal to hopefully send him into a downward spiral.



    The English wingers (Dereck Hilton/Jake Collier) vs. our makeshift central defenders (Sam Lapore/Christian Musa): This is probably where the match will be decided. Most of our goals in the 3-5-2 and its variants have come via the result of angled attacks, usually in the form of crosses. I've pulled Musa and Lapore, natural fullbacks, back a bit to deal with this problem. Hopefully it will work, because Hilton and Collier are both traditional, "cross em in" wingers rather than inverted forwards. They're also extremely proficient at their jobs.





    The plan, essentially, is to try the old rope-a-dope strategy. Weather the storm, handle the English crosses, and then take advantage of our relatively fresh lineup as well as the English team's age and go bombs away in the second half.

    If it works, I reserve the right to be as egotistical as Muhammad Ali. If it doesn't, well... at least it's not losing to Mexico.

    ---

    THE MATCH

    1 min: Kickoff! We're wearing our home whites with blue trim. England are wearing their away reds - you know, the uniforms that have been in the English national consciousness since they won the 1966 World Cup in those same colors.

    3 min: Bit of confusion in the stands. The English supporters are starting off with an early rendition of "God Save the Queen", but instead of trying to sing the Star-Spangled Banner, USA fans are singing in tune but substituting the lyrics with "My Country 'Tis of Thee". The result amounts to general noise.

    5 min: GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL ENGLAND! Uh oh. Jake Collier delivered a free kick into the box that everybody went up for. Christian Musa jumped for it and was closest to it, but it fell to Leon Kelly who passed it to England captain Chris Rogers, inches away from the goal. We weren't able to stop him from tapping it in quickly enough. This feels like a problem that could have been prevented had I had natural central defenders in instead of converted fullbacks.



    6 min: We immediately start with a dangerous attack that has promise and leads to a corner. Receiving the kick, Cherneski shoots wide from distance, but it's an encouraging sign that our players aren't going to fold despite the early setback.

    11 min: We've gotten off a few shots so far, but they've all been from distance. I'm not going to issue any instructions to prevent this; the "be more deliberate" command might conflict with my "bombs away" and confuse the players. Just gotta ride it out and hope they find daylight.

    14 min: England has been on the attack lately and have put a few dangerous crosses into the area. Kelly and Taçi have both been quite dangerous and I'm glad we have the extra bodies in central defense to counter them. Sticking with the back three has been the correct move, but perhaps I should have just stayed with three central defenders.

    19 min: On an attack run for us, Spielmann passes left to Nick Appleby. With acres of room to run in front of him, Appleby instead immediately shoots it only to see the ball go 10 feet wide. I was hoping the poor guy would have a good World Cup to get his confidence back after two bad years at Arsenal, but this hasn't been the case.

    23 min: Corner, USA. It's a repeat of our first corner that I reported on in the 6th minute, only Cherneski's shot went even wider. I'm going to change that tactic around at halftime; that seems to be a poor combination.

    28 min: Right winger Walker Tovar, so effective for us in this World Cup so far, has done very little for us today. A lot of times he's been shut out of the attack as it's gone down the left or center. Spielmann, sensing this, just fed him and went for a run, but Tovar's cross was poor.

    29 min: We have seven shots and none of them have required the English goalkeeper to make a save. I might need to issue an instruction after all.

    35 min: Escobedo finally with a shot on target! It's from 25 yards out and right to the goalkeeper, but still!

    39 min: Cherneski plays a ball forward, perhaps a bit too hard as it's claimed by goalkeeper Hughes, but Escobedo didn't even make a run for it. That's the kind of attack I want to see more, but only if our strikers can get in there and finish it off.

    42 min: A long cross from left winger Collier sees Leon Kelly outjump Christian Musa and put it on goal, but it's wide. Big sigh of relief. I feel like my strategy of putting fullbacks in central defense has somewhat solved the problem of wingers being dangerous, but have created their own set of issues - they're having a harder time with England's strikers. There's always gonna be a tradeoff.

    45 min: Second shot on target to the USA! Spielmann plays a pretty through ball to Óscar Énriquez of all people, and the charging midfielder blasts a shot that requires goalkeeper Hughes to tip it over the bar. Had it gone to Tovar, or perhaps Scott Hernández, it might have gone better, but it's something.

    45+1 min: Kelly receives another deep cross from the left, and spears the ball right into the post. He had three defenders on him and Musah beat; that was far too close.

    HALFTIME!



    The last time I followed a match in this much detail was our loss to Mexico in the World Cup four years ago. It was 0-0 at halftime then and I was feeling pessimistic; despite the scoreline here I feel a good bit better. It feels like our deficiencies here have been tactical more than us simply not having it, and tactics can be fixed.

    Our heat maps are looking decent, but the main issue I have is that our center of heat is a bit further away from the English box than I'd like. This is perhaps contributing to our problem with long, harmless shots.



    I changed around our corner kick tactic to take Cherneski out of the area where he's hit long shots, made a few other adjustments, and sent our team back. The strategy all along was the rope-a-dope; there's no sense in getting away from it right before you're set to start punching back.

    46 min: England have made one sub. Midfielder Jamie Beech, who we've mostly neutralized, is off for Andrew Crabb. This appears to be a like-for-like.

    47 min: Cherneski seems desperate to win the game all by himself, taking another long shot that's nowhere near close.

    51 min: Spielmann with a long, accurate pass that splits the defense and sends Escobedo off to the races! Naturally, it's whistled dead - Escobedo was just a bit offside.

    53 min: Lee Holness, belying his age and declining skills, crunches Leon Kelly off the ball and stops an attack dead. Unfortunately, nobody is able to follow up on it and reclaim possession, so England gets the ball right back. Their attack ultimately fizzles when Andrew Crabb shoots wide from distance. Are you sure he's not on our team?

    58 min: Holness's tackle seems to have initiated a new phase of the game intensity-wise: the tackles are becoming bolder and more desperate as we try to equalize and England tries to put us away for good.

    60 min: England has two consecutive corners. The first one is dangerously close and the resulting shot needs to be blocked by Escobedo and sent off-course. The second one is easily handled.

    61 min: Heart attack. Collier - the far more effective of England's two wingers tonight - sends in a cross to Kelly. Kelly gets to the ball, heads it, it bounces off the crossbar, back into play, hits Musah - oh god is it going to be an own goal - but rolls out of play. Entirely, entirely too close.

    63 min: I make my first substitution: Steven Cherneski off for Sam Phillips. It's been a disappointing night for Cherneski - he's made some decent passes, but for the most part has just made too many poor decisions with and without the ball. One thing Phillips has never lacked is effort and guts, which is what we need right now.

    66 min: England make two subs of their own, bringing their count to the max three. Death Eater in disguise John L'Estrange is not one of them.

    69 min: Our best chance of the night! Escobedo teed up a perfect ball for Spielmann, who ran up and hit a rocket from 20 yards out, but goalkeeper Hughes was equal to the task and pushed it out of bounds.

    70 min: Starting to get late.

    72 min: I make my second substitution. Lee Holness off for Luke Gee. We're now playing a 3-4-1-2, with Spielmann still in the hole.

    79 min: For the first time, audible singing of "It's coming home" can be heard in the stands as we scramble away another England corner kick.

    80 min: Final substitution: I take the ineffective Nick Appleby off for Eric Kramer.

    84 min: GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL USA! There it is! A tremendous piece of individual effort by Patrick Escobedo, who tackles an England defender off the ball in his own box, gets to the ball first, and fires it in! What a move, befitting the man who's wearing the captain's armband for us tonight!



    I'm going to take partial credit for the goal, seeing as how it came minutes after I issued instructions to close down more often and really get stuck in on tackles, but at the end of the day that was just a hell of an effort by Escobedo at a time where we really needed the equalizer.

    85 min: Leon Kelly receives a yellow card for dissent. Apparently he argued a little too vehemently that Escobedo was offside at some point during that goal. If this was a deliberate move to silence the USA portion of the crowd, it hasn't worked - they're cheering louder than ever.

    86 min: Naturally, we're going to try to go for the win right now as opposed to in extra time.

    88 min: Phillips tries to emulate what Escobedo just did and tackled an England defender off the ball in the box, but another England player was there to follow it up and maintain possession.

    90 min: Four minutes of stoppage time.

    90+3 min: Kramer, already more effective on the left than Nick Appleby was all game, tries a running, contested cross down the line, but it's claimed by Hughes.

    90+4 min: We stymie a late England corner, and, for the second consecutive time that I do one of these minute-by-minute writeups in this AAR, we're headed to extra time!



    Both teams are out of subs. For all of the danger England has provided, they only have two shots on target - one of which was Chris Rogers's goal which was literally impossible to miss from the distance he shot it at. Aside from the early error, our fullbacks-turned-central defenders have actually performed quite well, and I don't think Christian Musa's 6.1 rating is remotely fair considering all he's done since the initial goal.

    Ironically, Lapore, the guy supposedly not comfortable at all in central defense, has been more consistent, but he's also let England left winger Jake Collier be their most dangerous player, so perhaps it's a personal decision of Lapore's to hang back more.

    94 min: Phillips with a great pass out left to Kramer. The attack amounts to nothing, but that's the kind of danger and effort he's provided since coming on that Cherneski just hadn't given us.

    95 min: My instructions to not hold back when tackling are making their consequences known. Phillips and now Spielmann have yellow cards; two of England's players are on yellows as well. I'm not changing anything.

    101 min: This is why I'm not changing anything: Óscar Énriquez just saved a near-sure goal by making a heart-stopping tackle in the box to knock the ball out of bounds. The tackle was clean...

    101 min: GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL ENGLAND! ...but they scored on the resulting corner. Chris Rogers, again. The only thing that would make the England captain more popular in his country at the moment would be if he played for something like West Ham instead of Real Madrid.



    102 min: Both of Rogers's goals have come from a combined distance of maybe five feet.

    104 min: CHANCE! Spielmann with a tricky backheel pass in the box that surprises everybody. Óscar Énriquez gets to it first, but can't put it on target. We're still doing well overall, I don't think I'm going to change anything. Our guys just need to get it done.

    105 min: Halftime, extra time. I put our chances of scoring again at maybe 25%? Honestly, the game has been very tightly-played by both sides; both of England's goals have come off set pieces while ours came from open play. That and $2.00 will buy me bus fare, of course.

    106 min: Two long shots for us since the restart. Everybody's fatigued, and I think this is the result.

    109 min: Heartstoppingly close for the USA! Escobedo lays one off to Gee - a solid striker partnership continuing here - who tees up a shot right at the 18-yard line, but he didn't get everything on it. The shot was softer than I expected and, naturally, wide. That was probably our equalizer gone up in smoke.

    113 min: "Everyone seems to know the score / They've seen it all before / They just know / They're so sure." Meanwhile, the American supporters are screaming something about the Revolutionary War in response.

    117 min: Now the fatigue is starting to get to us. I can just tell: the passes are still intelligent and I can see what the players are trying to do, but they're just not as well-executed.

    120 min: One minute of stoppage time. One lonely, measly, pathetic minute.

    120+1 min: Red Two, this is Gold Leader. We're starting our attack run.

    120+1 min: I'm probably making more of this than there would have been, but Gee laid off a great, subtle ball for Escobedo that very well could have been a goal, but Escobedo juuuuuuuuuuust got beaten to it. Were this 40 minutes ago, I think he would have gotten there, but.

    120+1 min: The whistle blows, and that's the final! England are going to their first World Cup final since 1966, but unfortunately for us, this isn't an England AAR.







    ---

    I feel a lot less bad about this result than I did the Mexico loss four years ago. While it obviously stings to come so close to the World Cup final (and thus the ultimate goal of this AAR), overall I thought the team played well in this game and were right there until the end. Leon Kelly, who I was most worried about, had some dangerous chances, but we stopped him every time. England did not score either of their goals off crosses or angled attacks. We just missed one too many opportunities on our end, and there's not really that much you can do about that after a certain point.

    I will probably feel worse about this defeat down the line when I do right now, particularly when Ged Spielmann starts to decline with age. At 31 right now, he's unlikely to make the next World Cup, and while he'll certainly play in the Gold Cup next year, this was probably the American hero's last stand. As with before, we have a lot of players to cycle out of the lineup and new blood to introduce, and it's not going to be easy.

    AROUND THE WORLD CUP:



    England play Spain in the 2034 final. The Spanish players also played a full 120 minutes, but they also went a day earlier than us, so they have a bit more rest.

