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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 1, Part VI: The Olympics


    The brief competitive advantage we had over Mexico (and the rest of CONCACAF) didn't even last the six months it took for the Mexican league to fully load into the game. The reason for this was diffusion.

    This diffusion came in the form of defections. As we, the United States, suddenly had a large player pool to choose from, and as I hadn't really had the chance to cap-tie many players in that pool, a lot of moderately talented players that I simply hadn't had time to cap who also held dual nationalities were looking across the way to places that would cap them immediately. I ended up getting a lot of these kinds of messages in April:



    We ended up losing four American-born players to Mexico and one to England, of all teams. I've got records and screenshots of all of these defections should any of the defectors become relevant in the future.

    All in all it's an unfortunate casualty of MLS and the Mexican league not being able to be fully loaded into the game at the same time. From the players' perspective at the time they defected, the US had a large, deep player pool and Mexico did not, thus, they had more of a chance of being capped if they committed to Mexico. Realistically there was nothing I could do about this save for go back in the time and have the foresight to load both leagues in the game at the start of the Cartagena campaign, or at least while I was still playing as Cartagena, which obviously was not going to happen. The defectors might not have as much game time with Mexico as they would have liked now that the Mexican league is fully loaded in, but it's time to move forward. I'm thinking of it as a make-up call for us qualifying for the Confederations Cup playoff when we had no right to do so. Our cosmic accounts are now balanced.

    ---

    We turned the page on the defections with the summer set of friendlies, as I moved to cap some new players and get my perceived core more familiar with each other heading into the important period of World Cup qualifiers. Most of the "get more players capped" group played against Senegal, in which we won 3-1. Most of the "core" group played against Uruguay, which I treated far more seriously.

    As I mentioned in the last writeup, Uruguay is probably the strongest team we've played since I took over, excluding the very first friendlies against England and Italy where I had taken over literally the same day as the first match. They were runners-up in the past two Copas América and their starting XI contained some players familiar to me from my days with Cartagena: striker Enrico Pacheco, who had scored a brace with Milan against us in the last Champions League semifinal, midfielder Miguel Francia, a longtime stalwart with Real Madrid who always seemed to score clutch goals against us, and midfielder Rodrigo Lacerda, who actually had a cup of coffee with us before I was forced to sell him to Chelsea. These guys were good, and they would provide an excellent barometer as to exactly how far my top players had to go.

    With that in mind, I'm very pleased to report that our players were up to the challenge.



    The match was about as entertaining and instructive as you could ask from a friendly. We outworked Uruguay to get the first goal; they responded with an outstanding bit of class belying their superior talent. We retook the lead on what had been my bread and butter with Cartagena, a breakaway on the counterattack, and they got the late equalizer capitalizing off a truly horrendous back pass from captain Andy Alvarez to goalkeeper Emmanuel Musah. Apparently I can't trust any of my leadership to not screw up in their own end late in games. As soon as Preston Torres is seasoned enough, he's getting the armband.

    ---

    Normally, this would have done it for the summer, and I would be off until the next international break in September. The universe had different plans, though.



    I'm not going to try to pretend to understand the Olympic qualifying process, especially since we were apparently eliminated in the semifinals of whatever qualifier tournament we were entered in, but from as best I can tell, we got an automatic berth as the USA is hosting the 2028 Olympics. Of course, the question now becomes why we were entered into the qualifying tournament in the first place if so, but that's for another day. We were in.

    When I've run national teams in the past, I've never bothered to play the Olympics, always delegating the managing job to one of my assistants. In those instances, I was a club manager in addition to having my international duties, and the Olympics are usually timed along with the start of the European club season, so I prioritized.

    This time, though, was different. My only contract was with Team USA, I didn't have any other obligations at the time the Olympics happened, and I had just been granted access to a vastly expanded player pool and didn't have much of a handle on which players I could rely on yet. The Olympics, while primarily a tournament for U23s, would allow me to take a closer look at some of our younger, more fringe players and see what they had to offer. So, channeling another invincible, merciless, and uncompromising supervillain that's left a billion-year trail of destruction throughout the galaxy that I wish to emulate, I decided to assume direct control of the U23 Olympic squad for the first time ever in my FM career.

    This proved to be a mistake. The Olympics are a terrible tournament.

    First of all, because the Olympics run for only two weeks, the games are clustered together, with a maximum of six matches over that period (for comparison, teams in the World Cup play a maximum of seven matches, but that tournament lasts a month). That's bad enough on its own but would ordinarily be manageable... but the squad size was limited to 18 players. Normal tournament squads have 23 players. The tournament structure basically gave you two options: either get eliminated early, or have your players die of exhaustion.

    ---

    The squad I ended up picking consisted mostly of people who had either seen no time with the full USMNT at all or players who probably would in the future, but who I just hadn't given enough time with yet. Striker Escobedo, who was fully capped and underage, played. Midfielder Cherneski, who was also fully capped and underage, did not. The difference was that Escobedo hadn't played much for me to that point while Cherneski had.

    Every Olympic team is allotted three over-age exceptions to the U23 rule. I ended up using two. None of the U23 goalkeepers excited me, so I recalled Dylan Moor (born: Frisco, TX) from the senior team to provide some experience and skill. The second was Swiss Army knife defender Jesús Salas (born: Carson, CA), whose primary position is right back but is skilled and versatile enough to play anywhere on the back line. This versatility is very welcome when you have a squad of restricted size.




    Our group was a tough one, consisting of Iran, Brazil, and the Netherlands. Part of me was hoping that we'd put on a good showing and then finish an expected third, thus sparing the players from the true pain in the knockout round, but the kids were up for it. We ended up finishing second in the group, thumping Iran before drawing Brazil and losing to the Netherlands. But more important than that, I was getting a better idea of who I could trust with work on the senior team and who I could safely ignore.

    The quarterfinals provided extra incentive to continue through the gauntlet:



    I didn't see any of our defectors on the team, but they did have two familiar faces: attacker José Alfredo Guerrero was playing the role of their super sub, and arrogant defender Mario Padilla, who had spurned Cartagena, was manning their back line and had already matured into a truly terrifying statistical player at the age of 20, playing a position where players usually peak much later on:



    The match, as you could expect between two bitter rivals playing under taxing conditions, was a grueling slugfest. We took the lead in the 36th minute when striker Escobedo hit a beautiful free kick that bisected the wall of Mexico defenders at an angle and gave their goalkeeper absolutely no chance. They equalized early in the second half on an attack that stemmed after they were able to tackle our midfielder Devon Jones off the ball. That was it for the scoring after 90 minutes, and naturally, because the Olympics have no regard for human life, instead of going straight to penalties we had 30 more minutes of extra time to get through.

    Mexico struck first, after we were whistled for a penalty for the third consecutive game (needless to say, I probably won't be calling up many of the central defenders to the senior team any time soon). Moor had saved one against Brazil, but the odds were against him and finally caught up. 2-1 Mexico. That looked to be the end of it, but in stoppage time of extra time, we launched one final desperation counterattack and striker Luke Gee found himself with the ball and with only the goalkeeper to beat. He delivered, and we were heading to penalties.

    We won't talk about what happened in the shootout.



    Despite the fact that we had suffered another heartbreaking loss late in or beyond extra time to our arch rivals for the second time in a year, I was generally pleased with how the tournament had gone for us. I had taken over the Olympic team to get information, with an idea of figuring out who I could trust and who couldn't cut it, and I got some good intel. Escobedo is on his way. Goalkeeper Moor probably deserves more time with the senior team. The biggest gem is probably somebody who had already gotten capped a couple of times, though. Meet Sam Phillips (born: Carson, CA. Yes, another one):



    I gave Phillips his first senior cap last fall, where between Olympic qualifiers and general injuries/withdrawals, we were really hurting for bodies, but once MLS loaded and the player pool expanded, he kind of fell by the wayside. Well, I probably won't make that mistake again. His stats absolutely exploded between then and now, and considering his age and his mentals, there are signs that he could get even better. He bossed the midfield for us in all four Olympic matches despite age and fatigue.

    Phillips might not be good enough to make the senior team right now, but between him and Cherneski, if even one of the two of them continues to develop, we'll be set at a very important position in my system for a long time. Fingers crossed.

    ---

    We finished off this round of World Cup qualifying in style, dispatching second-place Honduras 4-1 on their own ground. My Trident of the Future, RW Spielmann, ST Escobedo, and LW Appleby each found the net. We have two prestige friendlies in October, against Portugal and Germany, and then the next (and final) round of qualifiers begin in November. I'll tell you how those go in the next update.

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


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  2. ISO #52
    Soul Reader OrangeP47's Avatar
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    Hmmm not bad. I thought the Olympics gave *a bit* more time than that, but yeah, that's a brutal schedule. Also MLS doesn't break for it probably so a lot of guys are probably missing quality team time.

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    Mafia Backup Amrock sheepsaysmeep's Avatar Game Manager
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    your team actually shows a lot of promise hm
    Quote Originally Posted by moth (#67)
    Stop calling things natural. This world isnt natural. You can get butt implants and $%#!
    Quote Originally Posted by roro__b (#8185)
    I see this game as an experience that makes you that little bit stronger afterwards but you thoroughly hate it and it's a disaster while you're in it. I see probably every game of mafia like that, but especially this one. Like getting dumped, or being in a car accident, or a house fire.

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    Thread Analyst EmperorPotato's Avatar
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    Olympics sounds fun though - and more exclusive: Due to the age limit and the lower amount of participants it should be much more complicated to win it, compared to other Championships.

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    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    Cycle 1, Part VII: The Hex



    This stage of qualifying is officially known as the Fifth Round of the CONCACAF FIFA World Cup qualification. As that's a bit of a mouthful, it's commonly referred to as the Hexagonal, or simply, Hex. The Hex is a double round robin where the six (hence, Hex) teams who have made it to this point battle to move onto the big dance. Top three get their tickets punched to Italy 2030. The fourth has to take part in an intercontinental playoff for a chance at a remaining spot. Fifth and sixth are out of luck.

    These are the most important matches that we'll play in any four-year cycle aside from World Cup matches themselves. Tournaments are all well and good, and tournament finals are obviously very prestigious themselves, but the big prize is the World Cup, and this is how we get there. Fail at the Hex, and four entire years are wasted.

    I've done a good amount of $%#!ting on CONCACAF as a whole so far in this AAR, but this Hexagonal is not even remotely close to a pushover. There aren't any real Cinderella teams in the bracket this year: Jamaica played us tough in the last Gold Cup, Canada pushed Mexico to penalties in the same tournament, Costa Rica is traditionally the third toughest power in the area, and Mexico... is Mexico. Honduras is the easiest team in the group, and I'll still treat their away match with caution.

    Speaking of away matches, another thing about the Hex is that this is the one time in CONCACAF that you can really showcase home field. Team USA, for once, is able to pick its stadiums for purposes of advantage and not of money (unlike in the Gold Cups). As for the other countries, well, they might not have the infrastructure that we do, but playing in a semi-tropical environment on a humid night in June under less-than-ideal field conditions with 10,000 fans, all of them very close to you, screaming for your blood, is a special kind of misery.

    And then, of course, there's Azteca.


    The Estadio Azteca, in Mexico City, is the greatest soccer stadium in North America. It has seen two World Cup finals and the specific matches where names no less than Pele and Maradona permanently sealed their legacies. It has seen what is probably the most famous and most controversial World Cup match in history, and that's a different match from the "Game of the Century" (which was also at Azteca). It is also the national stadium of our arch rivals.