    This means we play Germany in the third place game. Considering we only have two days of rest between now and then, I'm not exactly optimistic about our chances.

    As the third place game doesn't mean anything, I'll probably shoehorn it in a wrap-up post or something.

    NEXT: After Germany, I'll take a couple days' break and make the promised "state of the world" post.

    The 2038 World Cup, by the way, takes place in Mexico.
    Last edited by GeneralHankerchief; March 8th, 2020 at 07:08 PM.
    Lenny - Today at 10:08 AM
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    Soul Reader OrangeP47's Avatar
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    Well, that's a shame, but it was always going to be tough. Another great match even if it was a loss, and the previous WC history vs England is some of my favorite so thanks for reminding me.

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    Wants It More LanMisa's Avatar
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    Only got to read up on the matches today. Sorry about the loss to England, of all the nations; I can hear the Undying Queen Vampiress of England cackling from here. Still, great win against France and China was a great reminder of why one should never let the foot off of the pedal in such a tournament.

    Rooting for Germany in the 3rd place match of course ( ) but I am still looking forward to your thoughts about the tournament in general and which of the new players you see a future with for the long run.

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    Cuddles Wolves Mill Crab's Avatar Flake Moderator
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    Oof, tough loss. I liked the suspense of the minute-by-minute breakdown though.

    I'm getting the feeling that you're at least two cycles away from being able to bring the Cup home with how down you've been on the current round of prospects. Time to buckle in for a long ride?
    Quote Originally Posted by Cron (#16505)
    another is mash

    Another powerful game of the city of crappy

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    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mill Crab (#209)
    I'm getting the feeling that you're at least two cycles away from being able to bring the Cup home with how down you've been on the current round of prospects. Time to buckle in for a long ride?
    I made this prediction in my very first update, and so far it seems prescient:

    Quote Originally Posted by GeneralHankerchief (#13)
    It's summer 2027. The next World Cup is in 2030. Honestly, I think we're going to have to wait until the 2040s at minimum before we see fruition here. Straight up, I think that I've just taken on a more difficult assignment than guiding Cartagena to glory was a decade ago.
    That said, I don't particularly want it to last that long. Starting next cycle, we're getting serious. No more theme-naming the cycle updates. I'm going to be breaking out the arcana. I've already tried harder in this campaign than I ever have in an FM save, and we're going to kick it up a notch.
    Lenny - Today at 10:08 AM
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    Soul Reader OrangeP47's Avatar
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    Wish I had some cheesy tips, but even when I'm doing well (like right now in my current season, currently pulling 12 games undefeated in the league) I have no idea *why* my tactics are working, I just stumble into success by sheer dumb luck.

  12. ISO #212
    Quote Originally Posted by GeneralHankerchief (#206)
    Why is everyone so pale?

    Is the Australia of 2034 some kind of hellish racial dystopia, where players like Musah, Musa, and Holness must 'white up' if they wish to appear on tv?

    I demand answers!

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    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by McGinty (#212)
    Quote Originally Posted by GeneralHankerchief (#206)
    Why is everyone so pale?

    Is the Australia of 2034 some kind of hellish racial dystopia, where players like Musah, Musa, and Holness must 'white up' if they wish to appear on tv?

    I demand answers!
    For whatever reason, FM18 has an issue where the players' appearance changes upon me firing up the game or, from what I can tell, general whim. I make sure to reload the skin whenever taking a screenshot of the players in order to get their "correct" look, but otherwise it's too much trouble to do for the full roster pics like that.
    Lenny - Today at 10:08 AM
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    Soul Reader OrangeP47's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GeneralHankerchief (#213)
    Quote Originally Posted by McGinty (#212)
    Quote Originally Posted by GeneralHankerchief (#206)
    Why is everyone so pale?

    Is the Australia of 2034 some kind of hellish racial dystopia, where players like Musah, Musa, and Holness must 'white up' if they wish to appear on tv?

    I demand answers!
    For whatever reason, FM18 has an issue where the players' appearance changes upon me firing up the game or, from what I can tell, general whim. I make sure to reload the skin whenever taking a screenshot of the players in order to get their "correct" look, but otherwise it's too much trouble to do for the full roster pics like that.
    That fixes it? It comes and goes but for like the past week my entire attacking lineup has been the wrong ethnicity and it's starting to worry me because it usually fixes itself by now. Maybe I should try reloading the skin.

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    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by OrangeP47 (#214)
    Quote Originally Posted by GeneralHankerchief (#213)
    Quote Originally Posted by McGinty (#212)
    Quote Originally Posted by GeneralHankerchief (#206)
    Why is everyone so pale?

    Is the Australia of 2034 some kind of hellish racial dystopia, where players like Musah, Musa, and Holness must 'white up' if they wish to appear on tv?

    I demand answers!
    For whatever reason, FM18 has an issue where the players' appearance changes upon me firing up the game or, from what I can tell, general whim. I make sure to reload the skin whenever taking a screenshot of the players in order to get their "correct" look, but otherwise it's too much trouble to do for the full roster pics like that.
    That fixes it? It comes and goes but for like the past week my entire attacking lineup has been the wrong ethnicity and it's starting to worry me because it usually fixes itself by now. Maybe I should try reloading the skin.
    From what I've found, on a limited basis, yes. The trick is to go to Prefs > Reload Skin from the player's info screen - not just any general view. This will 100% correct the single player. Whether it corrects other players, though, is up in the air, and sometimes if you do it one by one the original players you correct will revert back to their improper state as you go through.

    So, like I said, limited basis. Good for me taking screenshots of individual players, not so good for team lineups.
    Lenny - Today at 10:08 AM
    Atpg sometimes the paragraphs you write are pretty good


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  16. ISO #216
    Wants It More LanMisa's Avatar
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    I kinda wish for a setup where Copa, Gold Cup and Confed Cup all happen at the same time and USA, USB and USC fight it out all over the world.

    I assume that this is logistically impossible, but one can dream.

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    Soul Reader OrangeP47's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GeneralHankerchief (#215)
    Quote Originally Posted by OrangeP47 (#214)
    Quote Originally Posted by GeneralHankerchief (#213)
    Quote Originally Posted by McGinty (#212)
    Why is everyone so pale?

    Is the Australia of 2034 some kind of hellish racial dystopia, where players like Musah, Musa, and Holness must 'white up' if they wish to appear on tv?

    I demand answers!
    For whatever reason, FM18 has an issue where the players' appearance changes upon me firing up the game or, from what I can tell, general whim. I make sure to reload the skin whenever taking a screenshot of the players in order to get their "correct" look, but otherwise it's too much trouble to do for the full roster pics like that.
    That fixes it? It comes and goes but for like the past week my entire attacking lineup has been the wrong ethnicity and it's starting to worry me because it usually fixes itself by now. Maybe I should try reloading the skin.
    From what I've found, on a limited basis, yes. The trick is to go to Prefs > Reload Skin from the player's info screen - not just any general view. This will 100% correct the single player. Whether it corrects other players, though, is up in the air, and sometimes if you do it one by one the original players you correct will revert back to their improper state as you go through.

    So, like I said, limited basis. Good for me taking screenshots of individual players, not so good for team lineups.
    So I think I found a way to fix everyone all at once... reload the skin from the page of someone who actually *is* the ethnicity they've all morphed into, and all the people who are incorrectly displaying as that will go back to what they are normally.

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    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    I'm going to start working on the promised "state of the world" post tonight or tomorrow. In it, I plan to include:
    • Winner history from the top five European leagues, plus MLS and Champions/Europa Leagues
    • Winner history from the World Cup and Euros
    • Progression of Team USA's rankings ever since I took over
    • A nonexhaustive "where are they now?", focusing on Cartagena players who were on the team during the final few seasons where we were contending for trophies on multiple fronts (plus maybe one or two other old friends)


    Does anyone have any requests for me to include something not on this list, or a specific figure in the "where are they now" section? No promises I'll get to it, but I'll see what I can do.
    Last edited by GeneralHankerchief; March 9th, 2020 at 08:28 PM.
    Lenny - Today at 10:08 AM
    Atpg sometimes the paragraphs you write are pretty good


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    Maybe throw Liga MX in there as well, but otherwise sounds good.

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    Cuddles Wolves Mill Crab's Avatar Flake Moderator
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    If we don't find out which 6 teams hired and fired Alonso, what are we even doing here?
    Quote Originally Posted by Cron (#16505)
    another is mash

    Another powerful game of the city of crappy

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    ༼ つ ;-; ༽つ give smith another day mhsmith0's Avatar Game Manager
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mill Crab (#220)
    If we don't find out which 6 teams hired and fired Alonso, what are we even doing here?
    $#@!posting?
    Life is simply unfair... don't you think?
    http://wiki.mafiascum.net/index.php?title=mhsmith0

    BATMAN: Only jugg was the only one we didn’t scum read at least not me

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    Wants It More LanMisa's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mill Crab (#220)
    If we don't find out which 6 teams hired and fired Alonso, what are we even doing here?
    This, also possibly the best player award winners or the world's most expensive players in General. Seeing the new Messi might be interesting.

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    Interlude: The State of the World, Summer 2034

    Old business first: World Cup wrap-up!

    3rd place game result:



    Pretty poor game overall, Germany was clearly the better team but both sides were definitely on a comedown after the semifinal losses (remember: they also played a full 120 before losing to Spain on penalties). Our defenders, including a recovered Espinosa, held them off for over 100 minutes but just ran out of gas in the end as Stipe Markovic scored the winner for Germany.

    All in all, a bit of a comedown to end a World Cup with two consecutive losses, but the team can be proud of how they played, even in both losses.

    The winner of the 2034 World Cup:



    If possible, England's triumph here was even more dramatic than their late semifinal victory against us. To go down early, only to fight back even, then lose a man via red card immediately into extra time, and then go on to score two goals anyway and win... they haven't invented a word that will describe the England supporters after this. "Insufferable" won't be nearly enough to cover it.

    Heartbreak for Spain vice captain and Friend of Cartagena Damián Fernández Morales, as he has now lost his second straight World Cup final. He'll probably have one more shot at glory in 2038 at the age of 33, but that's not guaranteed. More on Morales later.


    Club Competitions

    (all competition histories will be split by a single dash (-) representing the break from when I departed Cartagena for Team USA)

    La Liga (Spain)
    2018: Atlético Madrid (2: Real Madrid | 3: Barcelona)
    2019: Barcelona (2: Real Madrid | 3: Atlético Madrid)
    2020: Real Madrid (2: Atlético Madrid | 3: Barcelona)
    2021: Real Madrid (2: Barcelona | 3: Atlético Madrid)
    2022: Sevilla (2: Barcelona | 3: Real Madrid)
    2023: Real Madrid (2: Cartagena | 3: Barcelona)
    2024: Cartagena (2: Real Madrid | 3: Barcelona)
    2025: Real Madrid (2: Cartagena | 3: Barcelona)
    2026: Cartagena (2: Real Madrid | 3: Atlético Madrid)
    2027: Real Madrid (2: Cartagena | 3: Barcelona)
    -
    2028: Cartagena (2: Real Madrid | 3: Barcelona)
    2029: Real Madrid (2: Cartagena | 3: Barcelona)
    2030: Real Madrid (2: Barcelona | 3: Cartagena)
    2031: Real Madrid (2: Cartagena | 3: Barcelona)
    2032: Real Madrid (2: Cartagena | 3: Sevilla)
    2033: Real Madrid (2: Cartagena | 3: Sevilla)
    2034: Real Madrid (2: Cartagena | 3: Sevilla)

    Premier League (England)
    2018: Manchester United (2: Tottenham | 3: Manchester City)
    2019: Tottenham(!) (2: Arsenal | 3: Liverpool)
    2020: Manchester United (2: Chelsea | 3: Manchester City)
    2021: Manchester United (2: Arsenal | 3. Tottenham)
    2022: Manchester United (2: Chelsea | 3: Tottenham)
    2023: Chelsea (2: Manchester United | 3: Arsenal)
    2024: Manchester United (2: Arsenal | 3: Chelsea)
    2025: Manchester United (2: Chelsea | 3: Tottenham)
    2026: Chelsea (2: Arsenal | 3: Tottenham)
    2027: Manchester United (2: Arsenal | 3: Liverpool)
    -
    2028: Manchester United (2: Chelsea | 3: Arsenal)
    2029: Arsenal (2: Manchester United | 3: Chelsea)
    2030: Arsenal (2: Chelsea | 3: Manchester United)
    2031: Manchester United (2: Manchester City | 3: Arsenal)
    2032: Arsenal (2: Manchester City | 3: Manchester United)
    2033: Manchester United (2: Manchester City | 3: Arsenal)
    2034: Manchester City (2: Arsenal | 3: Chelsea)

    Bundesliga (Germany)
    2018: Bayern (2: Leipzig | 3: Leverkusen)
    2019: Bayern (2: Dortmund | 3: Leipzig)
    2020: Bayern (2: Leipzig | 3: Dortmund)
    2021: Dortmund (2: Bayern | 3: Leipzig)
    2022: Leipzig (2: Bayern | 3: Dortmund)
    2023: Bayern (2: Dortmund | 3: Leipzig)
    2024: Dortmund (2: Bayern | 3: Leverkusen)
    2025: Bayern (2: Dortmund | 3: Leipzig)
    2026: Bayern (2: Dortmund | 3: Stuttgart)
    2027: Bayern (2: Dortmund | 3: Wolfsburg)
    -
    2028: Dortmund (2: Bayern | 3: Schalke)
    2029: Bayern (2: Dortmund | 3: Stuttgart)
    2030: Bayern (2: Dortmund | 3: Leverkusen)
    2031: Bayern (2: Dortmund | 3: Leverkusen)
    2032: Bayern (2: Dortmund | 3: Gladbach)
    2033: Bayern (2: Leverkusen | 3: Dortmund)
    2034: Bayern (2: Leipzig | 3: Hannover)

    Serie A (Italy)
    2018: Juventus (2: Inter | 3: Fiorentina)
    2019: Juventus (2: Inter | 3: Milan)
    2020: Juventus (2: Milan | 3: Napoli)
    2021: Juventus (2. Napoli | 3: Milan)
    2022: Juventus (2: Milan | 3: Napoli)
    2023: Juventus (2. Napoli | 3: Milan)
    2024: Juventus (2. Napoli | 3: Roma)
    2025: Milan (2. Juventus | 3: Roma)
    2026: Juventus (2: Milan | 3: Roma)
    2027: Juventus (2: Milan | 3: Inter)
    -
    2028: Juventus (2: Milan | 3: Napoli)
    2029: Juventus (2: Inter | 3: Fiorentina)
    2030: Juventus (2: Milan | 3: Inter)
    2031: Milan (2: Juventus | 3: Inter)
    2032: Inter (2: Juventus | 3: Roma)
    2033: Juventus (2: Inter | 3: Roma)
    2034: Inter (2: Milan | 3: Roma)

    Ligue 1 (France)
    2018: PSG (2: Monaco | 3. Marseille)
    2019: PSG (2: Monaco | 3. Lyon)
    2020: PSG (2: Monaco | 3. Lyon)
    2021: PSG (2: Monaco | 3. Lyon)
    2022: PSG (2: Monaco | 3. Marseille)
    2023: PSG (2: Monaco | 3. Lyon)
    2024: PSG (2: Monaco | 3. Marseille)
    2025: Monaco (2: PSG | 3: Marseille)
    2026: Monaco (2: PSG | 3: Lyon)
    2027: Monaco (2: PSG | 3: Lyon)
    -
    2028: PSG (2: Monaco | 3. Lyon)
    2029: PSG (2: Monaco | 3. Marseille)
    2030: PSG (2: Monaco | 3. Lyon)
    2031: PSG (2: Monaco | 3. Lyon)
    2032: PSG (2: Monaco | 3. Lyon)
    2033: PSG (2: Monaco | 3. Lyon)
    2034: PSG (2: Monaco | 3. Lyon)

    Europa League (continental)
    2018: Liverpool over Hoffenheim
    2019: Liverpool over Marseille
    2020: Celta over Villareal
    2021: Arsenal over Sevilla
    2022: Cartagena over Liverpool
    2023: Roma over Arsenal
    2024: Manchester City over Liverpool
    2025: Stoke(!) over Tottenham
    2026: Tottenham over Juventus
    2027: Liverpool over PSG
    -
    2028: Benfica over Stuttgart
    2029: Tottenham over Marseille
    2030: Liverpool over Stuttgart
    2031: Liverpool over Dortmund
    2032: Chelsea over Marseille
    2033: Lyon over Milan
    2034: Dortmund over Napoli

    Champions League (continental)
    2018: Real Madrid over Tottenham
    2019: Manchester City over Real Madrid (in Madrid!)
    2020: Manchester United over Real Madrid
    2021: Manchester United over Juventus
    2022: Real Madrid over PSG (in Paris!)
    2023: Liverpool over Leipzig
    2024: Real Madrid over Manchester United
    2025: Cartagena over Leipzig
    2026: Cartagena over Roma
    2027: Cartagena over Real Madrid
    -
    2028: Real Madrid over Cartagena (Cartagena eliminated: final)
    2029: Arsenal over Real Madrid (Cartagena eliminated: semifinal)
    2030: Manchester City over PSG (Cartagena eliminated: quarterfinal)
    2031: Real Madrid over Arsenal (in Madrid!) (Cartagena eliminated: round of 16)
    2032: Manchester United over PSG (Cartagena eliminated: quarterfinal)
    2033: Manchester City over Barcelona (Cartagena eliminated: round of 16)
    2034: Manchester United over Arsenal (Cartagena eliminated: semifinal)

    Major League Soccer (USA)
    (note: I only am including data after I loaded the league)
    2028: Columbus over Portland
    2029: Toronto over Dallas
    2030: Dallas over Orlando City
    2031: NYCFC over Sporting KC
    2032: NY Red Bulls over Houston
    2033: Real Salt Lake over NYCFC
    2034: in progress

    Liga MX (Mexico)
    (note: I only am including data after I loaded the league)
    2029 opening stage: Necaxa over Toluca
    2029 closing stage: Tigres over América
    2030 opening stage: Veracruz over Cruz Azul
    2030 closing stage: América over Pumas
    2031 opening stage: Toluca over Pumas
    2031 closing stage: Pachuca over Tigres
    2032 opening stage: Necaxa over Léon
    2032 closing stage: Léon over Tigres
    2033 opening stage: Pachuca over América
    2033 closing stage: Pachuca over América
    2034 opening stage: América over Pachuca
    2034 closing stage: América over Toluca

    ---

    International Competitions

    2018 World Cup (Russia):
    Brazil over Uruguay
    Golden Ball: Fredson Vinícius (Brazil)
    England performance: Lost in semifinal to Brazil; 3rd place over France
    USA performance: Knocked out in group stage (Italy, Nigeria, Brazil)

    Euro 2020 (Pan-European):
    France over Germany
    Best Player: Jelle Dubois (Belgium)
    England performance: Lost in first knockout round to Belgium

    2022 World Cup (Australia):
    Germany over Brazil
    Golden Ball: Simon Fick (Germany)
    England performance: Lost in first knockout round to Uruguay
    USA performance: Lost in first knockout round to Belgium

    Euro 2024 (Germany):
    England over Portugal
    Best Player: Riccardo Cancelli (Italy)
    England performance: Champions over Portugal

    2026 World Cup (Morocco):
    Argentina over Germany
    Golden Ball: Karl-Heinz Diegmann (Germany)
    England performance: Lost in quarterfinal to Portugal
    USA performance: Knocked out in group stage (France, Belgium, Colombia; didn't score a single goal)

    Euro 2028 (Italy):
    France over England
    Best Player: Causso Moreno (Portugal)
    England performance: Lost in final to France

    2030 World Cup (Italy):
    Mexico over Spain
    Golden Ball: Facundo Mansilla (Argentina)
    England performance: Lost in semifinal to Spain; defeated Argentina in 3rd place match
    USA performance: lost in quarterfinal to Mexico

    Euro 2032 (Scotland/Wales)
    Italy over England
    Best Player: Lorenzo Granelli (Italy)
    England performance: Lost in final to Italy

    2034 World Cup (Australia)
    England over Spain
    Golden Ball: Jake Collier (England)
    England performance: Champions over Spain
    USA performance: Lost in semifinal to England; lost to Germany in 3rd place match

    Ballon d'Or
    2017: Jamie Clarke (England/Tottenham)
    2018: Silvio Cañete (Argentina/Juventus)
    2019: Silvio Cañete (Argentina/Juventus)
    2020: Eric Arrigada (Chile/Manchester United)
    2021: Fredson Vinícius (Brazil/PSG)
    2022: Fredson Vinícius (Brazil/PSG)
    2023: Silvio Cañete (Argentina/PSG)
    2024: Silvio Cañete (Argentina/PSG)
    2025: Silvio Cañete (Argentina/PSG)
    2026: Nikão (Brazil/Monaco)
    2027: Nikão (Brazil/Real Madrid)
    2028: Silvio Cañete (Argentina/Cartagena) (the final season of his career)
    2029: Ludger Schade (Germany/Bayern)
    2030: Ludger Schade (Germany/Bayern)
    2031: Ludger Schade (Germany/Bayern)
    2032: Leon Kelly (England/Chelsea)
    2033: Ludger Schade (Germany/Bayern) (Schade did not play against us in the 3rd place match)

    ---

    USA's Place in the World

    World ranking:



    I took over in Summer 2027. Not quite our nadir, but pretty close to it. The dip in mid-2031, shortly before we won the Copa América and Gold Cup that summer, has to do with the fact that we had only played friendlies between the 2030 World Cup and then. Friendlies factor far less into the ranking algorithm and other nations were actually playing competitive matches during that stretch. I anticipate a similar dip at the same point in this coming cycle.

    Team USA Overall Best Eleven:



    Five of our Best Eleven (Appleby, Escobedo, Spielmann, Lapore, and Musah) were generated when I loaded MLS into the game and have still had time to crack the roster. Of the remaining six, I've made extensive use of Christian Musa and Liam Espinosa. Andy Alvarez was a roster regular before he aged out. Kevin Fogg had a cup of coffee with the team and was our leading striker in the 2027 Gold Cup, but has not made an appearance with the team since I loaded MLS into the game. Greg Adams and Alex Baladez were before my time.

    The biggest omission is probably Jeff Suarez at striker. His numbers with us are roughly comparable to Fogg's, but Suarez scored in a lot higher-leverage situations. Escobedo is out of position, but as he can play attacking midfielder, I'll let it slide.

    ---

    Where Are They Now?

    (Note: This list is going to heavily reference the previous Cartagena AAR)

    Víctor Molina

    Who was he? Nobody ever gave more to Cartagena than Molina. Joined the club in 2018 on a free, got named vice captain a year later, got passed over for the captaincy in 2019 and then saw his vice captaincy stripped a year later, but never stopped being a influential presence in the dressing room. Sold to Léganes in 2023 to help make financial room for Dirk-Jan Bruinier.

    Where is he now? Was immediately named Léganes's vice captain in 2023 and experienced some success with them, leading them to a surprise Europa League appearance in 2023 and then scoring the winning penalty to knock us out of the Copa del Rey in 2025. Was unable to secure a second contract with Léganes and moved to France, playing for Caen and later Red Star Paris. Was appointed vice captain of both French clubs but never made it to Captain at any of them. Retired with Red Star Paris in 2031 at the age of 33-34.

    Abdulla Mohammed

    Who was he? Qatar's best ever player and the first left winger I signed who could do more than simply send in crosses. A big part of our success in the Europa League and beyond, but had turned 30 and I cashed in on him while I still could to make room for Morales. Sold to Newcastle for €9.25 million in 2026, where he had an up-and-down first season with them.

    Where is he now? Something went wrong in his first season in Newcastle, where despite decent stats, they immediately turned around and sold him to Fenerbahce in the Turkish league. Mohammed saw out his career with them, but he was a changed man after his time in Newcastle. Grew out a truly shocking afro and eventually retired in 2031 at the age of 35, announcing that he would follow the route of the old Hippie Trail and go on a spiritual journey to India. Newcastle: Not even once.



    Roberto Fernández

    Who was he? Right winger and longtime captain of Cartagena. Was with the team from 2019-2026, serving as Captain for all but the first year of his tenure. Was a super clutch player for us and instrumental in Cartagena getting promoted to La Liga and then becoming a force to be reckoned with.

    Where is he now? Declined with age and was gradually phased out of the lineup before retiring in 2026. I rewarded his service with a coaching job with the U19 squad and he remains in that position to this day despite multiple managerial changes. Has some pretty good stats too!

    Jesús Gutiérrez

    Who was he? Cartagena's longest-serving player, with me for my entire ten-year career with the club. All time leader in appearances and goals by the time I stepped down, though the striker was a clear third in the pecking order at the position by the end.