    The USA has never won an official match there. Ever. Many times when we play Mexico on US soil we have a problem with away supporters taking over the crowd. Mexico never has this problem. Azteca is in the heart of enemy territoy, its capital. 87,000 people wait and save for literal years for this exact match. They are loud and hostile and frequently throw foreign objects onto the field, one of which was famously a mannequin wearing a US jersey with a rope around its neck. The stadium is more than 7,000 feet above sea level. The Mexico team is used to it. We are not. It is holy ground for them. We are the interlopers and they treat us as such.



    We were on a great run heading into the Azteca match in November. The previous month had seen us beat both Portugal and Germany away in friendlies (that said, the Portugal match saw Cartagena midfielder Ulisses Gaspar playing as a striker, so I'm guessing that my opposite numbers saw that friendly as more of a chance to experiment than to size up the opposition). Less than a week before the Azteca match, we started off the Hex with a bang by stomping Costa Rica 4-0 at home. The team was gelling, everyone was getting more comfortable with my system and each other, and we were ready to break the whammy.

    I picked the strongest, steeliest starting XI that I could for the Mexico match and prepared to let it rip. It took less than five minutes to realize that none of the above paragraph mattered once we stepped inside the Azteca.



    The culprit, the man who got beaten on the final header, was right back Sam Lapore (born: Levittown, PA). I perhaps should have realized that he would have blown it in a pressure situation considering he plays for Tottenham, but even if he played for peak-era Manchester United it wouldn't have mattered. There was no way Mexico was losing this exact match.

    20 minutes later, they doubled their lead off a corner kick. We were able to get back within one off a nice goal from leading striker Jeff Suarez, but after that they went on lockdown and nobody scored for the rest of the game.



    This was Team USA's final match of the fall international period, because of course it was. It was too early to tell how the Hex would go (and losing at the Azteca is pretty much built into our calculations), but man, it was a long, lonely period of clicking through the game to get from November to March with literally no other matches to play in between with the taste of that last match in my mouth.

    ---

    We eventually got to 2029, though, and it's looking like a very busy year on our calendars. We have the remainder of the Hex throughout the year (we'll know our fate in October), but there are two separate summer tournaments that we'll be taking part in. First is the Confederations Cup, the dress rehearsal to the World Cup that we undeservedly qualified for, and then this year's edition of the Gold Cup, which I'll be sending a B-team to.

    For the remainder of the Hex, considering CONCACAF's peculiarities, the plan is "win at home, scrape what you can away". So far we've held serve in March by defeating Honduras at home and drawing Canada in Ontario. Four games in, and we're in a somewhat comfortable second place in the Hex.

    But more importantly than that, my preferred roster is starting to shape itself. Bit by bit, the trustworthy players are rising to the top and the unsteady ones are ruthlessly getting weeded out. I'm making fewer and fewer changes between call-ups now, though there's still some ironing out to do which the Confederations and Gold Cups will hopefully take care of.

    The striker battle, for example, is all but resolved. Young Escobedo will probably make the final roster, but he will not start. That honor will go to Jeff Suarez (born: Tacoma, WA) who has been the clear top performer in the Hexagonal so far for us with four goals:



    We're getting to the busy season, so updates will be a little more frequent for a while (plus impending weekend). I'll probably devote 1-2 updates to the Confederations Cup, depending on how we do there, but the Gold Cup will probably all be taken care of in a single update because B-team and everything. After that, we have the remainder of the Hex to deal with, and then, finally, if the gods are kind, Italy 2030.

    Hexagonal heading into Summer 2029:

    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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    Surprised you didn't break out the Bottleham jab.

    I guess all is going more or less as expected, though I'd say beating Canada away would have been good too, but can't complain with second.

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    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by OrangeP47 (#56)
    I guess all is going more or less as expected, though I'd say beating Canada away would have been good too, but can't complain with second.
    I wasn't exactly happy with the result, but half the reason I'm such a good manager is because I can spin anything to make it look like it's to our advantage.





    *Don't test me on this statement, game.
    Last edited by GeneralHankerchief; January 9th, 2020 at 11:41 PM.
    Lenny - Today at 10:08 AM
    Atpg sometimes the paragraphs you write are pretty good


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    Wants It More LanMisa's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GeneralHankerchief (#57)
    Quote Originally Posted by OrangeP47 (#56)
    I guess all is going more or less as expected, though I'd say beating Canada away would have been good too, but can't complain with second.
    I wasn't exactly happy with the result, but half the reason I'm such a good manager is because I can spin anything to make it look like it's to our advantage.





    *Don't test me on this statement, game.
    Sounds like a lesson learned from being an US male team soccer fan.

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    Quote Originally Posted by GeneralHankerchief (#55)
    That's a worldie.

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    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    Apologies for the delay, I ended up not being able to play much at all over the weekend. Remote chance of an update tonight, far more likely that it drops on Monday or Tuesday.
    Lenny - Today at 10:08 AM
    Atpg sometimes the paragraphs you write are pretty good


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    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    Cycle 1, Part VIII: The Dress Rehearsal

    Heading into the Confederations Cup in the summer of 2029, I realized that I had now been on the USA job for two full seasons and had yet to record a signature win.

    This hole in my resume wasn't as bad as it would have been were I running a club team. For starters, you get far fewer games with the national team. Secondly, the USA's structure, schedule, and neighborhood don't really provide many moments for signature wins in the first place. Friendlies don't count. World Cup qualification is expected. The Gold Cup has one arch rival who you might not even see in the tournament. In terms of international salience, you pretty much have the World Cup, and the Confederations Cup if you get there. Maybe if you break the whammy and beat Mexico at the Azteca, but that's pretty much it. So on one hand, it's not the end of the world that I haven't gotten a signature win yet.

    But on the other hand, we had lost twice to Mexico, three times if you count the Olympics, without having beaten them once. We've beaten the teams we're traditionally expected to beat so far, but that wins you no glory. The closest thing to a meaningful win we've really had was beating Costa Rica in the playoff to get to the Confederations Cup (which we didn't deserve anyway). You'll excuse me if that doesn't move the needle very much.

    But the Confederations Cup was different. For the first time since I took the job, we had the chance to test our mettle against truly elite opposition.


    Our group opponents were Brazil, Italy, and Egypt's B team (their main squad was playing in the African championship, going on at the same time). We had to finish in the top 2 in order to progress to the knockout round. Egypt B was cannon fodder and everybody knew it, so we basically had to get a result against Brazil or Italy here.

    This was easier said than done. The two nations, while obviously subject to ebb and flow over generations, are both perennial soccer powers who have a total of nine World Cups between them (with Brazil adding a 10th in this universe). Additionally, this tournament is being held in Italy. All of this is a very roundabout way of saying that this was the best proving ground we'd have heading into the World Cup next year. We could make it through, upset the apple cart a bit, and allow ourselves to dream.

    Alternatively, we could just as easily get crushed by Brazil and Italy and slink back to the USA just as relatively strong (read: weak) as we've always been. There was only one way to find out.

    ---

    The first match was against Brazil. Nobody, not even me, was exactly optimistic about our chances, but the Brazil manager, a pallid, spectral figure allegedly named Luciano Baptista, broke decorum somewhat by saying what everybody else was only thinking.



    On the outside, I played it off, cracking a joke or two about how this was the start of Juan Carlos Alonso's long string of humiliations back in Spain. But on the inside, I seethed with rage, mostly because I knew Baptista was probably correct. We have a crack squad, probably the best the US has ever historically had (thank you again, fully loaded MLS), but that's still not the same as Brazil.

    In other words, I had to wait until we actually played Brazil and hopefully, somehow, got a result against them if I was to fire back at Baptista the way I did to Alonso back in the day.

    The match started and it quickly became apparent that for all of our preparation, Brazil simply outclassed us. I had the team set up much the same way I did back in the Cartagena days when we were up against stronger opposition - play tight, smart, wait for your opportunity, and when it does go for broke - but sometimes there's not really much you can do. Brazil went on the attack early and started punishing us from the word go. We had a couple of heroic defensive stops to keep the game scoreless, but those aren't exactly comforting.

    Brazil finally broke the deadlock in the 12th minute, and the fact that I used the word "finally" to describe an event that took place about 13% of the way through the game tells you all you need to know about how it had gone to that point. It was, frankly, an embarrassing bit of defending by the entire team. Brazil got a corner, took it, fielded it without a challenge, and were able to make multiple passes in and around the 6-yard box (not the 18, the 6) before winger Jorge Wagner found enough daylight to his satisfaction. 1-0, Brazil.



    The game settled after that and we were able to establish a foothold. Brazil were still getting the better of us more often than not, but our defenders were holding up and, thankfully, the players were able to sort themselves out on the corners so there were no repeats of the 12th minute.

    Shortly after halftime, we had a corner of our own. We took it long and safely, with defensive midfielder Lee Holness orchestrating play about 25 yards out from goal. We tried a few passes of our own from that range, until a channel in the center opened up long enough for right winger Ged Spielmann to try for a shot. His aim was excellent, blasting it into the top corner from about 15 yards away, and we had equalized. Perhaps we were going to escape Brazil with a draw after all!

    From there, the match turned into a contrast of styles. Brazil, as befitting their soccer genetics, launched attack after attack to try to bag the win, but we remained disciplined and patient to the point where we actually had a slight possession advantage when everything was said and done. Both of us had our chances. Brazil had another dangerous corner or two that caused me more than one white-knuckle moment as our defenders were just barely able to get the ball out of danger. Spielmann, for his part, hit a beautiful cross to a completely unmarked, nobody-within-10-yards-of-him Nick Appleby who hit a header the Brazil goalkeeper had to dive for. He was able to make the save but not corral the ball, and Appleby had a glorious chance at a rebound goal from point blank range that he shanked off the post. Everything evened out, and the game looked settled at 1-1.

    Until.



    We had a corner and an extended series of chances, but Brazil's defense was up to the task and eventually regained possession. With time running out, they decided to launch one more go-for-broke counterattack instead of being more deliberate, which resulted in them crossing us up and getting the ball to a completely unmarked Jorge Wagner, who bagged his second goal of the game. 2-1 Brazil, final.

    The scapegoat this time was once again our right back Sam Lapore, who I swear has decent stats but between this and his being responsible letting in an easy goal in the qualifier vs. Mexico at Azteca, I'm starting to get a little worried about in pressure situations. Lapore shading to the center at the start of the attack made some sense, as the Brazil attack appeared to be coming down his opposite wing, but once they made their cross-field pass to Wagner, Lapore just tracked straight backwards, not even attempting to challenge Wagner for the ball and leaving him with all the space in the world. Just ugly defending.



    We had played Brazil tough, but at the end of the day it was still a loss, and yet another loss that came for us very late in the game. After a while the concept of a moral victory starts to become meaningless if you can't cash them for actual victories.

    ---

    Our next match was against Egypt B, and that one doesn't deserve a full report - we easily dispatched them 4-0. In the other game, Brazil defeated Italy, meaning that we would have to play the Italians on their home turf for the right to advance to the knockout round.


    A draw would do us no good. The first tiebreaker was goal difference. Both of us had lost to Brazil by only one goal, but Italy had beaten Egypt B by six goals as opposed to our four, meaning they were in the drivers' seat. We had to win.

    Ignoring questions of team fitness, I selected a starting XI that, perhaps for the first time, consisted solely of my most trustworthy players - the team that, all other things equal, I'm going to put out for the opening match of the World Cup next year, my ride or die lineup. Italy responded with a 3-5-2 formation complete with wingbacks and not much midfield depth that we hadn't really seen to that point. I wasn't sure how the players would respond, but at a certain point you just have to trust the team you have and hope that they prove worthy of your trust. When the opening whistle blew, an odd sense of calm descended over me as I realized that this was such a moment.