    Where is he now? Didn't outlast me at Cartagena for very long. The new manager was apparently an unsentimental type and cleared out half the roster, and Gutiérrez was one of the first to go. Sold to Dynamo Kyiv in 2027 for €4.2 million. Saw out the remaining years of his career in Ukraine, spending time with Vorskla and Zhemchuzhyna Odesa in addition to Kyiv before retiring in 2033.

    Léandre Diarra

    Who was he? A stalwart right winger with us ever since Fernández started aging, his most famous moment was springboarding the winning goal against Milan in the 2027 Champions League semis in the 92nd minute.



    Where is he now? Did not survive the Cartagenan Diaspora of 2027 (though I was planning on moving on from him anyway). Landed on his feet with a €6.5 million move to Atlético Madrid, where he spent four moderately successful seasons. Moved to Scotland and played for Rangers FC for three seasons after that, and is currently still active at age 36, about to start his first season with Sparta Praha in the Czech league.

    Kyllian Dupuis

    Who was he? An early speculative purchase I made. While he never turned into a superstar, he still was a useful player in the midfield and became a folk hero in Cartagena after becoming the first athlete in La Liga to come out. Scored the clinching goal to give us our first league championship.

    Where is he now? Another victim of the Cartagenan Diaspora. Loaned to Celta in 2027 before returning to Cartagena in 2028 where he didn't play much. Made a permanent move to Rangers for €5.5 million in 2029 where he reunited with Léandre Diarra. Still active at age 32, now starting his second year with Burnley in England. They were relegated from the Premier League last season and Dupuis is looking to help them bounce back.

    Sergio Fernández

    Who was he? A central defender originally with Manchester City but was never quite able to break through their squad and ended up being in loan hell. Finally stuck on with us, where I retrained him into a crack defensive midfielder. Was unfairly blamed for "scoring" an own goal in the greatest gif in Football Manager history during his time on with Real Sociedad:



    Where is he now? Initially survived the Cartagenan Diaspora, but the well-traveled Fernández soon resumed his odyssey. Loaned to Celta in 2028. Sold to Reading for €5.5 million in 2029. Sold to Everton for €7 million in 2032 and was briefly named their vice captain, a position which Patrick Escobedo now holds. Is back in Spain now after having moved to Espanyol on a free earlier this summer.

    Grégory Rousseau

    Who was he? Stalwart central defender who played for me for seven seasons, succeeding Roberto Fernández as captain for the last of those. Big, imperious, steady, and absolutely critical to our deadly counterattack by playing accurate long balls to our attackers, who would receive them and go off to the races.

    Where is he now? Remained with the team for a few years after my departure and eventually broke Gutiérrez's all-time appearances record for the club. Nothing lasts forever though, and Rousseau was stripped of the captaincy in 2029 as part of a leadership shakeup. Saw out his contract and moved to Sevilla on a free in 2031, which coincided with the string of their third-place finishes in La Liga. Currently plays in MLS of all places, having been acquired by Sporting Kansas City this past February. He and Scott Hernández are swapping stories about me.

    Dirk-Jan Bruinier

    Who was he? The best left back in the world and the object of my desire for over a year before I guttered damn near half the team in order to scrape the funds to buy him for a club record €25.5 million in 2023. Was absolutely worth the money as he transformed how the team played, but half of Europe's interest in him - and his reciprocation - wore me down over the years. I was on the brink of selling him after he alienated half the team in our last Champions League final before I left.

    Where is he now? Technically part of the Cartagenan Diaspora by getting his big move to Chelsea for €189 million shortly after I left the club, which I believe is the highest amount of money any player has ever gone for in this savefile. Spent two decorated seasons there before engineering another move to Real Madrid in 2029, hilariously, for "only" €111 million. Still with Real Madrid at age 31. I'm still listed as one of his favored personnel, but I don't respond to his Christmas cards. The just-ended World Cup, where we defeated the Netherlands in the group stage, will be his last - he retired from the national team at the end of it.

    Ángel Fraile

    Who was he? All-purpose midfielder for us, longtime vice captain, and the most clutch player on the team, having scored in three of our four European finals (including the match winner in the 2022 Europa League final). Would have received the captaincy in 2026 after Roberto Fernández's retirement had it not been for his unfortunate affiliation with Juan Carlos Alonso.

    Where is he now? My very last act before leaving Cartagena was me renewing Fraile's contract, which allowed him to survive the Cartagenan Diaspora of 2027. Remained vice captain after Rousseau lost the armband in 2029, but never ascended to the big job himself. Eventually Fraile's contract ran out and he moved to Bordeaux, where he was never quite able to replicate his glory years with us. Saw out his career playing for Akhmat Grozny in Russia, where he retired in 2034 at the age of 35. Has not remained in the game as a coach, and considering his spectacular hair, I don't blame him either. Dude's got "Armani model" written all over him.



    Borracha

    Who was he? Teenage wunderkind striker I bought in 2021, hoping for a strong development from him. Never quite hit the dazzling heights I envisioned, but turned into a reliable weapon for us for the second half of the AAR. Sensationally renounced his Brazilian nationality in order to become eligible for Spain after it was clear that Brazil wasn't calling him up to the national team.

    Where is he now? Strikers are always useful, and he's still at Cartagena at the age of 32! He beat Gutiérrez's all-time goal mark in 2031 and topped Rousseau's appearances record in 2033. Has 182 all time goals in La Liga, and could crack the historic top ten by the time he's done. Represented Spain in the 2028 and 2032 Euros and the 2030 World Cup, but did not make the 2034 squad.

    Damián Fernández Morales

    Who was he? A €99 million present to myself after we opened the new stadium in 2026. Shattered the club purchase record, but Morales was well worth the money as he scored roughly a billion clutch goals for us in my final season with Cartagena, including the decisive goal in the Champions League semifinal and two in the final against Real Madrid. His longterm ambition was to become the club's captain, so I figured we were in good hands after I left.

    Where is he now? Of all the departures from Cartagena over the years, Morales's is the one that angers me the most. He was given the captaincy over Rousseau in 2029, and after periodic flirtation with other clubs it looked like he was set to stay longterm. Then, inexpicably, management sold him a year later to Manchester City for €116 million. I followed the saga; he was NOT pushing to leave. Is still with Manchester City and is Spain's vice captain, banging in goals for both at the age of 29 and having just won the Goal of the Tournament award in this last World Cup. Unlike Bruinier, is still beloved in Cartagena, and the feeling is mutual.

    Dirk Pauwels

    Who was he? An emergency purchase I made at midfield in January 2024 after we had to let one of our midfielders go, Pauwels proved to be a metronome. His creativity and partnership with the hard-working Ángel Fraile anchored our midfield for years. Was 29 when I left the club and I was considering cashing in on him while his value was still high, even though his skills hadn't remotely deteriorated.

    Where is he now? Not only did Pauwels survive the Cartagenan Diaspora, he became club captain in 2030 after Morales's exit. Stayed with Cartagena for the rest of his career before retiring to great fanfare in 2033. Currently looking for work as a fitness coach and has passable stats; I tried to hire him for Team USA but he wants to stay in Europe so he rebuffed me. I don't hold it against him at all.

    Ulisses Gaspar

    Who was he? My midfielder of the future. I bought Gaspar in January 2026 from Porto for €41.5 million and he looked like a burgeoning star. Scored the final goal I was in charge of the club for, the capper to seal our victory against Madrid in the 2027 Champions League final.

    Where is he now? 28 years old, has 97 caps with Portugal, 2032 FIFA World Player of the Year (though, bizarrely, did not place Top 3 in the Ballon d'Or voting, even though there's almost always perfect overlap between those two awards), Portugal vice captain, Cartagena captain. Has an outside shot of breaking Borracha's appearance record for the club by the time all is said and done, though obviously there's a lot that will factor into that. It's safe to say that he's been money well spent.

    Juan Carlos Alonso

    Who was he? The enemy. Talked trash about Cartagena when he was managing Lleida Esportiu back in Segunda Prime. When Cartagena got promoted to La Liga, I thought I had left him behind, but he jumped ship for Betis, ensuring our rivalry would continue. Since then, has bounced around various teams in Spain: Betis, Real Sociedad, Celta, Valencia, Athletic Bilbao, Valencia again. Had never stayed more than a full season with any of these teams after Lleida Esportiu while I was in charge of Cartagena.

    Where is he now? This is the reason why you're all still reading this anyway, so let's get right to it: After he was fired by Valencia the second time, his record is as follows:
    Girona, February 2028- February 2029 (gained promotion to La Liga, sacked)
    Deportivo, June 2029-January 2030 (jumped ship)
    Malaga, January 2030-December 2031 (sacked)

    He has been out of work since then. During a couple of his unemployed spells, some MLS teams were interested in him, but he was too proud to take those jobs. I haven't heard a peep recently and think he's finally, finally done.


    NEXT: The cycle for the 2038 World Cup begins! Look for it in a few days.
    Last edited by GeneralHankerchief; March 10th, 2020 at 09:18 PM.
    Lenny - Today at 10:08 AM
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    Soul Reader OrangeP47's Avatar
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    Well it's a shame Real Madrid is back on top, but I guess Cartagena is still stable if they're pulling number 2 year after year. I also see Man U is slightly less dominant in your save than in mine... slightly... Indeed a shock for Tottenham to get a title, and that early too though. And the shock Stoke Europa win, that's probably a good story. I guess for MLS it's nice to even see Orlando make a final (only team that's been around longer than 3 years to never make the playoffs IRL)

    I find it ironic your 2026 WC was Morroco, as that was the competing bid to the US/Canada/Mexico bid that won for real. Also didn't know Scotland/Wales could joint host the Euros, that's neat.

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    Wants It More LanMisa's Avatar
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    With Alonso out of the picture, can't you hire him only to fire him immediately afterwards?

    In any case a new rival is necessary. How about some national team coach? Possibly the Mexican one?

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    Cuddles Wolves Mill Crab's Avatar Flake Moderator
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    Pour one out for Alonso, the idéal heel.

    lolalonso
    Quote Originally Posted by Cron (#16505)
    another is mash

    Another powerful game of the city of crappy

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    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    Cycle 3, Part I: Three Careers

    We had 14 players in common between our 2030 and 2034 World Cup rosters. I'm not sure what the average turnover rate is on national teams, but I suspect that we're on the more stagnant end.

    Of those 14 players, very few of them will be making the 2038 roster. They were in their primes in 2030 and a bit past it (for the most part) but still game in 2034. They have no chance in 2038. Some of them haven't even been called up for the September set of games; while the Gold Cup is less than a year away, I also want to get a head start on blooding the younger talent in the hope that some of them will stand out.

    This anticipated high turnover rate aside, three players stand reasonable-to-good chances of making the 2038 roster: Sam Phillips, Patrick Escobedo, and Liam Espinosa. The three of them have been with me for either the entire time I've been coach of Team USA or close to it, and the three of them will be my anchors and rocks as I lead the next generation into battle. These are their stories.

    ---

    The Prodigy

    Sam Phillips is the youngest of the group, quite experienced with 77 caps, but still a relative baby at 24 years old. Phillips was present in the game prior to me loading MLS, but I had for the most part overlooked him in the early stages due to his age and relative obscurity. I gave him his USA debut in October 2027, when my already-depleted roster lost even more players to some U23 tournament or another, but when the senior players came back I thought nothing of dropping him and never hearing from again.

    This changed rapidly. Phillips, originally with LA Galaxy, got a move to DC United, where his development exploded and he began attracting the attention of some of the biggest clubs in the world. In 2029, a little over a year after he moved to DC United, Arsenal pounced and bought him for €6.75 million. He was 19 years old.

    Phillips's potentials looked great, but he was still not Premier League-quality, and thus Arsenal slow-tracked his development. They loaned him out to three successive clubs: Barnsley (in England's second tier), Newcastle, and Leverkusen before finally integrating him into their own squad in the 2032-33 season.

    Normally, these successive loan moves to different teams in different leagues spell doom for a player, but Phillips persevered and flourished in each of them. All the while, he was becoming more and more integral in my plans, gradually displacing Steven Cherneski as my creative midfielder of choice.

    Phillips is now starting his third season with Arsenal and is almost certainly the best player on my roster. His consistency, vision, and effort have all been a godsend. He will be 28 come the next World Cup, the absolute prime of his career. By that point, he'll have 100 caps under his belt and this will be his team. Phillips knows what's at stake. The weight of the country is on his shoulders. He'll carry that burden one game at a time with the same steady productivity as he does everything else.