    90 minutes later (plus stoppage time), the team proved they were worthy of my trust. We had our signature win.



    It wasn't in the knockout round, but make no mistake about it: Beating Italy, in Italy, in a competitive tournament, is a signature win.

    We were on pretty much even ground for most of the match, but we were more clinical in front of the net and our defenders were up to the challenge in the opposite end. Spielmann, looking to be the focal point of our attack heading into the second half of the Hex and the World Cup itself, got both goals. The first was after a nice bit of buildup play when he was the first to get a touch to a cross that had been weakly headed. The second was served up from a beautiful pass by striker Jeff Suarez, his first bit of good play in an otherwise poor tournament for him.

    We were moving onto the knockout round. This tournament has served to answer some of my remaining questions about the team makeup heading into the World Cup in terms of who was trustworthy or not, but all of that can wait. France are our next opponents in the semifinals. If we can get past them, we face the winner of Brazil/Argentina for the entire Cup. It's been a good tournament for us, but ideally I wouldn't mind bagging another signature win or two before we're done.
    Last edited by GeneralHankerchief; January 14th, 2020 at 12:18 PM.
    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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    That's HUGE. Italy would be in Shambles if that happened for real.

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    Wants It More LanMisa's Avatar
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    Congrats on beating Italy, although Italy does have that historical tendency to suddenly start playing like $%#! sometimes. Especially after winning titles.

    Nonetheless, this tournament should help your player's progress immensely, no matter whether they are going to win or end up in fourth place.

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    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    Cycle 1, Part IX: The Rest of the Summer


    The Confederations Cup was by far the most visible competition that Team USA was entered in during the summer of 2029, but it was by no means the only one.


    This trophy, which somehow manages to be both aesthetically pleasing and unsettling at once, is the titular CONCACAF Gold Cup, which our official "B Team" was in contention for during that summer. Normally our main squad would be at this tournament, but they were off in Italy trying to break through with a signature win in the Confederations Cup, and, well... priorities. So it was the B Squad's time to shine.

    Amusingly, there was some overlap in between the Gold Cup and the Confederations Cup. This resulted in me coaching the A-Team's semifinal match against France on July 12th, hopping a transcontinental flight back to the US, and coaching the B team's opener against Honduras (on the East Coast, thankfully) on July 13th. In the real world this would never, ever happen, and the senior national team coach would delegate the task to an assistant, but a) I hate my assistant, and b) the game had no way of modelling stress or jet lag or anything that I would otherwise be subject to during this ridiculous schedule, so why not?

    In all seriousness though, I was mostly using this Gold Cup as an attempt to see which set of fringe players on the B team could potentially break through to the World Cup squad next year. Obviously I wanted to win, but I was taking this far less seriously than I did the 2027 version two years ago.

    The main figure of note was midfielder Kevin Stephens (born: Califon, NJ):



    Stephens is a talented, technically proficient midfielder, probably one of the more skilled available to me. The problem is that he's even less physically imposing than Steven Cherneski, who was last seen being lifted off his feet by a stray gust of wind. While Stephens probably has more talent, I think the senior team just flows better when Cherneski's out there.

    Since I don't particularly want to bring two separate 5'3 central midfielders with me to Italy next year, the onus was on Stephens to make up ground and have a good tournament.

    The verdict? Well, he did this in our quarterfinal matchup against Costa Rica:



    That thunderbolted volley was the only goal in the match, and saw us through to the semifinal, where Honduras awaited us.

    As incredible as that Stephens goal was, all in all his distribution and general control of the midfield, which is what I require if he's to supplant Cherneski or Sam Phillips in that specific "creative midfield" slot in my system, was lacking. As a result, we saw a lot of low-scoring contests in this Gold Cup. Granted, part of this is due to the fact that he wasn't passing the ball to my top players, but there still wasn't the same spark that I so often saw with Cherneski.

    The B team limped on through injuries (we had four total through the tournament, putting us at an Olympics-bad level of player availability) and general ineffectiveness, edging by Costa Rica in the quarters and then taking down Honduras in the semifinals - but not before the match went to extra time and then penalties.

    An all-too familiar opponent awaited us in the final:



    Mexico, again, because the gods are cruel and the universe needs rebalancing after I cosmically threw it out of whack with my successes in Cartagena and beating Italy in the Confederations Cup. In terms of their two standout players from the last tournament, their attacker José Alfredo Guerrero (who scored the winning goal against us), missed out through injury. Defender Mario Padilla, though, has assumed his stalwart position that he's going to take up for at least the next decade: Starting in central defense for the national team. Oh, and he's playing for Real Madrid now too after famously rebuffing Cartagena shortly before I left. Asshole.

    This match doesn't get the full writeup treatment, and not because we lost. It was, by any metric, a dull game: a 1-0 affair where they scored off a set piece early in the second half and we simply didn't have enough juice left to equalize due to a combination of injury, fatigue, and lack of skill.



    In the end, our B team fell to Mexico's A team in the Gold Cup final, which, honestly, feels about right. Yes, it's another loss to Mexico, bringing my record against our arch rivals to a frankly embarrassing 0-4, but our B team is our B team for a reason.

    In terms of player potential to make the World Cup, I'd say that Stephens, despite his wonder goal, probably didn't do enough. Goalkeeper César de Lucio (born: Portland, OR), who backstopped all six matches for us in the tournament, played well and might have a chance of being our third goalkeeper in Italy. I'm eyeing a central defender, another midfielder, and that's it. Our attackers disappointed me overall and they probably sealed their fates with this tournament.

    ---

    I speak of World Cup qualification as a formality this point because we had a breakthrough in June; before the Confederations Cup or the Gold Cup started. We had two World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Jamaica, both away. Considering the path to qualification in CONCACAF is "win at home, take what points you can away", and also considering the fact that we won both away games, we probably have enough of a cushion to dream about Italy now.

    Here's the Hex with four games remaining:


    Three of our remaining matches are at home, though granted one of them *is* against Mexico (our first post-summer match, actually, in September). Barring a complete collapse, we should at least be assured of fourth and thus a place in the intercontinental playoff. Regardless, we'll know our fate by the end of October.

    ---

    All that said, you're not here to read about the B team and a couple of random World Cup qualifiers that happened early in the summer.

    You're here to read about how the rest of the Confederations Cup went after we sensationally took down Italy on their own ground to make the knockout round.

    Allow me to provide.

    ---

    The Confederations Cup, while not quite as bad as the Olympics, is a condensed tournament. Teams that make the knockout round are guaranteed to play exactly five full matches over the course of two weeks. That's rough but doable for club teams, but pretty grueling for national teams that don't have access to superior training and fitness facilities/coaches, especially if matches go to extra time. Unless you're either coaching a team of ironmen or you don't mind your players keeling over on the field, it's imperative that you rotate your squad if you're going deep in a tournament.

    Squad rotation has its drawbacks, obviously. Your best players are your best players, and it's unrealistic to expect their backups to perform at the same level when called upon. It's always a tradeoff of how much you want to ride your studs against the danger of rendering them ineffective.

    For our semifinal matchup against France, I rotated as much as I dared, leaving hero of the Italy match Ged Spielmann, underperforming striker Jeff Suarez, and stalwart left back Christian Musa in, but changing out the entire midfield as well as left wing.

    France, for their part, did not rotate, and I think it was pretty apparent early on that they were just out of gas.



    I'm not gonna say this was down to a spectacular individual effort or me uncorking some superior tactics or anything. I've always subscribed to the belief that rotation is good in FM. Additionally, the past year or so, especially in my AARs, have taught me that control of the center and especially midfield is important. Well, France's midfield might outclass ours, but our guys were fresher, and we had three in the center as opposed to their two. We had more possession, were more clinical with our chances, and were moving onto the final. As for France, their manager learned a lesson that I bet he won't forget by the time the World Cup rolls around. Something tells me this isn't the last we've seen of Les Bleus.

    In the other semifinal, we were denied a revenge match against Brazil, as they fell to their opponent: the tiny, backwater, country where nobody cares about soccer at all, country that certainly doesn't regularly produce candidates for "greatest player of all time", Argentina.



    In this universe, Argentina are the reigning World Cup champions, having triumphed over Germany in Morocco 2026. They have one of the best goalkeepers in the world in PSG's Laureano Romano, Real Madrid's young dynamo midfielder Nicolás Aguilar, several heroes remaining from that World Cup roster, and the new Cartagena manager's first blockbuster signing after he took over the team: central defender Oscar Resch. The Messi analogue in this universe, Jorge Pino, is gone, but in his place is a balanced, deep squad that can contend with anyone and play any style. They were ready for this final tuneup to defend their title, and more important than all of that, they had rotated.

    Pretty much their only weakness was that star left winger Joel Barbosa had torn his ACL in an earlier match in the tournament, but otherwise they were fully healthy and ready to go. As for us, I once again fielded the full "ride or die" lineup we had used against Italy: Goalkeeper Musah; defenders Lapore, Prideaux, Espinosa, and Musa; midfielders Kim, Holness, and Cherneski; attackers Spielmann, Suarez, and Appleby.



    In the sixth minute, it became very apparent that this would be a very different match from the Italy one.



    Central defender Aaron Prideaux (born: Wenatchee, WA) had been having a good tournament for us so far, but he was caught out in no man's land here as Argentina striker Maximilliano Johnstone streaked in from an angle to finish off the cross, rewarding some excellent buildup play by the albiceleste with a goal and the 1-0 lead.

    Here was the thing about our team though: we had given up early goals on multiple occasions, most recently the opening match against Brazil before this but also in some of the Hex qualifiers. But then, more often than not, the team would settle in and buckle down. Such happened here. Argentina had the early advantage when it came to possession and shots, but after about 20 minutes, we stemmed the bleeding. We were never quite able to make inroads and bring these figures back to 50/50, but we kept it even from there on out.

    The offensive end, though, was a different issue. Striker Jeff Suarez had decidedly not had a good tournament, scoring a grand total of zero goals and only contributing one real assist of note, and he continued his poor luck here by squandering a golden opportunity off a corner kick and clanging a shot that he absolutely should have buried off the post:



    Suarez's clanger happened in the 33rd minute, the last major chance that either side would have in the first half. In the second half, with us still down 1-0, he picked up a minor injury and I instantly moved to substitute him, perhaps far more quickly than I would have had Suarez not been having a stinker of a tournament. In his place came young Patrick Escobedo, who had scored three goals to that point (though two were penalties) and was just generally having a more effective summer.

    In the 65th minute, Spielmann delivered a long free kick into the penalty area hoping to make something happen. Argentina were able to clear it out of the area, but then there was a whistle: Prideaux was deemed to have been unfairly pushed away by one of their defenders (Resch, the Cartagena purchase): Penalty!

    The game recommended that left winger Nick Appleby take the penalty. I said to hell with that, Escobedo was two for two on penalties to this point in the Confederations Cup. Thus, with the world watching, the young reserve striker calmly took his spot, jogged up to the ball, and slotted it into the top left corner where goalkeeper Romano had no chance. 1-1, 25 minutes left.

    For the next twenty minutes, the game became a back and forth, both between our attacks and theirs, but also in terms of sequences of caution interspersed with the players deciding to go for it. Our defenders, who had had to make so many big clearances earlier on against Brazil and Italy, found themselves with less work to do here, but Argentina were also able to neutralize our prospective attacks without much issue.

    I had already used all three of my subs, accounting for skill, situation, card accumulation, and fatigue, and thus wasn't able to prepare for extra time or penalties. Should we get there (and I was pretty sure we were going to get there), I knew that Escobedo was going to kick in the hammer spot but was still considering my other possible penalty takers.