    ---

    The Late Bloomer

    Upon me loading MLS, there was a huge talent drain over the next year or so as a ton of players, freshly generated, got bought by richer and more prestigious European teams. Ged Spielmann went to Chelsea. Jeff Suarez got bought by Espanyol and later moved to Juventus. That sort of thing. Patrick Escobedo was not one of these people. Despite his youth and obvious talent, he remained with his boyhood club, the San Jose Earthquakes.

    Escobedo is one of those strikers who is terminally underappreciated. He can certainly score goals - he led San Jose in that category for every season he was around - but he's just as happy to get in there and do the grunt work; to draw the defense, to play on the wings, to link up play, to set the ball up for another attack. As more and more of my roster was based in Europe, the European media set to cover the USMNT started to wonder why I kept picking Escobedo instead of somebody like José Alberto Cantú, Bournemouth's successful striker who had done well for us in the 2031 Gold Cup with USB. I never wavered. Escobedo was too important. (He was also younger than Cantú, but let's ignore that for the moment in favor of the narrative I'm building.)

    Escobedo's strong qualities led him to be named San Jose's captain in 2030, a position which he held for over three years. All the while, he continued to produce - while not scoring quite as many goals as Suarez, or turning in as many spectacular performances as Ged Spielmann, Escobedo was often tasked to be my lead striker when trying out new players or experimenting with formations. He never complained, and he always delivered.

    Finally, belatedly, he got his move to Europe in the summer of 2033, with Everton signing him for €6.75 million, ironically the same amount of money Sam Phillips went for. The Everton coach was so impressed with him in preseason training he named Escobedo the club's vice captain.

    Escobedo resumed his role with our 2034 World Cup roster. Paired with Luke Gee in the 3-5-2, he finally found a partner who was just as unselfish and versatile as him. The result was five goals between them, including one of the most dramatic goals in the AAR to date, Escobedo's incredible equalizer against England in the semifinal.



    England came back and won, but Escobedo made his point. He was now the leading man. He had worn the captain's armband in that match and took the initiative. Upon returning to Everton after the World Cup concluded, he got named their permanent captain. It took Escobedo longer to get there than most, but he has arrived.





    ---

    The Nomad

    Liam Espinosa was already present in the game when I took the USA job and had already gained himself 13 caps. These were the words I initially wrote about him when taking over and getting a look at the team:

    Quote Originally Posted by GeneralHankerchief (#18)
    Our most promising player, and my great hope to keep us afloat in the next World Cup and beyond, is Liverpool's Liam Espinosa (born: Murrieta, CA).

    Espinosa has your prototypical size and skills of a stopper, but he doesn't quite have the athleticism yet to back it up and fully ascend to the ranks of the elite. I'm hoping this changes over the years. His mentals are excellent though, and upon seeing this I immediately named him the team's vice captain. Tyler Bourne objected, crying something about young age and lack of caps and disrespect for seniority. I told Tyler Bourne to go suck eggs.
    It's been a long, strange journey for Espinosa since I wrote those words seven years ago. I trusted in his youth, mentals, and status at Liverpool to round him into a truly great defender. This... never quite happened. Mere months after I wrote those words, Liverpool loaned Espinosa to Gladbach.

    In 2028, Liverpool sold him to Monaco. I had hopes for Espinosa, as Monaco are a great French club that have historically developed players, but Monaco was so put off by him that they sold him - not even loaned, outright sold - less than six months later to Hull, sending him back to England. Espinosa's six months ended with Hull and they promptly sold him to Stoke. For those counting, that's now five clubs in under two years.

    Phillips survived his loan cycles with Arsenal, but all of the moving around played havoc with Espinosa and he was pretty topped out at that point. It's no wonder that he always seemed to perform better with the national team than he did any of his clubs: for him, it represented a rare familiarity and continuity.

    Espinosa's odyssey continued, with him spending two years with Stoke before moving on, back to Germany with Schalke this time in 2031. He has remained with Schalke ever since and was named their vice captain in 2032, a role he continues to this day. It wasn't quite the career that Liverpool (or I) envisioned for him in 2027, but Espinosa has carved out a name for himself through sheer persistence and will.

    Nationally, he's been a steady presence for us in the back, and aside from an unfortunate mistake he made in extra time in the 2027 Gold Cup final, he's hardly put a foot wrong for us. He smashed home the winning penalty for us in the Round of 16 against China despite playing with a head injury, and his presence was sorely missed in the loss to England.

    Espinosa will be 34 in the next World Cup and there's no guarantee that he'll make the team, but it will just be another challenge for the man to overcome. He's our captain, our leader, and he will do his damnedest to bring us glory for as long as he possibly can.





    ---

    The three of them: Espinosa, Escobedo, and Phillips, are forming my leadership triumvirate heading into the next cycle, and they've made it fairly obvious during the last World Cup. Espinosa will remain captain, Escobedo will slide into the vice captain's role, and Sam Phillips will deputize in their absences (Jeff Michaud, who has better leadership stats than all of them but not nearly as much history with us, will be the fourth captain should it come to that).



    The three of them have been with us for the highs and lows of the team, and in this coming period of uncertainty, I'm counting on them to steer the less experienced players in the right direction. They've all been fantastic servants to the team and I would desperately love to reward their service with a World Cup in 2038, but it's going to take a lot of work to accomplish this from everybody.

    ---

    In other news:

    Two of our players got named to the World Cup Team of the Tournament: Ged Spielmann, for his spectacular work down the right and in the hole, and, surprisingly, Luke Gee at striker, rewarding my choice of bringing him over Jeff Suarez.

    Notably, these are the only two players not from England that made the team. The Spanish media is absolutely apoplectic about this.



    Finally, our long national nightmare has ended and 79-year-old assistant manager Tyler Bourne finally retired after the World Cup. After briefly trying to recruit my old lieutenant from Cartagena, Francisco, for the job, I picked Bourne's replacement: Portuguese assistant Vitor Moreira:



    In the end, the applicants for the job came down to two men. The runner-up had lower coaching attributes but a 20 in the all-important Motivating category. In general, you want assistant managers with good Determination, Level of Discipline, Man Management, and Motivating, but my avatar is pretty solid in those categories so I went with the better coach instead. You don't have access to nearly as many good coaches when you manage a national team, particularly a non-European one, so we need all the help we can get in those categories with a bunch of younger players of questionable ability coming in.

    NEXT: Meet some of the younger players; the leadup to the 2035 Gold Cup.
    Lenny - Today at 10:08 AM
    Atpg sometimes the paragraphs you write are pretty good


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    Soul Reader OrangeP47's Avatar
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    Those best team things are so biased it's not even funny, heh.

    Looks like we still have a solid core to build around. I'm eager for some new faces, though if we didn't have any breakout stars before now, I'm a bit apprehensive about what we'll find.

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    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    Cycle 3, Part II: The Bronze Generation

    We played six matches in the rest of 2034 once the World Cup ended, all of them friendlies. For the most part, the lineups I sent out in them skewed very young. The results were... a by-product of this strategy.


    Look, don't make fun of me too much for Syria, ok? I wanted to make sure the team saw 2034 out on a high note.

    I've talked briefly about the concept of a Golden Generation in the past, but for those unaware of what it meant, a "Golden Generation" is common parlance for a group of players who all come of age at around the same time and lead the team to hitherto unexperienced success. Golden Generations can happen at the club level, such as Manchester United's famous Class of '92 or Barcelona's crop of academy graduates from around the mid-2000s, but for the most part, you find a Golden Generation on a national team.

    Croatia had one around 2008 that, while not doing much initially, eventually culminated in a shock 2nd place finish in the 2018 World Cup right when the generation was on the verge of aging out. England had one starting in the early 2000s that, being England, they pissed away and didn't lead to anything. Brazil had one in the late 1950s that saw them win three out of four World Cups. And the United States, in this universe, had one that just ended.

    A lot of times, Golden Generations have hangover effects. The natural pipeline of talent leading to gametime with the first team gets clogged with the players that have already come through, basically. They stagnate, don't reach their full potential, and when the Golden Generation ages out, the team is usually in for a period of time in the wilderness as they try to restart the pipeline.

    This is where we're at, now. The heroes of the 2030 and 2034 cycles have mostly aged out. The players who will be in (or around) their primes in 2038 have, for the most part, already been integrated into the national team as I've been desperate to inject some younger talent in there. We've seen the extents of what I'm referring to as the Tin Generation - the players currently in their mid-20s - have to offer. It's time to look beyond them.

    ---

    Overall, it's a mixed bag. There are a lot of interesting possibilities in central defense, which is good as I can't see any damn fullbacks that are going to be able to replace what Sam Lapore and Christian Musa have given us. With us probably needing to transition to a back three full time, we're going to need ever central defender we can get our hands on. Midfield looks a bit trickier, but we were comparatively young at that position in the 2034 World Cup so I'm hoping the players can hold on for a little longer there. Out on the wings, we've got some talent, but very raw talent. And at striker, I should probably be able to cobble something together.

    It's not a question of "can I get this position filled by anybody?" It's more of a question of "of these names I'm looking at, who can truly stand out and how good are they compared to what I'm used to?" Let's meet some of them now.

    Central Defense

    Rees Jones (born: Austin, TX)



    Jones is very young and very, very inexperienced. But my scouts are extremely high on his potentials, which has led me to put him on the fast track. This has come with growing pains - notably, he has been the worst of our young batch of defenders by far in the autumn friendlies. If this were the final autumn before the next World Cup, I probably would have pulled the plug in favor of someone who can contribute more immediately, but we have the luxury of time for now. Jones retains my public confidence, if only my private hope.

    Norberto Hernández (born: Conroe, TX)



    If we're going to two back threes, then I'm going to need another left-footed central defender besides Jeff Michaud. Enter Norberto (his first name is so spectacular that I'm probably going to exclusively use it from here on out). A bit older than Jones and definitely more of a physical presence, which I like. Has been steadier so far but has also seen less time with us. His technicals and mentals are not entirely inspiring, so I've got to watch my spots where I play him.

    Daniel Ledesma (born: Hollywood, FL)



    Ledesma has already had his trial by fire with us in the form of an unexpected callup to the 2034 World Cup. He appeared in three matches and got progressively more confident in each of them: First as a 3rd minute sub in the opener against Argentina (where Joel Pérez got an early concussion), he put on a shaky 6.6 rated performance against a tough Argentinian attack. Later, he attained a decent 6.9 rating in a start against Morocco, and then, in the bloodbath against China, he started, played the full 120 minutes, and got a 7.4 rating and was named Player of the Match. So Ledesma is sticking with us.

    Wingers/Wide Players

    Jeff Escobar (born: Temecula, CA)



    We've seen Escobar before. He was part of the USB team that made the Gold Cup final in 2033. He was briefly considered to join Spielmann on the right for the 2034 World Cup, but was never in serious contention. Well, some time has passed, Escobar's game has matured a bit, and a series of good performances with us in the friendlies have given him the inside track to be Spielmann's longterm replacement. Also in contention is Alec East, who, while a decent player, just really hasn't provided the "oomph" that I like to see.

    Chris Cantú (born: Arlington, TX)



    I've been trying to make Cantú work for years now, but all of his callups to the team in the 2030-34 cycle have left me unimpressed. Well, with the decline of Nick Appleby and the fact that Eric Kramer is going to be 33 in 2028, we're going back to the Cantú well. Perhaps sensing my urgency, he's been better in 2034, including finally scoring his first goal with the national team. He can stay. For now. In italics.

    Strikers

    Patrick Escobedo and Luke Gee are basically locked in. Josh Colon is somewhat likely to make the team in 2038 as well, for although he'll be 32, he can play on the left and we might need him there. Should that be the case, or should Colon or Escobedo age out, I have a few options to choose from currently in their early 20s. None of them have stuck out talentwise yet, but that's not going to stop me from showing one of them to you anyway. Allow me to introduce you to this AAR's recipient of the Pierre Fuchs Memorial Meme Name Award:

    Jeremy Zack (born: Bradenton, FL)



    Legend has it that Zack - who is extremely handsome - is so popular with his teammates that they gave him the Most Enjoyable/Entertaining Player of 2034 Award, truly an honor among honors. In his one appearance with us (the 1-0 win against Slovakia), the striker made a well-timed run to get on the end of a good cross from Spielmann and scored the only goal of the match. I haven't called him up since as I've tried out other names at the position, but that's not a bad way to leave an impression.