    But then a funny thing happened on the way to extra time: we never got there.



    In the 87th minute, right winger Ged Spielmann - the clear player of the tournament for us to that point - took a corner on the opposite side of the field that didn't end up amounting to anything. We were never able to fully penetrate the Argentinian defense, but they weren't fully able to clear it either, and after about 30 seconds of tense play Spielmann, still on the left, found himself with the ball once again. He tried a potentially dangerous pass deep into the box, had it headed right back to him, collected the ball, cut into the center, continued to cut, waited, found a hole, and took his chance.

    The result was one of the most beautiful goals I've ever seen in FM - a skimmer from outside the box, shot at an angle, that whizzed past something like 4 million separate body parts without a single person getting to touch it. Spielmann's masterpiece continued untouched past the concentration of mass and buried itself into the far corner, just past the outstretched arms of Romano, a perfectly placed work of art to give Team USA the 2-1 lead with only a few minutes remaining.



    That ended up being it. Argentina tried a couple of desperate attempts to even up the score, but our defenders were up to the challenge. Eventually the whistle blew and somehow, in a daze, I realized that the USA had just won our greatest ever victory.











    As the last screenshot shows, Spielmann was deservedly named player of the tournament due to his heroics against Brazil, Italy, and, of course, Argentina. In an injustice, his chef's kiss of a goal in the final was only ranked second best goal of the tournament, however, causing me to instantly form a lifelong grudge against New Zealand's Sam Stroud.

    But all that aside, I came into this summer looking for clarity, both from our heavy hitters as well as marginal figures. With the international break drawing to a close, that clarity has certainly been attained. I know who I can trust, who I need to closely monitor, and who I can write off.

    And best of all, I know that bringing home the World Cup isn't necessarily some vague goal in the distance anymore.

    ---

    We now have less than one year to go until the World Cup. I'm probably going to write one more post detailing the remainder of the Hex/qualification, as well as any player news that might happen between now and next summer. Once that's out of the way, the WORLD CUP EXTRAVAGANZA will begin. I'll make a full post giving breakdowns of the entire squad, and then will talk about the actual games in multiple parts.
    Last edited by GeneralHankerchief; January 16th, 2020 at 09:37 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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    USA! USA! USA!

    Though fielding the B team for the Gold Cup is it more like USB! USB! USB!

    But wow. Much condensed from the World Cup, but what a win! At San Siro no less! I feel like Argentina got FM'd.

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    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by OrangeP47 (#65)
    USA! USA! USA!

    Though fielding the B team for the Gold Cup is it more like USB! USB! USB!
    This is a wonderful pun and I'm going to shamelessly crib it should the B team ever be called upon again in a future tournament.
    Lenny - Today at 10:08 AM
    Atpg sometimes the paragraphs you write are pretty good


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    Wants It More LanMisa's Avatar
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    Looking at USA being first and USB being second I got some ideas for how to name your team depending on your World Cup results.

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    Soul Reader OrangeP47's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LanMisa (#67)
    Looking at USA being first and USB being second I got some ideas for how to name your team depending on your World Cup results.
    This reminds me of a book I used to have, called "And Then Some Other Stuff Happened" or something like that. It's a collection of 5th/6th grade history essays that are particularly bad that a teacher saved over the years. This reminds me of one where the student wrote something about the World Wars where "The United States got pissed off and leveled up into USA-2". Like, it's all the better because these kids were being completely serious and submitting some of this stuff as their best work for a grade.

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    Wants It More LanMisa's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by OrangeP47 (#68)
    Quote Originally Posted by LanMisa (#67)
    Looking at USA being first and USB being second I got some ideas for how to name your team depending on your World Cup results.
    This reminds me of a book I used to have, called "And Then Some Other Stuff Happened" or something like that. It's a collection of 5th/6th grade history essays that are particularly bad that a teacher saved over the years. This reminds me of one where the student wrote something about the World Wars where "The United States got pissed off and leveled up into USA-2". Like, it's all the better because these kids were being completely serious and submitting some of this stuff as their best work for a grade.


    Sounds great.

  20. ISO #70
    Quote Originally Posted by GeneralHankerchief (#64)
    Striker Jeff Suarez had decidedly not had a good tournament
    Good to see that my wholehearted endorsement remains the most reliable kiss of death known to humankind.

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    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    Cycle 1, Part X: The Homestretch


    2029 was a strange time, culturally. For starters, it saw the resurgence of 2012-era image macros into the popular lexicon, which sports fans around the world immediately co-opted to suit their own needs. (Rage comics, however, remain deader than disco.) This particular macro became popular in mid-September, after we had just embarrassingly lost to Mexico in the home leg of our World Cup qualifier against them, bringing my all-time record against them to zero wins and five losses.

    Let's back up a bit. We were flying high after our Confederations Cup win, and while the B team (hereafter referred to as USB, h/t OrangeP47) had fallen to Mexico in the Gold Cup final, the main squad was untainted by this and ready for blood. Our first match after the summer break was to be against Mexico in the World Cup qualifier, a true home match against them.

    I've previously mentioned in this AAR that I have zero control over home scheduling and how I was apprehensive that the game algorithm wouldn't schedule this match in Columbus, Ohio, a small stadium where we nevertheless had a true home field advantage against Mexico. The game, perhaps sensing my $%#!ing, decided to compromise: we'd get an intimate stadium that perhaps would not be overrun by Mexico supporters, but it would not be in Columbus.



    Rio Tinto Stadium is a 20,000 capacity stadium based in suburban Salt Lake City, Utah. IRL, Team USA has played three competitive matches there (including two World Cup qualifiers) and won them all, but none of them against Mexico or a team of Mexico's caliber.

    Well, if I had it my way, we'll never play there again. It's much easier to blame the stadium than the players after all, and, well, the players were putrid.



    Ten of the eleven starters for us were part of the Ride or Die Lineup that beat Italy and Argentina in the Confederations Cup (Cherneski, injured, was the only one missing). But it didn't matter. We couldn't get anything together on offense aside from a nice goal off a direct free kick. And defensively... I'm too lazy to gif this but just picture a tight corner kick where literally none of my defenders tracked back despite my explicit instructions to do so, allowing the Mexico striker a completely uncontested header roughly five feet from the net, neither defender I had assigned to the posts attempting to do anything to stop it either. None of this is an exaggeration.

    So we lost to Mexico, again, at home, in the World Cup qualifier that we still didn't quite have wrapped up. I've downplayed most of my other losses to Mexico to this point, but there's no denying this one: this was a huge blow to our psyche. This is the one match that we're unequivocally supposed to win, and the fact that it came so soon after our Confederations Cup victory with mostly the same exact team, hurt. A lot.

    ---

    After the Mexico disaster, we had three matches remaining in the Hex. In a few days we'd play our final away match against Honduras, the bottom-placed team of the six. If we couldn't get it done there, then our last two chances would be in October, both home, against Jamaica and Canada. I didn't want to panic. This wasn't like IRL 2017. We were still in a good position, but I wanted this Hex wrapped the $%#! up as soon as possible.

    Luckily, the players were made of mentally tougher stuff than the IRL 2017 squad, and finished the job, dispatching Honduras 3-2 in an admittedly wild game that saw Ged Spielmann score the clinching goal in what was basically a mirror image of this effort from a few years back:



    It was an incredible goal that may or may not have been accidental, but it was the difference and it got us what we needed. We were officially going to Italy in 2030.



    We qualified with two games remaining, which allowed me to use the October break as a chance to get a couple of more players competitively capped and see if the Ride or Die Lineup needed shuffling or not (verdict: a couple of Ride or Die-rs are in danger of losing their starting spots, but they're all still going to Italy barring injury).

    All in all, the Hex had gone reasonably well. We finished second behind Mexico, with a record of six wins, two losses, and two draws. Both losses came against Mexico, both draws came against Canada (who finished third). I'm a little perturbed about the fact that we weren't really able to get it done against the other teams officially on our level, but the memories of the Confederations Cup will dull that fear for a while. Hopefully.


    (Costa Rica, finishing fourth, also got their ticket to the World Cup punched by virtue of beating New Zealand in the intercontinental playoff.)

    ---

    With the business of qualification concluded, now began the long, slow march to the summer of 2030. We played a set of friendlies in November with little of consequence happening, I watched as USMNT players got hurt, recovered, and switched teams, and idly waited to see if any of my old Cartagena players won any yearly awards from FIFA (nope).

    At some point, news of the World Cup draw came down.



    We will play, in order, Russia, Spain, and Australia in the group stage. This draw is okay. While Australia is probably meat, Russia is no pushover in this universe; while they were eliminated in the group stage of Euro 2028, they blitzed through their World Cup qualifiers, including outright defeating Portugal twice. Spain is obviously the team to beat here, but we have a friendly against them scheduled in March (I scheduled this months before the group draw), so at the very least I'd be able to see how we sized up against them.

    The match against Spain saw us go up against two old friends: Longtime Cartagena striker Borracha and €99 million addition Damián Fernández Morales (who scored roughly a billion crucial goals for us in the final season, including two in the Champions League final against Madrid) would be starting up front for Spain. There have been lots of changes to Cartagena ever since I left them, but both have remained, regularly banging in goals, and Morales has ascended to the rank of club captain.

    We exchanged warm greetings before the match, but the good feelings ended there: Both of my former attackers immediately started working vicious combinations against me that our goalkeeper Musah had to be at his very best to turn aside. Spain generally got the better of us throughout the 90 minutes, but our defense was up to the task, and while we didn't have any major offensives of our own, we were able to keep Spain off the score sheet and thus the match ended in a 0-0 draw. I will 100% take that exact result in the group stage.

    That was the final match before I named the World Cup rosters and we traveled to Italy. We technically have two more friendlies immediately before the World Cup begins, in June (against Mexico, at home, and Italy, away), but as those count as World Cup warmups I won't be talking much about them.

    My team of 23 is mostly mentally picked. The final stretch run between the Confederations Cup and the World Cup had its ups and downs, but it is now behind us. Now, at last, there is nothing between us and the big dance.

    NEXT: THE 2030 WORLD CUP (first post will be my full roster, afterwards will be match reports)
    Lenny - Today at 10:08 AM
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    Soul Reader OrangeP47's Avatar
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    I remember hearing that defenders on the post don't actually do anything in some versions of the game and are useless no matter what... (That said, I still have defenders on the post when I play, so...)

    Also I feel it's a shame New Zealand didn't make it... OFC is such a derp confederation I can't help but wish they do well...

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    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by OrangeP47 (#72)
    I remember hearing that defenders on the post don't actually do anything in some versions of the game and are useless no matter what... (That said, I still have defenders on the post when I play, so...)
    I'm less peeved by the defenders on the post not doing much, as the header wasn't necessarily at the edge of the goal. It's moreso my complete exasperation with the entire rest of my team collectively ignoring my orders to go back as far as they need to go back on tight corners like those.

    I've since experimented with some zonal marking on corners, with moderately promising results, but a) I haven't really had as much time to implement this as I'd like, and b) there's always the danger of the players completely ignoring me again.

    -edit- part of the larger problem, and one that I'm not sure is connected in terms of in-game tactics, is that our defenders generally just run around like chickens with their heads cut off if the ball gets into our six-yard box. We're fine in the 18, but if it's in the 6 then our defense essentially just throws their hands up.
    Last edited by GeneralHankerchief; January 20th, 2020 at 09:41 AM.
    Lenny - Today at 10:08 AM
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    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    Cycle 1, Part XI: The 2030 World Cup Roster


    Pretty sure there's a 25 image limit per post, and as I'm showing separate pictures of the 23 players on my World Cup roster, plus one at the end detailing my formation/preferred starting XI, we don't really have room for a header image here. Let's get to it.