    So that's a nonexhaustive list of our youth. I feel better about their prospects than I did the batch of players immediately older than them, but they're still all so young and so raw it's basically a crapshoot. My current prediction is that they'll have more to offer than the Tin Generation but come up short of our Golden Generation. Thus, "Bronze Generation" feels right for them. For now. Hopefully they can upgrade to silver.

    ---

    Speaking of precious metals, I'm probably going to somewhat pump the brakes on the youth movement for the Gold Cup, as we (likely) need to win it in order to be eligible for the 2037 Confederations Cup. Mexico will be there, lurking, and in the same position as us since Costa Rica - and not either of us - won it in 2033. We'll need to be at our best to take them down.

    Down the road, there's a good chance I take personal control over the Olympic U23 team in 2036 should we qualify, as it's going to be a lot more relevant to our future prospects than it was last cycle.

    Also, I regret to inform you that there will be no USB for the foreseeable future, as we were not invited to take part in the 2035 Copa América. Rather unsporting of them to not give us a shot at defending our title, especially considering Mexico and Canada secured the two extracontinental invites, but I'm over it.

    Next: The 2035 Gold Cup!
    Last edited by GeneralHankerchief; March 15th, 2020 at 09:45 AM.
    Lenny - Today at 10:08 AM
    Atpg sometimes the paragraphs you write are pretty good


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    Soul Reader OrangeP47's Avatar
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    You lost to Estonia... The Baltics are terrible... unless one of them has managed to get better in your save (Lithuania is decentish in mine).

    Also glad to see the Inter Miami jokes are present even in FM18, though Ledesma probably generated with Orlando.

    South America is simply afraid of you

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    Wants It More LanMisa's Avatar
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    Sure looks like a downgrade from your multi million dollar squad, but I know from experience: It's much harder for national coaches to rebuild than for team coaches. Hopefully the prospects afterwards will have a lot of potential so that your Copper boys and some new faces can form the Diamond League to bring home the Big Cup.

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    Soul Reader OrangeP47's Avatar
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    Hey just want to share this for anyone reading, since the elephant in the room right now is that all real soccer has been canceled pretty much: Championship Manager 2001/2002 is *legally free* if you want to try your hand at playing this game too and not just reading it, during this time of drought. Though the game was a lot... lot different back then than it is now... still 01/02 was one of the most popular games in the series. Can be played on PC or Android.

    https://www.footballmanagerblog.org/...2001-2002.html

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    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    Update coming tomorrow evening. Not sick, just busy.
    Lenny - Today at 10:08 AM
    Atpg sometimes the paragraphs you write are pretty good


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    Soul Reader OrangeP47's Avatar
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    FM2020 is having a free week on Steam. Free for play until 3pm GMT on March 25th (more than enough time to decide if not). Unlike the previous post, this is the current iteration, so as good as it gets, though personally I still play FM18. 20 did add some cool features especially for people that like long-term saves though. Most of my complaints are actually that I preferred the way tournaments were organized circa 2017, so the fact that 2020 is updated to reflect real life and how the tournaments are now structured actually is a legitimate bonus really, my problem is more with real life.

    https://store.steampowered.com/app/1..._Manager_2020/
    Last edited by OrangeP47; March 18th, 2020 at 02:48 PM.

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    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    Cycle 3, Part III: An Interview


    2035 marks the ten-year anniversary of Cartagena's first triumph in the Champions League, defeating Leipzig by a score of 4-2 in Barcelona in the final. To commemorate the occasion, sportcartagena.es is running a series of interviews with the men who made that trophy run possible. Today's segment (and the final interview), conducted by Antonio Villar: the great manager himself, Cartagena's mythical hero, General Hankerchief.


    Antonio Villar: It's a pleasure to speak with you again, General.

    General Hankerchief: Likewise with you, Antonio. And how is Sofia doing these days?

    AV: Ran away from home three years ago to join the circus. Very sad, but apparently she's a prodigy at lion taming so at least she's advancing in her field!

    GH: Always a plus.

    AV: Indeed. To the point, though: Many of us back in Cartagena grew used to your presence in our city and falsely believed that you would never leave, so obviously your departure - which some would label as "sudden" - in 2027 was rather shocking. All of us can certainly understand the allure of leading your home nation to glory, but my first question is what have you been up to on the other side of the Atlantic?

    GH: Well, as you know, this is my eighth year with the United States national team, and it's been going rather well. There was something of an adjustment period to be sure, but once I identified the actual best players our country had produced, I made a great sweeping overhaul to the team in early 2028 and I feel like the results have backed me up ever since.

    AV: Four Gold Cup finals, one of which was a victory, two Confederations Cup titles, one Copa América -

    GH: With the B team.

    AV: With the B team, yes. And two appearances in the World Cup, the first of which saw you make the quarterfinal, which the USA had not done since 2002, and the second of which saw you make the semifinal, which the USA had not done since 1930. But overall, would you say that you're satisfied?


    GH: I mean, I can't say that I'm not pleased with our individual successes to this point. We've certainly added to the trophy cabinet, hopefully enough to appease any fan of US Soccer, but the ultimate goal is the World Cup itself, which we are still obviously very much lacking in.

    AV: And some would say that it's the only goal that matters, especially to the average American.

    GH: Correct. We're definitely a demanding bunch.

    AV: In line with that, with us being three years out to the next World Cup, you appear to be in a bit of a transition phase with your national team. Can you briefly describe the circumstances that have led you to this phase for our readers as well as the challenges you've had to overcome in dealing with this phase?

    GH: So basically, the crop of American players that were previously underused when I took the job eight years ago were mostly in their mid to late 20s. Perfect for the immediate term, and they certainly made their mark, but now it's eight years later and you can't rely on the same players forever, unfortunately. Aside from the very youngest of the batch, only my right winger Ged Spielmann and right back Sam Lapore remain on the team. So I've had to phase quite a few very good players out for replacements whose quality I'm just not as sure of.

    AV: Let's talk about that, the generational turnover. Obviously it's quite different for the a club manager to refresh his squad than a national team manager - especially for you, who was generally ruthless when it came to ship out players for the greater cause back in the day.

    GH: Back when I was with Cartagena, I saw that Abdulla Mohammed was getting a little older, for example.

    AV: For example.

    GH: Right, so he was under contract, had a year left, would have been 31 by the end of it, so I decided, let's not get tied down to a declining player when we're fighting for trophies on three fronts. We up and sold him to Newcastle, and used the money we got for him to help pay for new blood, Damián Fernández Morales. And this story is extremely common across all clubs and all leagues, but the problem is, you can't just exchange players in the national team. The player pool is the player pool, and you don't have a replacement for an aging star ready to go, you can't really do much about it other than adjust.

    AV: This caused the problem with Jamaica in the first match in the Gold Cup this year.

    GH: I've had to basically construct 75% of a new defense since last year. Most of the players I'm bringing in are in their teens or early 20s, and obviously there's going to be an adjustment period.

    AV: You were down 2-0 at halftime. To Jamaica.

    GH: Well, yes. But this is why a steady pipeline of talent is so important in national team management, because it's up to the veterans to step up and demonstrate their leadership on the field. Which they were able to do, thank goodness.



    AV: You're referring, of course, to Ged Spielmann.

    GH: Among others.

    AV: Come now, you know that that second goal in the Jamaica match was entirely down to his brilliance. Do you have a contingency plan for when he ages out?



    GH: Well, there's no denying that Spielmann's individual quality is second to none. He's certainly the player most likely to singlehandedly take over a game that I've had on Team USA, probably period - at least since maybe Gutiérrez when Cartagena was in the lower leagues. That said, while Ged will certainly be missed, there's a couple of young talents I'm looking at that are itching to take his mantle, chief among them Jeff Escobar.

    AV: Yes, this has certainly been something of a breakout tournament for Escobar. Who's he with again?

    GH: Wolfsburg, and getting better every day. He scored two goals for us in the first four matches, which was important since we were on shaky ground after only drawing Jamaica. Our third match was against Saint Kitts and Nevis, who were obviously pushovers, but in between them was Costa Rica, and we had lost to Costa Rica twice in a row before this.



    AV: But the players rallied and saw you through?

    GH: That they did, and we were on our way.





    AV: You easily defeated Barbados in the quarterfinals, so talk to me about the semifinals.

    GH: Go ahead, say it.

    AV: Very well. Talk to me about Mexico. What has this rivalry meant to you during your years in charge of your national team?



    GH: Well, I wasn't happy that the match was being played at the Cotton Bowl, that's for sure.

    AV: Yes, Dallas is quite close to Mexico, I've heard. But you know what I mean.

    GH: In a way, Mexico has been a very consistent measuring stick for us. They've been in our path pretty much every step of the way in the past eight years, and while they've stopped us more than we've pushed them aside, they've kept us sharp for every single other challenge we've faced and there's a huge benefit to having that sort of rival.

    AV: You said "in a way".

    GH: In another way, [unprintable]

    AV: This outburst was surely exacerbated by what happened in Dallas?

    GH: Antonio, I don't want the Cartagena supporters to think less of me, so for their sake, please just leave it at that.



    AV: Then let's talk about what that Mexico defeat means instead.

    GH: It means a lot of things. For starters, we're definitely in that weird spot where our stalwarts are perhaps not what they used to be, yet the younger generation isn't quite ready to take over yet. Our next competitive tournament isn't until 2037, two years from now, and while I may call some of these players up for the Olympics if we get there, they're only really going to have the occasional friendly and World Cup qualifier to gel together and try to impress me. You really can't replicate the tournament environment in any other way, unfortunately.





    AV: And because you failed to win the Gold Cup in either this year or 2033, this means you'll be ineligible to defend your consecutive Confederations Cup titles in two years' time as well.

    GH: [sotto voce] Unless the game's programming screws up again and lets us into the playoff.

    AV: I'm sorry, what was that?

    GH: Nothing.

    AV: General Hankerchief, talking about his trials and tribulations with the United States national team, who clearly still has some work ahead of him. On this tenth anniversary of his first Champions League triumph, I must close out this interview by asking the question that Cartagena supporters everywhere have begged: With the club having plateaued and finished runner-up to Real Madrid in La Liga in each of the past five seasons, not to mention the string of disappointing Champions League results, is there any chance that our club's king in the mountain arises from his slumber to defeat the great enemy once and for all?

    GH: I still have unfinished business, but never say never.

    AV: Thank you for your time, General.

    ---

    Next: I moved forward in the game a bit, and it's official: No undeserved Confederations Cup playoff for us this time. World Cup qualifiers begin in November, the Olympics next year are a possibility, but otherwise it's nothing but qualifiers and friendlies until the next Gold Cup in 2037.

    Also, I wasn't able to work this in the interview but somehow our semifinal defeat on penalties was the least dramatic of the two:



    (Mexico eventually went on to defeat Canada on penalties in the final, probably because three of Canada's players were suspended and the rest were dead on their feet)
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    Interesting format. Good for a change of pace. (Though wouldn't want it all the time). A disappointing exit indeed, but you can't beat Mexico all the time, and unlucky to draw them early. For a neutral that Canada game would probably have been the game to watching double indeed though, heh.

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    Cycle 3, Part IV: Plans in Motion

    This is the stretch of the World Cup cycle where not much is really happening. The first Gold Cup of the cycle is in the rearview mirror, the senior team is in the middle of some should-be-easy qualifiers (the Hex, the real challenge, starts next year, but we've gotta get to it first) and not much else, and major matches/tournaments are quite a bit away.

    In the past two cycles, I've used this time to solidify up my long-term strategy and pave the way for our World Cup runs: In the 2030 cycle, this came in the form of me picking through all of the players generated when I loaded MLS into the game and figuring out which ones to move forward with. In the 2034 cycle, it came in the form of me devising a new formation to take best advantage of the current playerbase.

    This cycle is no different in that we have a similarly overarching goal: Test the kids, figure out who can get it done. However, as this is more of a "grand strategy" type of goal, here are the tactics in which I'm trying to accomplish this:

    1. Play the formation game by ear

    Four years ago, when I devised the 3-5-2 variant we're using, we evenly switched between that and the 4-3-3 because I determined we didn't have enough personnel to go 100% in either direction. This time around, while I predicted (and still predict) that we'll have to go to 3-5-2 full time, we're holding off on the time being. Sam Lapore is still very much serviceable at right back, and I've found a decent young left back, who, while nowhere near the quality of Christian Musa, is still Not Actively Harming the team whenever he's out there. The result is that we're still switching back and forth between formations for the time being.