    I'll be sorting the players by positional group. Each position will get an opening description, followed by short breakdowns for each individual player as they're introduced. My preferred starters (the Ride or Die Lineup) will be marked with asterisks.

    Goalkeepers

    Positional breakdown: Seems like a solid group. Emmanuel Musah is the clear starter here and has acquitted himself well in both the Confederations Cup as well as World Cup qualifiers. A lot of our scores would have been a lot worse without his efforts.

    Emmanuel Musah* (born: Bridgewater, NJ)



    Like I said, Musah is the entrenched starter here and I'm very glad we were able to keep him considering he also has Ghanaian nationality and was briefly eyeing them. Got picked up by Lyon in January from NY Red Bulls and did well enough in his half-season with them to be named in Lyon's Best Eleven, so I'm hoping he can keep the good times coming.

    Edwin Rosas (born: Seattle, WA)



    Dual Mexican national that I made sure to cap-tie to us. Decent keeper but the clear #2 behind Musah.

    Dylan Moor (born: Frisco, TX)



    Our starting goalkeeper for the Olympics two years back. He takes the #3 spot here.


    Fullbacks

    Positional breakdown: The right side is offensively-inclined, the left side less so. Flip the two when it comes to defense. Neither side is as marauding as I'd like but they get the job done.

    Sam Lapore* (born: Levittown, PA)



    Lapore is our starting right back. He's made a couple of mistakes that I've highlighted in the qualifiers, but is overall pretty solid at the position and did quite well for us in the Confederations Cup last year. I feel like most of his defensive miscues have not been getting beaten on the right; moreso being out of position in the center, and this can probably be corrected with tactics. We'll see!

    Victor Martínez (born: Eastvale, CA)



    One of the last players to make the cut, I brought in Martínez over the versatile Jesús Salas (who featured on our Olympic team). I think Martínez is an outright better right back and am gambling on the fact that we won't need Salas's versatility.

    Christian Musa* (born: Nacogdoches, TX)



    One of the few holdovers from before I loaded MLS, Musa has been the longtime left back of both Team USA and Manchester United and has never let his country down (except when suspended; he tends to pick up yellow cards a lot). Was by far the best player on the team before I expanded the player pool and is still a contender for the title, though he doesn't offer as much going forward as I'd ideally like.

    Caleb Quinn (born: Erie, PA)



    Musa's backup at left back. Is very vanilla and nondescript. Probably won't see much playing time.


    Central Defense

    Positional breakdown: We have a good amount of skill at centerback here, but considering the leaks we've had deep in our own box, I decided to go with a lineup that emphasizes size and strength. None of our defenders are below 5'11, and one of my final cuts was actually a defender who was 6'8 (203 cm) because he was all height and not much strength. Assuming that we don't completely screw up in terms of marking players (a big assumption), we should challenge for if not win every header.

    Liam Espinosa* (born: Murrieta, CA)



    Our vice captain and one of the holdovers from me loading the leagues, Espinosa has maintained his spot in the starting lineup though he hasn't developed quite as much as I'd like. Is currently recovering from a twisted ankle he suffered on the final day of the Premier League season in England, but he should be good to go. Our strongest defender.

    Aaron Prideaux* (born: Wenatchee, WA)



    Prideaux is a smaller central defender of the four but is also the most skilled, and his height hasn't stopped him from scoring a towering, glorious header in our World Cup qualifier against Jamaica. Has been a regular starter for Manchester United, who bought him shortly after I loaded MLS, and should theoretically have a good connection with Musa at left back.

    Eddie James (born: Lakewood, WA)



    Tall. Glorious. Not as trustworthy as the others.

    Luis Reyes (born: Erie, PA)



    There must always be one silver fox on the national team, apparently. Our shortest central defender and generally not as tall as I'd like in these situations, but he'll be a situational reserve and a steady, calming presence when called upon.


    Midfielders

    Positional breakdown: Defensive midfield picked itself. As for central midfield, I did opt for skill for the most part, but two 5'3 central mids were simply too much to ask so Kevin Stephens is staying home. Another exclusion is former leadership candidate Preston Torres, who, while on track to become our next captain, suffered from a chronic case of "not being very good". I have my doubts about this position group overall and it's going to take some tricky maneuvering to get the best out of it.

    Lee Holness* (born: Spokane, WA)



    Holness is a solid defensive midfielder in his own right, but he truly shines in dead ball situations. He's our regular free kick taker and I'll sometimes put him on corners, though he's better on those outside the box as he's good at setting up play or taking long, cracking shots.

    Andy Alvarez (born: Rio Rancho, NM)



    The captain is not in my preferred XI, but he still sees regular time on the field at both the defensive midfield positions as well as further up the pitch in case I determine that the midfield needs more physical spine in any given game or moment.

    Michael Kim* (born: Hood River, OR)



    Kim is the preferred starter in the designated "working midfielder" role, the Ángel Fraile position from my Cartagena days. While not quite as brilliant as the Spaniard, Kim possesses the gumption to get the job done for the most part.

    Sam Phillips (born: Carson, CA)



    The years have been good to young Phillips, whose development continues unabated. He got signed by Arsenal in the summer of 2029, just after they had won the Premier League and Champions League (they defended their domestic title in 2030), and while they've loaned him out to Barnsley, the fact that one of the top clubs in Europe thinks highly enough of him to have him on their payroll speaks well to his future. 2030 is his warmup; I expect great things from Phillips in '34 and '38.

    Óscar Enríquez (born: Columbus, OH)



    I said that two 5'3 midfielders were too much for me, but apparently a 5'3 and a 5'5 mid is fine as Enríquez barely made the cut to my final roster. He's also kind of shrimpy but he brings a variety of technical and mental skills to the table and has generally been able to get the job done for us in a number of midfield roles. That said, I'm going to try to keep him off the field the same time:

    Steven Cherneski* (born: Baltimore, MD)



    This is a controversial one amongst fans of Team USA. Cherneski has barely developed at all since the time I first took over as coach. Furthermore, while a good number of his counterparts have moved to more prestigious shores in Europe, Cherneski hasn't gotten a sniff from a bigger team, which makes me think he's hit his peak. Factor in his crippling lack of size and physical skill, and many fans are exasperated that I'm continuing to stick with the guy. I don't care. The offense runs better with him on the field. For longtime AAR readers, Cherneski is this team's José Luis Salido: the midfielder who, while not skilled, brings intangibles to the field and the instinct to pick out the most devastating pass. I don't know how much longer he can hold off Phillips for the starting spot, but he will do so for at least this World Cup.


    Wingers

    Positional breakdown: Strength on the right, depth on the left. We have one inverted winger; the rest of them are of the traditional mold for the most part.

    Francisco Javier Saucedo (born: Los Angeles, CA)



    Saucedo probably has the best chance of breaking through into the Ride or Die Lineup of any of my subs, because he's been frightfully effective as part of the rotated team, but the fact that he's not an inverted winger is pretty much the only thing holding him back. Delivers good crosses, runs, and judging by his five goals in twelve appearances, can finish an attack just as easily as he can start one.

    Nick Appleby* (born: Provo, UT)



    The inverted winger of the group. Came out of the gate like gangbusters, scoring four goals in his first four caps, but has cooled off since and his spot is in danger. That said, I generally like the concept of inverted wingers, so he has the spot for now - and it's not like he's done poorly.

    Ged Spielmann* (born: Huntington Park, CA)



    The great attacking hope for Team USA. If there's been a goal on our highlight reel for the past year-plus, chances are high that Spielmann scored it. The Chelsea winger has license for a free role from me; he's allowed to roam wherever he wants in a sort of peak-Thomas Müller type of deal. Is currently recovering from a concussion he sustained in our warmup friendly with Mexico; I doubt he'll heal in time for the opening match against Russia but he should be good to go afterwards.

    Keron Thomas (born: La Horquetta, Trinidad and Tobago)



    The only non-American born on the team. Thomas will be the spot starter while Spielmann heals up; I don't really trust my right wingers beyond him but he's the best of the bunch.


    Strikers

    Positional breakdown: No surprises here if you've followed this AAR. They've both been on scoring droughts for us as of late, but here's hoping they can reverse that in time.

    Jeff Suarez* (born: Tacoma, WA)



    Suarez has not scored for us in over a year, but I couldn't leave him out - statistically he's still our best striker, and he also scored the most goals in the entirety of La Liga this past season with Espanyol of all teams. I'm hoping he can recapture some of his magic from 2028 and the first half of 2029 to help push us through.

    Patrick Escobedo (born: Alameda, CA)



    Our final player and reserve striker. Has also cooled since his hot streak on the Confederations Cup, but his relative youth makes me want to bring him along anyway, if nothing else but for seasoning considering the rest of the team is fairly old.

    ---

    Here's the lineup in graphical form:



    I'm pretty sure we'll at least get to the knockout round. We haven't been at our best since the Confederations Cup, but the draw isn't exactly a Group of Death, and our team is mostly at full strength pending the recoveries of Espinosa (should be fine for the opener) and Spielmann (might miss the opener, should be fine afterwards). I'm going to send out our strongest possible lineup against Russia, hope for a win right away, and start the matches in the drivers' seat. We'll take it from there.

    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.

    In other words, this is going to be our best chance at bringing home the Cup in a while. An instructive parallel might be the Croatia team in 2018; we're not quite as old as they were, but they were all in their 30s and all knew that this was their last chance. They ended up making the most of it. Will we be able to say the same?

    We'll soon find out.
    Lenny - Today at 10:08 AM
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    Wants It More LanMisa's Avatar
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    This looks like an interesting team, but realistically I don't see you progress beyond quarters.

    On the other hand this IS a game, so good luck!

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    Soul Reader OrangeP47's Avatar
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    There's a depressing lack of Mid-Westerners on the roster Oh well, I do predict things will go well at first too, we'll just have to see.

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    Mafia Backup Amrock sheepsaysmeep's Avatar Game Manager
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    feels good seeing such a surprising number of americans playing in europe
    Quote Originally Posted by moth (#67)
    Stop calling things natural. This world isnt natural. You can get butt implants and $%#!
    Quote Originally Posted by roro__b (#8185)
    I see this game as an experience that makes you that little bit stronger afterwards but you thoroughly hate it and it's a disaster while you're in it. I see probably every game of mafia like that, but especially this one. Like getting dumped, or being in a car accident, or a house fire.

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    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    Sorry for the delay, tonight was the first chance I've had to play all week. 10% chance of a writeup later tonight, 90% sometime tomorrow.
    Lenny - Today at 10:08 AM
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    Cycle 1, Part XII: The Group Stage


    Due to budget cuts, the World Cup organizers had to partially recycle an old logo.

    At the dawn of the group stage, Team USA not only had to overcome our opponents, but our own history as well. Three World Cups have been played since I started this save: Russia 2018, Australia 2022 (moved from Qatar), and Morocco 2026. Not in one of those were we able to make it out of the group stage. Morocco 2026 was the most embarrassing of the three, as the USMNT had failed to score a single goal in all three matches and were named the worst team in the tournament at its conclusion.

    We had a much better roster this round, courtesy of me loading MLS (and the Mexican league), as well as my general coaching prowess, but this was still the World Cup. The margin for error was razor-thin, and there weren't any second legs to make up for mistakes.