    2. Give caps to as many young players as possible

    Eight years ago, a core of top players were quickly establishing themselves and I was mostly looking for improvement on the margins. Four years ago, there wasn't really a good up-and-coming "next generation" to fill in the gaps, so I had quite a few spots locked in due to lack of competition for places.

    This cycle, I have no idea what anywhere from 50-80% of our next World Cup roster is going to look like, so I'm casting a very wide net in order to reel in as many fish as possible. The result is situations like Pat Jaime (born: Pine Bluff, AR), who had a very impressive debut with the senior team by scoring two goals and yet will probably not retain his place anytime soon:



    Some of these youth players have gained experience at the expense of my regulars, particularly Steven Cherneski. The diminutive midfielder, while still picking out the occasional killer pass for us, is often injured, playing in a "meh" league (Ligue 2, the French second division), and really does not have the stamina to play a full 90 minutes in my system. I love him, but he'll be 31 at the next World Cup and he's in danger of not making the team.

    3. Aggressively go after dual nationals

    The signs are promising that the current batch of players in their teens and early twenties will be more promising than their immediate predecessors in age (while not quite attaining the heights of the Golden Generation), but the problem is that a lot of them are eligible for multiple nations.

    Overall, I haven't had much success in trying to convince the (good) dual nationals to come play for the USA. Many of them are based in the other country they're eligible for, such as England or Mexico, and would rather play games for their national team that's closer to home. Additionally, since we're lagging behind in reputation from the major powers, a lot of times we simply don't have the glitz and glamour to be able to compete. There was one dual English/American right winger who had a talent level damn near that of Ged Spielmann who I tried to get onto the team for something like 7 years. He refused every single one of my advances, always waiting for a call-up from England that would never come. He's now 33, uncapped, and I have no more interest in him.

    I'm pleased to report that I'm starting to make progress on this front. We lost Alan Aguilar, a dynamic Mexican-American left winger (though born in Mexico), to Mexico, but we did secure the commitment of a few younger teenagers, one of whom was being actively courted by England. I raced to permanently cap-tie the 17-year-old Alan Phillip (born: Plano, TX) to us in a match that counted, and am now pleased to report that he's locked in with the USA for the rest of his career. See you in a few years, Alan!





    4. Monitor the progress of the regulars

    Not everything is about the youth, of course. I need to make absolutely sure to keep tabs on how our entrenched starters are doing, both those who are not in danger of aging out before the Next World Cup and those who are.

    So far, this has been a mixed bag. Sam Phillips has been great as ever in the midfield. Our strikers, Escobedo and Gee, are still banging them in, and Escobedo has a chance of breaking the national team's record for goals by the time he's done playing. Sam Lapore is still doing his job on the right. Ged Spielmann, though, is starting to age. He's still one of if not our best player, but at age 32 his physical decline has begun, and Chelsea is only re-upping him to one-year deals now.

    Spielmann is closing in on 100 caps and I have no plans to drop him anytime soon, but he might unfortunately be in the Jeff Suarez Zone where he can still do a job in the tournament a year before the World Cup but might not be able to contribute in the Big Dance itself. The best I have to offer Spielmann right now is a very out-of-context (and distorted) prequel meme:



    Speaking of 100 caps, our captain Liam Espinosa earned his century mark in a World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica (the only team of consequence we play in this qualifier group) in November. The festivities were somewhat marred by me destroying the dressing room in a fit of rage after the match.



    5. Lean on the Olympics

    I had the opportunity to coach our U23s in the Olympics four years ago but declined, instead delegating that task to a member of my coaching staff. As expected considering the talent level at that age four years ago and my lack of personal oversight, we went out with a whimper, being mathematically eliminated in the group stage after two games.

    I knew that this go-round, if we qualified for the Olympics, I was going to take personal control. At a certain point, my thinking evolved from "me being fine with doing this" to "me desperately wanting to do this", considering our current emphasis on youth and my desperate desire to see what our kids had to offer. So, more than ever before, I closely followed our Olympic qualifiers: we got out of our group, taking down Panama, Costa Rica, and Trinidad & Tobago. The U23s then easily handled Jamaica in the semis before facing, naturally, Mexico in the final.

    I was tempted to take personal control of just this one match, but I kept the faith and awaited the results.



    Clearly, the main lesson here is to delegate control of USA/Mexico matches to my staff more often.

    So we're going to the Olympics, and I'll be in charge there as I further evaluate the young players present and determine the pecking order I'm going to use for the final two years of this cycle. Winning will obviously be nice, but the main goal here is to see who can bring it when called upon and who I can safely rule out of further time with the senior team.

    Next: The battle plans have been set. Now we just need to execute them.
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    I have like psychic intuition for when you post

    Interesting to see a player generated away from a major MLS hub (Arkansas). Now that's the type of interest I'm talking about. Also glad to see progress being made on the dual national front. I hadn't considered the lack of standing being a barrier in the past back when I first suggested the approach, but good to see that being overcome now.

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    Looking forward to the Olympics update! Also the interview chapter was a nice one.

    I have to say, taking care of the U23 might be your best bet, right now AND long-term, to get the deed done. It will allow you to form the younger players in the way you want them to so that they might take on giants just by their forte of teamwork and familiarity with your game plan.

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    Cycle 3, Part V: Toronto 2036


    The men's soccer portion of the Olympics, a tournament explicitly designed for players age 23 and under, has turned out to be an excellent barometer of how I feel about Team USA's youth crop at any given moment.

    Eight years ago, I had the senior team's core of starters pretty much locked in and was mostly looking to the Olympics as a way to see who would fill in the margins. As a result, I took control of the Olympic team, but didn't take the tournament too seriously and didn't blink an eye when we bowed out in the quarterfinals (even if it was to Mexico).

    Four years ago, I knew that the current youth pool looked grim. In terms of the senior team, I was mostly hoping that the core would hang on, and anyone younger who I could have integrated into the team, I had already done so. I didn't bother taking control of the Olympic team that year, and when I heard about their poor results (eliminated in the group stage after two games), my suspicions were all but confirmed.

    This year is different. This year, youth is in. I had a deep young crop of players, though I wasn't exactly sure of their true potential. Tons of spots on the senior team were up for grabs; even more importantly, I wanted to figure out who could be counted on in a tournament environment. Thus, I once again took direct control of the Olympic team and this time was very invested in the results.



    ---

    As a refresher, the Olympic tournament has some particular quirks:
    • The tournament is compressed into a 2-week timescale, as opposed to the more common 3-4 weeks.
    • You're only allowed 18 players; the other regular tournaments let you have 23.
    • A maximum of three players are allowed to be over the age of 23.


    With this in mind, I selected a roster with the intent to play nothing but the 3-5-2 variant for all games, totally eschewing the 4-3-3 for the first time. With the limited player size, there was no sense in me bringing along two fullbacks who I'd only use in half the games. Plug and play was the name of the game here.

    Most of my players have seen time with the senior time, albeit only an appearance or two. I had cast a wide net over the past two years; the entire point of this tournament was to start getting more selective. The three over-23 players I brought in were not selected due to their skills. Instead, I brought them in simply because my youth pool couldn't adequately cover the position. They ended up being wingers Chris Cantú, Alec East, and defensive midfielder Andrea Pozzo. Of the actual U23s, the most senior appearances anybody had was central defender Daniel Ledesma with 20, closely followed by right winger Jeff Escobar with 18.

    Some names I was particularly interested in seeing how they performed:

    Goalkeeper Eddie Rivera (born: San Juan, Puerto Rico):



    Jeff Porter has been Emmanuel Musah's heir apparent for some years now, but his club career has stalled, and Rivera, who has come up through Sevilla's youth system via their Puerto Rico satellite team, has quietly been checking off more and more boxes. If Porter isn't careful, he could find himself usurped.

    Midfielder Antony Cruz (born: Davidson, NC):



    It's gotten to the point where I'm openly trying out potential Steven Cherneski replacements in case the little guy can't get it done. Cruz is one of the more promising of the bunch, a complete departure from the weak-but-technical Cherneski. Cruz can hold his own physically and has decent stats in the categories that matter for a creative midfielder. He had a couple of caps with us, but also put in shifts in the Olympic qualifiers, scoring the winning goal against Mexico in the CONCACAF final.

    Striker Robert Spearing (born: Loveland, CO):



    I've had my eye on Spearing for some time now. A dual international with both American and English eligibility, Spearing had leaned towards playing for England despite being born in America. A player who had made his way through Arsenal's youth system, he found himself in loan hell, never quite good enough to break through into their first team like Sam Phillips did. At some point I think Spearing realized that he wasn't as good as he thought he'd be, and that the England call-up wasn't going to come. I secured his commitment to the USA in April, played him with the senior team in a June friendly, and am using this tournament as a chance to get a better look at what I have.

    Striker Famara Sène (born: Kébémer, Senegal)



    Rounding out the trio of strikers I brought (Pat Jaime, who you met in the last update, was the third) is the Senegalese dual international Sène. He's had a sensational run with the U20 team and I'm looking to see how he handles a step up to the next level of competition while making sure he stays in the fold and doesn't get tempted by Senegal. As an aside, well-named striker Jeremy Zack missed the cut here by virtue of him being 24 and me wanting to go in another direction with the over-age players.

    ---

    As this Olympics was primarily about learning what I had, here's what we learned.

    Lesson 1: The next generation on defense hasn't quite arrived yet

    I brought four central defenders to use in the 3-5-2 variant. Three of them you've heard before: Daniel Ledesma, our big, physical, late addition to the last World Cup squad; Norberto Hernández, AKA just "Norberto" as per me, who shined in Olympic qualifiers; and Rees Jones, who my scouts say has the most potential of the lot but is currently lagging behind the others. (The fourth is NY Red Bulls' Héctor Rojas, born: Harrison, NJ.) Collectively, they're probably one of the more experienced units I've brought to the Olympics, having 41 senior caps between them.

    Despite this, they... didn't really quite show their experience in the first two games. Whether by virtue of my system, the strength of the opposition, or some combination of factors, they let in 5 goals at the start. We won the first match in a back-and-forth 3-2 battle against Ghana, but in the second match, Portugal just flat-out stomped us in a performance that I saw very few positives in.





    Lesson 2: Some players are more suited than others to the tournament environment

    If you've followed this AAR, particularly during World Cup time, you know how seriously I take player fatigue and how strongly I try to rotate in order to keep players fresh. In an international tournament environment, players who are able to quickly recover between games are an absolute asset and I try to find them whenever I can. This goes double for the Olympics, which is a notoriously grueling tournament that asks you do to more with less.

    Well, two players proved that they can hold up to the increased workload. Striker Pat Jaime and central defender Daniel Ledesma played every minute of every game in the Olympics, which is pretty close to unheard of me, not just in this AAR but across all of my Football Manager playthroughs. Ledesma, already established in the senior team, just further increased his cred and is shaping up to be the anchor of our defense for the next decade, but this was definitely a boost to Pat Jaime's stock as well.

    Lesson 3: Robert Spearing is the man

    Pat Jaime got a minor boost to his stock because he can play without getting tired. Robert Spearing got a major boost to his stock because he can play some $#@!ing soccer.

    In the first four matches we played, Spearing scored four goals and tallied up two assists, and honestly that doesn't even quite cover the sum of his contributions, since he didn't play at all in the Portugal match and was just a general menace whenever he was out there. Out of the same four matches, Spearing was named Player of the Match in three of them, meaning that he was the best player out on the field every time he took the field. First, he singlehandedly picked apart Iran's defense, racking up two assists to ensure we would advance to the knockout round:



    He then followed that up by scoring twice and thoroughly dominating a theoretically superior Belgium squad to send us into the semis:



    I called three strikers up to the last World Cup: Escobedo, Colon, and Gee. If I transition to a 3-5-2 full time, I'm probably going to need a fourth. Even if I stick with a 4-3-3, I might just put Colon or Gee out on the left wing anyway to call Spearing up anyway. After these Olympics, he is absolutely in the pole position in terms of the younger generation of strikers to have come through. England's loss, our gain.

    Lesson 4: Not everyone is indestructible

    Daniel Ledesma and Pat Jaime solidified their ironman credentials in this tournament. Sadly, they were the exceptions rather than the norm. With us facing Spain in the quarterfinals, I knew I was going to have to give Spearing a rest. Furthermore, Chris Cantú, one of my over-age players, sustained an injury against Belgium, and the only other natural left winger was 17-year old Chris Sykes, who proved himself not physically up to this level of performance yet.