    Russia, Spain, and Australia, in order, were our opponents in Group H of the 2030 World Cup. A draw against Russia and a win against Australia were my designated bare minimum targets (Spain, better than us, would probably beat us, and I had baked that into my calculations). This would net us four points out of a possible nine. Four points was dangerously low, but teams have advanced with only a win and a draw before, and this group seemed like Spain would sweep and it would be a battle for second from the start.

    Our opening match was against Russia, and I sent out the Ride or Die Lineup minus two (Espinosa and Spielmann, both recovering from injury, could make the bench but would not start). In their place were supertall defender Eddie James and untrustworthy right winger Keron Thomas. I also had Luis Reyes, probably a better overall defender than James, available to start, but with the 6'0 Aaron Prideaux also starting, I wanted some height in central defense.

    As it turns out, none of this thought was needed. Our attackers absolutely carved up a shaky Russian defense.

    The first goal came in the 15th minute when my midfield and attackers combined for a beautiful bit of passing in and around the box that had the Russians running around to the point where half of them just started chasing whoever had the ball like it was back in a kids' soccer game. The ball eventually found Cherneski, around the 18 yard line, who was wide open and had all the time in the world to sizzle his shot in. 1-0 USA.



    Winger Thomas, Spielmann's replacement who I openly did not trust, added a second, and while Russia was able to pull one back before halftime, the second half opened the Jeff Suarez show.

    Espanyol's striker, who had scored more goals than anyone else in the just-concluded 2029-30 season of La Liga, had had an awful Confederations Cup for us the previous year, and hadn't scored for us in more than 365 days. No matter. Less than a minute after the restart, the Russian right back, rattled, made a truly awful back pass to the keeper (more of a side pass, really), that was hit far softer than it should have been. The ball slowed in that awful nether zone where the the keeper didn't really have a good choice between coming out or staying back, as both invited serious danger. He stayed back, and Suarez pounced, blasting forward to get to the ball before it got to the keeper. He poked the ball in, a true poacher's goal, and made the score 3-1.

    But Suarez wasn't done. Less than five minutes after the last goal, Cherneski bombed the ball forward and Suarez was outright able to beat his man, get to the ball first, race forward, and beat the Russian keeper in a one-on-one to double his tally and put the game out of reach for good.



    There was no more scoring after that as I decided to ease off the pressure and keep the players somewhat fresh, but the point had been made.



    It was a triumph for Suarez, who had had questions surrounding his production for the national team in contrast to his efforts with Espanyol, but even more so for my son Steven Cherneski, who many said shouldn't have even made the trip to Italy. The diminutive midfielder was named Man of the Match with a goal and an assist, and he was pulling the strings all day long against Russia, justifying my decision to not only bring him but start him in the opening match.



    ---

    Spain were next, and would provide a tougher challenge. In a match in March, we had held them to a 0-0 draw in Spain, but this was obviously a much different beast (and they had outclassed us in that match anyway). They had done their part by beating Australia in their first match, so a win for them promised an automatic berth to the knockout round.



    The match was quite bizarre if you're familiar with Spain's history. At some point down the line, it appears that La Roja had sworn off their famous possession-based style of play in favor of running a flat 4-4-2 which involved often bypassing the midfield altogether with long balls. (Of the Cartagena players from my days on the team, Borracha started up front but his regular partner Morales was a sub.) The result was an extremely weird statline where we actually had the possession advantage for the majority of the match but they nearly quintupled our shot count. To be honest, I wasn't sure what to make of it.

    What mattered, though, was the goals. Despite Spain's tremendous shots advantage, most of them were of poor quality, and the ones that weren't off-target or blocked by our defenders were easily saved by Musah. One, however, got in: a header off a corner kick (of course) where our defenders were actually where they should have been, but simply just got outheaded by Real Madrid midfielder Álvaro. A few minutes after that, another one of their long balls made it to old friend Borracha, who put it in to double the lead, but he was controversially ruled a step offside. We made it into halftime only down 1-0, but were obviously reeling.

    I made a few adjustments, but for the most part just encouraged the team to do better, because part of me was still trapped by the possession mentality. We had more of the ball! Against Spain, the ultimate possession hoarders! The only goal we conceded was off a set piece! Surely we were doing all right!

    And then the second half started and they got even more aggressive with their long-range bombs and I realized that it was fruitless.

    Time ticked away, and while the score remained 1-0 and possession remained roughly even, they had all the attacks and dangerous chances that mattered. While I had always baked a loss against Spain into my calculations, in the moment, I figured that a 3-0 loss was worth the risk of stealing a point. So I took off a midfielder, brought on another striker in Patrick Escobedo, and decided that we would start launching some bombs of our own.

    The final twenty or so minutes were a white-knuckle brand of soccer for everyone watching, as our possession edge disappeared but we started cracking off more shots. It was just a really open game, attack after attack, but the score did not budge. As it turns out, the Spanish defenders were far more competent than their Russian counterparts, always getting in the right positions to clear away our long balls.

    Our best chance came in stoppage time. Our right back Sam Lapore hit an angled cross into the box. Spain defender Gallardo was in position to head the ball away, but came down empty-handed, apparently pushed out of position by Jeff Suarez. The ball, meanwhile, untouched, landed and continued rolling, where it was picked up in the box by Escobedo. With the Spanish defense collapsing on him to deal with this threat, Escobedo paused, lined up, and hit a simple cross to Suarez, who had position over Gallardo and tapped it in to even the score.



    The outraged Spain players immediately surrounded the referee and screamed for a foul on Suarez as the fans whistled down from above, but as there's no VAR in this universe, the original call stood. We slunk out of there with a thoroughly undeserved 1-1 draw.



    Manner of "victory" aside, we now had my absolute minimum target of 4 points with one game still to play, which afforded us a lot of breathing room. As long as we took care of business against Australia, the weakest team in the group, we would make it to the knockout round. Furthermore, by virtue of our margin of victory against Russia and the fact that we had drawn Spain, we actually had a decent shot of topping the group, which meant that our initial opponent in the knockout round would be somebody who had finished second instead of first.


    ---

    As tempting as topping the group was, I decided to think long-term and went into the Australia match with a heavily-rotated lineup, trusting that my overall depth and quality would be enough to see off the weakest team in the group.

    All I'll say is that it was a good thing that Spain decided to take their anger out on the Russians.



    It was a thoroughly uninspired performance by our team, who went down early and struggled to create enough chances to get back in the game. We eventually got an equalizer in the second by virtue of winning a penalty that our striker Escobedo converted, but that was it: we couldn't get a second.

    Even if we had been able to finish off Australia, it wouldn't have mattered, as Spain obliterated Russia 6-1 and would have won the group off goal difference, but our overall performance against the Aussies cast a minor pall over our team as we headed into the knockout round.

    Still though: The knockout round! For the first time since this FM campaign started, Team USA would play a fourth game in the World Cup! Escobedo and Spielmann had fully recovered from their injuries, the squad was mostly fresh due to rotation, and we were ready to go. This is obviously a seminal moment for a country that hasn't seen the knockout round in a generation, but with my team's composition being what it is, I want to go even further.



    Our opponent in the knockout round is Portugal, who swept Group G and have the highest goal difference out of anyone in the group stages. Had we topped our group, we would have played Uruguay, who somehow only managed to advance with only three points. Surely that draw to Australia won't matter at all.



    ---

    AROUND THE WORLD CUP:

    The big shocker is Brazil not only failing to qualify for the knockout round, but finishing bottom of their group which contained such noted heavyweights as Slovakia, Canada, and China. Who are the minnows now, Luciano Baptista, soon-to-be-former Brazil manager who smack-talked my team before we played in the Confederations Cup last year?

    CONCACAF is having an excellent showing, with three of its four entrants (Canada, Mexico, and the USA) qualifying for the knockout round. Canada actually topped their group; only Costa Rica missed out.

    Full breakdown:









    God I'm going to regret that Australia match.
    Last edited by GeneralHankerchief; January 25th, 2020 at 01:06 PM.
    Lenny - Today at 10:08 AM
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    Soul Reader OrangeP47's Avatar
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    Portugal is a tough draw... but I think drawing Spain, and having such tactical foresight can be counted as a moral victory.

    Definitely some interesting things happening in this universe, as you said the change in Spanish style for one, though I wonder if your play at club level had any effect on that. Group F is the real puzzle though. MLS could help Canada, but I wouldn't expect it to happen *that fast*. Maybe they had a golden generation, or maybe it's just a fluke. I was prepared to say the same thing about China, but actually I noticed at least in my save China can become pretty strong. They haven't so far at the international level, but Guangzhou won the Club World Cup twice (and I don't even have them loaded!) It does make sense if you follow the population numbers, if they ever actually tried.

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    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by OrangeP47 (#80)
    Definitely some interesting things happening in this universe, as you said the change in Spanish style for one, though I wonder if your play at club level had any effect on that. Group F is the real puzzle though. MLS could help Canada, but I wouldn't expect it to happen *that fast*. Maybe they had a golden generation, or maybe it's just a fluke. I was prepared to say the same thing about China, but actually I noticed at least in my save China can become pretty strong. They haven't so far at the international level, but Guangzhou won the Club World Cup twice (and I don't even have them loaded!) It does make sense if you follow the population numbers, if they ever actually tried.
    Canada definitely got an MLS boost. Shortly after I loaded that league, I got bombarded with messages about how a bunch of dual US/Canada nationals (all playing for teams like Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver/born in Canada, mind) had declared for Canada. A number of those players would have at least challenged for spots on our roster from memory, but it's hard to go into specifics since it was a while ago in game time.

    As for China, it's harder to explain that one. We beat them pretty handily in a friendly this past November.

    ---

    Also, I've added two gifs from the Russia match in the above post.
    Lenny - Today at 10:08 AM
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    Soul Reader OrangeP47's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GeneralHankerchief (#81)
    Quote Originally Posted by OrangeP47 (#80)
    Definitely some interesting things happening in this universe, as you said the change in Spanish style for one, though I wonder if your play at club level had any effect on that. Group F is the real puzzle though. MLS could help Canada, but I wouldn't expect it to happen *that fast*. Maybe they had a golden generation, or maybe it's just a fluke. I was prepared to say the same thing about China, but actually I noticed at least in my save China can become pretty strong. They haven't so far at the international level, but Guangzhou won the Club World Cup twice (and I don't even have them loaded!) It does make sense if you follow the population numbers, if they ever actually tried.
    Canada definitely got an MLS boost. Shortly after I loaded that league, I got bombarded with messages about how a bunch of dual US/Canada nationals (all playing for teams like Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver/born in Canada, mind) had declared for Canada. A number of those players would have at least challenged for spots on our roster from memory, but it's hard to go into specifics since it was a while ago in game time.

    As for China, it's harder to explain that one. We beat them pretty handily in a friendly this past November.

    ---

    Also, I've added two gifs from the Russia match in the above post.
    I'd say three teams still probably wouldn't make a difference, but Toronto keeps making the cup final, so I guess maybe they're good teams

    Beautiful goals vs Russia.
    Last edited by OrangeP47; January 25th, 2020 at 12:28 PM.

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    Cycle 1, Part XIII: The Slugfest

    This post will only cover a single match, for reasons that will be made apparent.

    ---

    Portugal stood between us and the quarterfinals of the 2030 World Cup, a stage in the competition we had not reached since 2002. They had had an up-and-down past year or so, stumbling in the qualifiers to Russia and more recently falling to Chile and Brazil in the warm-up friendlies last month, but the Portuguese had turned it around and ended up submitting the best group stage performance in the entire World Cup.

    First, they had easily taken out their toughest competition in the group, Uruguay, by pouring on three goals in the final ten minutes to win 4-2. Following that, they obliterated CONCACAF qualifiers Costa Rica, 6-0 (a score that we haven't even come close to equalling against them despite multiple opportunities), before putting a cherry on top and beating Hungary 3-1. Now, they faced us, a team most recently coming off a very shaky draw against Australia.

    In this universe, Portugal runs a 4-1-4-1 that is very capable of wreaking destruction upon their enemies. Their entire right side is manned by Real Madrid players, up top is Liverpool's extraordinary striker and 2027 Ballon d'Or runner-up Ali Benali, but the man nearest and dearest to my heart on that team is Friend of Cartagena Ulisses Gaspar. Here's what the precocious young midfielder looked like when I signed him in January 2026:



    Here's what he looks like four and a half years later, bossing Portugal's midfield:



    Incredibly well-rounded, fully developed, and still only 24. Dude's a lock for 100 caps by the time he hangs it up.

    ---

    To handle the threat of Gaspar and others, I selected a lineup with a little more spine. I kept Ride or Die-ers Cherneski and Holness in midfield, but the third spot went to captain Andy Alvarez rather than Michael Kim or Óscar Enríquez. Hopefully, Alvarez's physical capabilities and cagey leadership would inject some backbone in the team in this do-or-die game and keep Cherneski from wilting.

    Aside from Alvarez, all the regulars started, and we were off.

    Gaspar did his best in the midfield, but it became apparent early on that between Cherneski's instincts, Alvarez's steel, and Holness's technical ability, we were mostly able to neutralize him and soon gained the possession advantage. This left their dread striker Benali on an island for the most part, and Portugal settled into a routine of using what little of the ball they had to try for direct attacks.

    In the 21st minute, we conceded the opening goal for the third consecutive match in this World Cup. Portugal had a corner (I clenched), we were easily able to clear it (I unclenched), but the ball was recovered by left midfielder Carlos Veiga a little outside the box (I reclenched). Veiga had a liiiiiiiiiiiiiittle bit of space, but used it well and blasted the ball through and into the top left corner of the net. Musah had no chance. 1-0, Portugal.

    Veiga's goal didn't alter the calculus much. Unlike our match with Spain, we had the heavy possession advantage, beyond 60-40, and the goal was just a matter of individual brilliance on his part. Tactically, I still liked where we were at. We just needed to hammer one through. It happened 10 minutes later when Spielmann found a cutting-in Nick Appleby on a great cross. Appleby carved in, had position over his marker, and headed the ball in point-blank past the Portuguese keeper. 1-1.

    That was how the score was when we entered halftime, with me overall pleased but obviously slightly apprehensive.

    ---

    The second half saw Portugal buckling down. We still saw more of the ball, but the Portuguese midfield and defenders were sharper than they were before and our attacks ended up fizzling out without doing much damage. On the other end, when Portugal had the ball, they mostly tried to force it too much and as a result provided little real danger.

    Neither striker ended up being particularly effective. For them, Benali just outright didn't get much service, oftentimes making runs only to look back and find that we had won the ball back. For us, Suarez just wasn't sharp, shooting wide or not coming up with the ball on gettable crosses.

    We both started making substitutions, usually with player fitness in mind moreso than tactical changes. Gaspar came off in the 58th minute, perhaps the Portugal manager trying to save his star midfielder for the next match. As for me, I subbed out Cherneski and Holness, brough Sam Phillips in for a like-for-like, and moved central defender Victor Espinosa up to defensive midfield to provide even more of a physical presence (6'6 Eddie James would fill the vacancy on the back line).

    But my final substitution was something different. Up front, Suarez was still struggling. Nick Appleby, while he had scored for us, hadn't really done much beyond that. I decided to take him off for the left-footed Francisco Javier Saucedo, the player closest to breaking into the Ride or Die Lineup, under the logic that Saucedo would offer more crosses and give Suarez more chances to turn his day around.

    Nothing happened in the second half, and we went to extra time with the score remaining 1-1. But you could see that Portugal were starting to tire. They slowly begun reversing the possession count, being more deliberate when they had the ball, but we started getting more shots off. And some of those shots were genuinely dangerous.

    It took 113 minutes to decide the game.



    Saucedo got the ball and went on a run down the left, and the Portuguese right - manned exclusively by Real Madrid players, remember - were just a little more lax in chasing him, a little more tired, giving him a little more room than they normally would have. And thus, Saucedo found himself with a little more room than he normally would have to set up his cross, which streaked across the box to come down straight onto the forehead of a charging Ged Spielmann, who deposited it into the net. 2-1, USA, and we were going to the quarterfinals.





    It was our star player's first goal of the World Cup, and it couldn't have come at a better time. The substitutions I made didn't really factor ability with penalties in mind, and I wasn't sure if I trusted our luck at that critical stage. Our players were dead on their feet afterwards, but we had just delivered the biggest upset of the knockout round so far and were moving on.

    As for the quarterfinals?

    Well, all I'll say is that you can't make this $%#! up.



    ---

    AROUND THE WORLD CUP:

    After a somewhat surprising group stage, the regular order returned as pretty much all of the remaining traditional powers advanced (unless they were directly up against each other). Hosts Italy bowed out to England, Mexico handily won the all-CONCACAF showdown against Canada, and we're probably the biggest remaining interloper.

    Full breakdown:





    Pray for us. This next match is one that I desperately do not want to lose.
    Last edited by GeneralHankerchief; January 25th, 2020 at 01:06 PM.
    Lenny - Today at 10:08 AM
    Atpg sometimes the paragraphs you write are pretty good


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    Ha, that first line was such a troll.

    Good game though. Shame it had to go to extra time though, especially with Mexico next. (And it looks like you were the only game to go to extra time, double bummer).

    Also on that note, I know it's not against the rules, but seriously, this would spawn so many low-stakes conspiracy theories about FIFA/UEFA trying to eliminate the competition by sending them up against each other. First Canada vs Mexico and now US vs Mexico.... seriously? Nevermind that the paths are predetermined.
    Last edited by OrangeP47; January 25th, 2020 at 01:37 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by OrangeP47 (#84)
    Ha, that first line was such a troll.

    Good game though. Shame it had to go to extra time though, especially with Mexico next. (And it looks like you were the only game to go to extra time, double bummer).

    Also on that note, I know it's not against the rules, but seriously, this would spawn so many low-stakes conspiracy theories about FIFA/UEFA trying to eliminate the competition by sending them up against each other. First Canada vs Mexico and now US vs Mexico.... seriously? Nevermind that the paths are predetermined.
    Well, another way to look at it is this: by CONCACAF teams drawing each other early on in the knockout rounds, you're also guaranteeing that one will move on.

    Right now, with us and Mexico playing in the quarterfinals, CONCACAF is assured of having a team in the semis. The last time this has happened is... never?
    Lenny - Today at 10:08 AM
    Atpg sometimes the paragraphs you write are pretty good


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    Quote Originally Posted by GeneralHankerchief (#85)
    Quote Originally Posted by OrangeP47 (#84)
    Ha, that first line was such a troll.

    Good game though. Shame it had to go to extra time though, especially with Mexico next. (And it looks like you were the only game to go to extra time, double bummer).

    Also on that note, I know it's not against the rules, but seriously, this would spawn so many low-stakes conspiracy theories about FIFA/UEFA trying to eliminate the competition by sending them up against each other. First Canada vs Mexico and now US vs Mexico.... seriously? Nevermind that the paths are predetermined.
    Well, another way to look at it is this: by CONCACAF teams drawing each other early on in the knockout rounds, you're also guaranteeing that one will move on.

    Right now, with us and Mexico playing in the quarterfinals, CONCACAF is assured of having a team in the semis. The last time this has happened is... never?
    I guess that's a fair point, though in FM Mexico rarely seems to need the help. Good luck for the next game.

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    Grade A trolling by the game. I wonder though what you would prefer in case Mexico wins - them actually getting the trophy (to show how strong they really are and to win it for North America) or for them to lose horribly and end up in 4th place (so that Mexico cannot one-up you).

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    Quote Originally Posted by LanMisa (#87)


    Grade A trolling by the game. I wonder though what you would prefer in case Mexico wins - them actually getting the trophy (to show how strong they really are and to win it for North America) or for them to lose horribly and end up in 4th place (so that Mexico cannot one-up you).
    In the real 2018 World Cup (i.e. one in which the USA didn't qualify), I did end up rooting for Mexico largely for the reasons you mention but was also totally fine with them getting bounced by Brazil.

    Let's split the difference here and say that if they beat us, I'll root for them to make the final but then lose, preferably by choking, in heartbreaking fashion.

    (No, I haven't played the match yet)
    Lenny - Today at 10:08 AM
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    Quote Originally Posted by GeneralHankerchief (#88)
    Quote Originally Posted by LanMisa (#87)


    Grade A trolling by the game. I wonder though what you would prefer in case Mexico wins - them actually getting the trophy (to show how strong they really are and to win it for North America) or for them to lose horribly and end up in 4th place (so that Mexico cannot one-up you).
    In the real 2018 World Cup (i.e. one in which the USA didn't qualify), I did end up rooting for Mexico largely for the reasons you mention but was also totally fine with them getting bounced by Brazil.

    Let's split the difference here and say that if they beat us, I'll root for them to make the final but then lose, preferably by choking, in heartbreaking fashion.

    (No, I haven't played the match yet)
    I firmly recall playing my first season of mafia champs here in 2018, the first comment I made upon dying when I got to spec chat being that at least I could now go watch the world cup in peace, and that since the US didn't make it I'd root for Mexico, and then somebody telling me off for that

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    Quote Originally Posted by OrangeP47 (#89)
    Quote Originally Posted by GeneralHankerchief (#88)
    Quote Originally Posted by LanMisa (#87)


    Grade A trolling by the game. I wonder though what you would prefer in case Mexico wins - them actually getting the trophy (to show how strong they really are and to win it for North America) or for them to lose horribly and end up in 4th place (so that Mexico cannot one-up you).
    In the real 2018 World Cup (i.e. one in which the USA didn't qualify), I did end up rooting for Mexico largely for the reasons you mention but was also totally fine with them getting bounced by Brazil.

    Let's split the difference here and say that if they beat us, I'll root for them to make the final but then lose, preferably by choking, in heartbreaking fashion.

    (No, I haven't played the match yet)
    I firmly recall playing my first season of mafia champs here in 2018, the first comment I made upon dying when I got to spec chat being that at least I could now go watch the world cup in peace, and that since the US didn't make it I'd root for Mexico, and then somebody telling me off for that
    I think that cheering for any team is fine as long as nobody takes themselves too seriously and acknowledges that fans from other teams are okay and not some kind of "mortal enemies".


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    Cycle 1, Part XIV: The Showdown



    After the Portugal win in the Round of 16, I came to a realization as to why Team USA more than held their own against the European teams under my stewardship: It's because they're scared of me. For a decade, I terrorized club teams both in Spain and the larger continent, rising out of nowhere like some mythical figure and upending the entire natural order before I departed the scene. It's been three years since I left Cartagena, but that fear is clearly still lingering and may be part of the reason why we were able to overcome Italy and France in the Confederations Cup last year and Portugal just now.

    That psychological factor may explain why I've done well against the European teams, but it also might explain why we've always come up short against Mexico. You see, Mexico just doesn't give a $%#!.