    Luckily, the Olympics allow you to call up a replacement mid-tournament if someone gets hurt. I knew the name of the game was information, but I had already learned a lot about this group of players and this was the business end of the tournament. So I dialed up Ged Spielmann.

    The 33-year old Spielmann, yanked from Chelsea's preseason tour of South Korea and coming in absolutely cold, performed admirably against Spain, scoring a goal and helping set up another, but he was playing out of position and the rest of Spain's U23 setup was just better. Our Olympic run thus ended in the semis, with an admirable but still annoying loss to Spain.



    Lesson 5: The talent gap still exists

    This, perhaps, is the most important lesson of all, and it's why it was so critical that I took personal control of the Olympic team this year.

    We managed to squish Belgium, and that performance went beyond Spearing's heroics, but Spain was just better than us. So was Portugal from the group stage (who would ultimately go on to lose the gold medal game against Spain). And so was Brazil, who stomped us to take the bronze medal and confirm my hatred of third-place games for all time.



    This was a rough one. Spearing was forced out of the game early on. Spielmann was gassed from the last match so I had to throw in the 17-year old on the left. And no matter how much tactical aptitude I have, no matter how much drilling the team had been subject to and how much unity the players felt as a result of their collective experience, there's sometimes just not much you can do when you go up against this $#@! in a U23 tournament:





    It's only the Olympics, but something tells me that Brazil's hard-luck stretch in international tournaments is about ready to end if they can afford to dump that guy on their Olympic team.

    That's where I need to fill in the gaps. That's why it's so important that Liam Espinosa stays a rock in the back for us. That's why I need Sam Phillips to work midfield and Patrick Escobedo to keep banging them in up front. That's why I'm counting on Ged Spielmann to throw off the ravages of time for two more years and give us one last ride in the next World Cup. That's where you sometimes just need outright talent and experience, and while our youth crop satisfied me, they're not the whole picture.

    ---

    Next: The current round of World Cup qualifiers finishes up in September, and then the final round (the Hex) starts up in November. Several of these Olympians will be present, including, probably, Eddie Rivera. Despite our goals against record, he made some big saves and probably prevented the Spain score from being more lopsided.
    Last edited by GeneralHankerchief; March 22nd, 2020 at 05:51 PM.
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    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    Programming note: While my state's governor issued a "stay at home" order yesterday, I am (surprisingly) deemed an essential employee, and thus have to continue going into the office. Unless I either get set up with telework capabilities or get sick, the normal schedule of 1-2 updates during the week and then 1-2 on the weekend will probably persist for the time being.
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    A very informative tournament. I like the look of some of the new callups, and we certainly are getting some interesting hometowns now, and some good dual nationals. Probably good to snatch Rivera from Puerto Rico too, even if they're on the other end of the calculus than the US usually finds itself on. I'm also definitely looking forward to many productive matches with Spearing.

    Stay safe. The quarantines are making FM really popular right now (that, and the lack of real soccer). FM2020 was the third most popular game on steam today, and if you add in 19 and 18 (both of which made the top 100 games on steam) there were over 200,000 concurrent players. Sadly only 8k of that was us on FM18, but eh, the new games do have lots of cool features and updates, even if they have inferior tournament structure.

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    Quote Originally Posted by GeneralHankerchief (#241)
    Programming note: While my state's governor issued a "stay at home" order yesterday, I am (surprisingly) deemed an essential employee, and thus have to continue going into the office. Unless I either get set up with telework capabilities or get sick, the normal schedule of 1-2 updates during the week and then 1-2 on the weekend will probably persist for the time being.
    Just make sure that you stay healthy. Thst comes first.

  44. ISO #244
    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    Quick update: Sometime between my "state of the world" post in late summer 2034 and the present (October 2036), erstwhile foe of Cartagena Juan Carlos Alonso, out of work for a number of years, has officially retired from management. This is common for coaches who have been out of work for a while as otherwise the game would be bogged down with all of the people it has to keep track of.

    The game has not seen fit to retain his history.

    Lenny - Today at 10:08 AM
    Atpg sometimes the paragraphs you write are pretty good


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  45. ISO #245
    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    Cycle 3, Part VI: The Hex without Mex



    After the Olympics, I shuffled players and formations around a bit in order to call Robert Spearing up to the senior team. The guy was a threat every time he touched the ball in the Olympics; how could I not? Spearing soon rewarded my trust in him by continuing his scoring tear with the senior team: yes, the level of competition we played wasn't exactly the best, but he currently has more goals with us than he does senior caps, so I can't complain too much.

    The goalscoring records continued to fall as we played through the autumn and into 2037, with Patrick Escobedo chasing the all-time mark set by (in this universe) Jay Longenecker. He eventually topped it by bagging a goal set up by midfielder Juan Wallace in a June defeat of Honduras.



    Now, in real life, this record is actually 57, shared by Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan, but back when I started the last AAR, when I ticked off the "fake players only" button I think a lot of records got scrambled, so the game doesn't recognize a lot of historical statistics. Escobedo still has a ways to go to reach that mark and will probably fall somewhat short, but we're still all very proud of him and his achievements.

    ---

    Our main focus since the last update has been World Cup qualifiers. The penultimate round finished in September and we easily qualified for the Hex, with the final table breakdown looking like this:



    Now, you might notice that there's a particular name missing from this esteemed list: Mexico themselves. Unfortunately for USMNT fans everywhere, our archrival's absence is not because they hilariously shot themselves in the foot in an earlier qualifying round and failed the basic test of competency. Instead, it's because that, as hosts of the 2038 World Cup, Mexico is granted automatic qualification and gets to bypass that process entirely.

    This is a mixed bag, both for us and Mexico. For them, they don't have to worry about the Hex, but being realistic, Mexico never has to worry about the Hex anyway, so they don't really get the chance to field their players in a competitive environment (that said, they did beat England in a friendly in November). For us, we now take part in the easiest Hex in recent memory (us, Canada, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, Barbados) with the same threshold for advancement as usual: top three go to the World Cup, fourth has to play an intercontinental playoff. But on the downside, there's an entire generation of players I've brought up through the ranks who have yet to play Mexico in a competitive environment. Certain traditions must be upheld, and the rivalry has to be passed on. Right now we're in danger of missing out on that, especially since Mexico's B team will be taking part in the Gold Cup.

    That said, there are only so many things I can control at once, so I'm putting the Mexico issue aside for a while (I did schedule a friendly against them later on in 2037 though). In the meantime, we had a Hex to fight through.

    ---

    The final World Cup roster is gradually shaping itself. We have the core of veterans: Espinosa, Escobedo, Phillips, Gee, etc. providing the backbone, with a number of the Olympic team players filling out the ranks. They've been developing well, particularly central defender Rees Jones (born: Austin, TX), who can play anywhere on the back line and is starting to realize some of his previously untapped potential.





    I think I'm going to make a full-time transition to the 3-5-2 after the next Gold Cup. Part of this is due to necessity (we just don't have any good fullbacks coming up, but are fairly stocked at central defender and striker), but honestly, it's just a more exciting formation, particularly with the instructions I've attached to it. There's just something about hitting a long ball down the field, potentially catching the enemy napping, having the strikers collect it and wreak havoc that resonates with the American fans, and I am nothing if not the fans' servant (note: this is a lie).

    We're also saying goodbye to longtime midfielder Steven Cherneski. I haven't "officially" retired him from the national team, but we've got some decent midfielders to choose from, he doesn't quite bring what he used to, he's still tiny and weak, frequently injured, and he struggles to get through a full 90 minutes in the 3-5-2 without getting completely exhausted. Spare a fond thought for him: he served us well for nearly a decade, was a big part of our lean period, and is one of the last remaining members of the original Ride or Die Lineup that won us a Confederations Cup still active with the team.

    Cherneski's final game with Team USA saw him net a hat trick for us in a friendly. I can't think of a better way to send him off.



    As for the Hex itself, it's going about as easily as you'd expect considering the lack of Mexico. Through six games, we've stumbled once: An away loss to Costa Rica where Jeff Michaud gave away a penalty late in stoppage time, but otherwise we've been perfect. It's important to finish strong, because finishing top of the Hex allows us, I believe, to be in a stronger position come World Cup group draw time - hopefully no more Groups of Death this time around.



    But more immediately, we have the Gold Cup: many of our players' first real taste of tournament action with the senior team. With Mexico's main squad in the Confederations Cup, anything short of winning this tournament outright will be a disappointment. The time for blooding the players is over. Now it's time to get serious.

    ---

    Catedral Metropolitana de la Ciudad de México, Mexico City


    The great bells in the tower above tolled twelve times as the man walked down the main nave of the cathedral before heading down a side path, obviously with a clear destination in mind. He was displeased about being called to keep this appointment at this late hour, always being a man who appreciated a good night's rest and an early start to the next day, but could understand why the unusual time was necessary.

    Meetings of this sort were generally frowned upon in polite society. Doubly so if you were famous. Triply so if you were famous and didn't remotely look or sound like 99% of the local population.




    The man eyed his destination and sped up his walk just slightly enough to convey the sense of purpose to the hooded figure awaiting him. The Chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows was in one of the more remote alcoves of the cathedral. Only illuminated by a single candle, it was not bright enough to reveal the shadow-shrouded figure's face.

    The two men did not face each other, instead both kneeling to pray at the chapel's small altar. "The American team is looking quite dangerous at the moment," the hooded figure said, by way of a greeting.

    "I suppose they are," the accented man replied. "It would be most embarrassing if they were to equal or better us at our own World Cup next year."

    "I agree," said the hooded figure. "Hankerchief must not be allowed to come anywhere close to glory."

    "We control what is under our control," the accented man said, trying to keep an even tone. "I will prepare my team to the best of my abilities. Beyond that is in God's hands."

    The hooded figure grunted. Evidently, this was not the response he was hoping for. A minute's silence passed, then two. Finally, the accented man got fed up and addressed his partner here again.

    "Is this what you called me for? A polite conversation about our northern neighbors at midnight?"

    "I..." the hooded figure suddenly seemed to doubt himself. "Can you just ask me to do something about it?"

    "Something about what?"

    "Something about the Americans and them looking good."

    The accented man was now very confused. "You want me to ask you to do something about a problem you brought up?"

    "Yes." The hooded figure was now rapidly losing the sense of mystery and knowledge that he had inflected into his tone before this.

    "So let me get this straight. You requested me, to meet you, to request *you*, to solve a problem that *you* have?"

    "I..." the hooded figure muttered for a second time, stumbling over his words. "Look, can you - just - just ask me to do something about it, okay? It's cooler this way."

    The accented man sighed. "Fine. Is there any way you could help ensure that the American team will not be a threat come the World Cup next year?" He clearly did not believe his words one bit.

    The hooded figure immediately slid back into his original tone of voice. "Consider it done," he said smoothly. "Hankerchief has crossed me for the last time." He said a quick prayer, reached over, and put the single candle out, leaving the chapel in darkness.

    Apparently satisfied, the accented man briskly walked out, followed some minutes later by the hooded figure. The crypts of all of the cathedral's former archbishops, located directly below the chapel, were once again filled with nothing but silence.
    Lenny - Today at 10:08 AM
    Atpg sometimes the paragraphs you write are pretty good


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  46. ISO #246
    Wants It More LanMisa's Avatar
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    Ominous, but I am looking forward to what happens next.

  47. ISO #247
    Soul Reader OrangeP47's Avatar
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    You had me excited that Mexico had indeed shot themselves in the foot with that chapter title, only to reveal them the hosts. You sure do know how to tease

    I'm betting injury crisis time now with those closing remarks. You've not really had one up until now.

  48. ISO #248
    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by OrangeP47 (#247)
    I'm betting injury crisis time now with those closing remarks. You've not really had one up until now.
    No, we've been generally lucky. Some fringe players missed the last World Cup, Cherneski actually missed the last Gold Cup two years ago (which began his downfall in terms of me selecting him), but for the most part the injuries have either been well-timed or spaced apart enough not to seriously impact my plans.
    Lenny - Today at 10:08 AM
    Atpg sometimes the paragraphs you write are pretty good


    Looking to waste an afternoon? Vamos Cartagena - Football Manager 2018 AAR (complete!)
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  49. ISO #249
    Cuddles Wolves Mill Crab's Avatar Flake Moderator
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    lolalonso?
    Quote Originally Posted by Cron (#16505)
    another is mash

    Another powerful game of the city of crappy

  50. ISO #250
    Wants It More LanMisa's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mill Crab (#249)
    lolalonso?
    Lolalonso!

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