    To them, I'm just some coach who, while doing well over in Europe, never really learned the ropes back on home turf and am just the latest empty suit in a long line of Americans who were too tempted by overseas glory to even master their own neighborhood. My personal record against them certainly hasn't helped matters. Let's roll the tape:

    • Loss, 2-1 (after extra time), in the 2027 Gold Cup Final
    • Loss, 2-2 (penalty kicks), in the 2028 Olympic quarterfinals (U23s for both squads)
    • Loss, 2-1, in Mexico City in the World Cup qualifiers
    • Loss, 1-0, in the 2029 Gold Cup Final (our B squad, their regular team)
    • Loss, 2-1, in Salt Lake City UT, in the World Cup qualifiers
    • Draw, 0-0, in Kansas City MO in a World Cup warmup friendly last month, in which they concussed our star player Ged Spielmann


    But none of that matters. The Gold Cup final losses hurt, but we still made (and won) the Confederations Cup. The qualifier losses hurt, but we still made the World Cup. I don't care about the Olympics. Spielmann has recovered. This is the match that truly matters.

    Our all time record, IRL, against Mexico is 19 wins, 15 draws, and 36 losses. Not very encouraging. However, one of those 19 wins was the match with the biggest stakes: the only time we've met in the World Cup, the 2002 Round of 16 in which Team USA won 2-0, clinched a berth to the quarterfinals, and a young Landon Donovan scored the capper late on to really kickstart his international career.

    This match is bigger than that one. Not only because I'm directly in charge, but because it's coming a round later in the tournament and a semifinal berth is on the line. The Round of 16, a lot of times, is little more than the stronger teams cutting out the chaff. The quarterfinals, though, is the business end. This is where the true clashes of the titans begin.

    So yeah, I really want to win. But more than that, I don't want to lose.

    ---

    Match Details:

    Location: Stadio San Nicola, Bari. Built for the 1990 World Cup, it seats 58,000 and change and honestly might be a nice change of pace from us usually playing Mexico in either overtly hostile territory (Azteca) or supposedly "home" or "neutral" sites that are in reality overrun by Mexico supporters (anywhere in the US outside of Columbus). We had our draw against Australia here; this is Mexico's first match in Bari at this World Cup.

    Mexico injuries: Much of our starting lineups are going to be determined by how fresh the players are, but Mexico has a few people who are hurting beyond that. Starting right winger Néstor Ochoa is fully out. Rotational striker Édgar Tapia reserve left winger Freddy Dominguez are questionable.

    USA injuries: No injuries, but we did just get out of an extra time match so a lot of my preferred starters are blown. I'm risking Spielmann and Christian Musa, starting at 85% and 86% levels of fitness, respectively, but Sam Lapore, Jeff Suarez, and Steven Cherneski are all sitting. Andy Alvarez, who played 120 full minutes against Portugal in a physically demanding position, has superhuman recovery skills and is back to 97% fitness. Thus, our captain will be leading us out onto the field in this most important of matches.

    Starting lineups:



    Mexico: Cantú ; Hernandez, Padilla, Alarcón (c), Jaime Garza ; Guerrero, García, Chávez ; Campos, López, Ayala
    Subs: Díaz, Martín Mendoza, Christian Mendoza, Torres, González, Edson Garza, Domínguez, Treviño, Tapia, Ángeles, Capetillo

    USA: Musah ; Martínez, Prideaux, Espinosa, Musa ; Enríquez, Alvarez (c), Kim ; Spielmann, Escobedo, Saucedo
    Subs: Rosas, Appleby, Lapore, Phillips, Suarez, James, Cherneski, Thomas, Holness, Quinn, Reyes, Moor

    Us having to go an extra 30 minutes against Portugal precluded me from picking the full Ride or Die Lineup, unfortunately. In its place, I chose a combination of players that were fresh, veteran, and trustworthy. The biggest result is a midfield combination that I've never used before: Alvarez in his standard defensive midfield slot, Óscar Enríquez in the worker slot, and Michael Kim as the main playmaker. Cherneski was simply unable to go the full 90, and his immediate backup, Sam Phillips, is the future but not quite yet the present. Hence, Kim, who can hopefully deliver in a pinch.

    Saucedo gets rewarded for his efforts with a start on the left, and probably would have gotten it even if Appleby had been fresher. Spielmann, indispensible, is going to have to fight through the fatigue as best he can on the right, as is Musa at left back. Victor Martínez is a more capable backup defender, though, so Sam Lapore gets a rest on the right. Espinosa and Prideaux remain in central defense. Up front, Patrick Escobedo is going to have to sack up and lead the line.

    Matchups to watch:

    Carlos Campos (Mexico RW) vs. Christian Musa (USA DL): In every USA/Mexico match that has been played since I loaded MLS and the Mexican league, Néstor Ochoa has been the starting right winger for Mexico, usually to devastating effect. However, Ochoa is currently injured and his backup, Campos, didn't particularly impress in the Round of 16 against Canada. If Musa can fight through his fatigue and provide his customary level of defensive stalwartness, we can hopefully deny Mexico any opportunity to attack us through the right.

    José Alfredo Guerrero (Mexico MF) vs. Andy Alvarez (USA DM): Mexico is set on strikers, so the young attacker, who so tormented us in the 2027 Gold Cup final, drops into a midfield role. It's time for our captain to shut him down.

    Mario Padilla (Mexico DC) vs. Patrick Escobedo (USA ST): Padilla, 22, is now probably one of the best central defenders in the world and regularly starts for Real Madrid. He's had a good World Cup, starting every game for Mexico and only having one rating below 7.4, but is only at 84% fitness heading into the match. Here's hoping that Escobedo, our young striker, can use his relative freshness and the maximum of the skills he possesses to get one past the defender I hate more than everyone else.

    Mexico plays a 4-3-3, just like us. I was briefly toying with the idea of changing up our formation to a 4-4-2 diamond to fully lock down the center, much like I did in the last Champions League final with Cartagena against Real Madrid, but I don't trust our personnel enough to pull it off. This one's going to come down to who wants it more, simple as that.

    ---

    THE MATCH

    1 min: Kickoff! Both sides are wearing their traditional colors: Mexico in their green-and-whites, us in our whites with blue trim.

    5 min: I issued an early instruction to take advantage of Saucedo's freshness to focus our attack down the left, Mexico's right. Early returns are decent, we're getting more possession, but Mexico have stopped us from generating any sustained attacks.

    10 min: Tight match so far through ten. No shots by either side yet, even ones that would have been blocked or otherwise off target.

    11 min: Campos stops Saucedo cold on the left and sends the ball to Guerrero, who starts up the Mexican attack. He finds striker López in the box with a long ball, but López is ruled offside.

    15 min: Free kick, Mexico, in a dangerous area. Campos takes it but Prideaux takes over, first heading it out of danger and then getting on top of his own clearance by muscling Chávez off the ball. Spielmann, on the counter, goes on a long run and we eventually win a corner.

    16 min: On the same corner, Spielmann gets the ball inside the box with a little room to work with, but shoots high and wide of the net. This is the first shot by either side.

    20 min: Nobody really standing out yet. Nobody on either side has a rating better than 6.8. Ayala, for Mexico, has the worst at 6.6.

    21 min: The pro-USA portion of the crowd groans as Enríquez, with forward momentum on his side and a lot of space, tries for a shot but scuffs the ground before he connects with the ball and it harmlessly rolls wide. Ugh.

    24 min: Our focus down the left isn't really having any effect. The only highlights of Saucedo that the game has seen fit to show me is him being cleanly tackled off the ball by Mexico players. I'm turning that instruction off.

    26 min: First real offensive opportunity goes to Mexico. Off a counter from a truly terrible corner kick by our Enríquez, they get the ball in the box and we're unable to clear it. It looks like a classic goal where our defense $%#!s itself whenever the ball gets in range of the 6-yard box, but Musah gets a huge diving save to stop a hard shot from Chávez. No doubt about it: that was a great save.



    30 min: Our attack isn't really working. Enríquez was the wrong choice to include in this midfield, and our attacking trident hasn't been getting good service. Our shots are all from long range. I'm going to tell the team to play more deliberately, but we'll see how much of a practical effect that has.

    34 min: Mexico midfielder Arturo Chávez twists his ankle on an attack and has to come off. Replacing him is 30 year old Christian Mendoza, of Chivas.

    39 min: Espinosa tries for a long through pass that splits the Mexican defense and finds Escobedo in the box... but Escobedo is ruled offside.

    41 min: Our reserve right back Victor Martínez is looking decidedly shaky so far. After being beaten on the dribble more than once, he just had an extremely weak clearing header that landed right at the foot of López, whose shot forced Musah to make his second good save of the day. It appears that the Ride or Die Lineup is the Ride or Die Lineup for a reason: those not part of it are not exactly impressing.

    43 min: Spielmann is clearly not at his best today, but he's fighting through it as best he can. Despite Mexico having better positioning on a run he tried to make, he was able to win the ball back twice and earn himself a corner.

    43 min: On the above corner, Kim had potential to shoot from just outside the box, but, remaining patient as per my instructions, held onto the ball. The result was being fouled by Mexico and winning a free kick in prime territory: 22 yards out, dead center. The resulting shot got past the wall, but was just a bit high.

    45+1 min: We had a little attacking flurry to close out the half, our best sustained run, but it amounted to nothing and the referee eventually blew his whistle to signal a break. 0-0 after 45.

    HALFTIME!



    It's, uh, not looking good. Stats are pretty even, but Mexico's definitely had more (and more dangerous) chances. Contrary to what the eye test is telling me, our midfield is the position group that's done best ratings-wise, and I suppose that Alvarez and Kim have done well enough, but Enríquez has just not imposed himself on either open play or set pieces and is probably the guy I'm going to yank first, fresh or not.

    My assistant, true to form, is offering me contradictory pieces of advice. No individual player rating on either side is above 7. Both strikers have been judged as the worst players on their respective teams through 45, largely because they haven't been able to do anything. The heat maps are inconclusive.

    This one might come down to endurance and motivation. I gave the players a rousing speech and sent them back out with only minor tactical adjustments.

    46 min: Play resumes with the second half kickoff. No substitutions by either side.

    46 min: Kim immediately sets us off and gets the ball to Saucedo on the left edge of the box. Saucedo sends in the most dangerous cross of the match to Escobedo, but Padilla muscles him off the ball and clears it out of danger. Seeing as how Jeff Suarez was able to get away with a foul against Spain for essentially preventing this, I'm really regretting his 81% fitness and me having to leave him on the bench to start this match.

    50 min: Working the ball into the box isn't working. Our passes aren't crisp and the Mexico defenders are always there to get it out of danger. I'm telling the players to stop worrying about that and just let it fly if they deem it prudent.

    52 min: Mexico has had a number of shots since the restart, but all of them are from long range and not particularly problematic. This is fine.

    54 min: GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL MEXICO! Ugh. Campos took a free kick and Padilla outjumped everybody to get his head on the ball. He didn't have a clear chance at net so he instead just simply tried to head it down. After a brief scrum, Josué Alarcón was able to come up with the ball and poked it in past Musah. 1-0 Mexico, and now it's looking grim.



    Victor Martínez was deemed the culprit for not coming up with the header, but I don't think that's particularly fair. Padilla is three inches taller than him to begin with, and is much better in the air anyway. We just need to find a way to get it back is all.

    56 min: After a back and forth period around Mexico's box, Spielmann gets the ball to Escobedo, who has a shot! - but it's saved by Cantú. Notably, this is Escobedo's first real contribution of all game. Baby steps, but we're running out of time here.

    59 min: GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL USA! A disastrous Mexico corner ends up with Spielmann on the counter and going on a long run! He eventually makes his way into the box, beats Mexico defender Hernandez, and crosses it to Michael Kim, charging in on the right. It's not the best cross, but Kim is there to put it past Cantú, and just like that, we evened it up! 1-1 with 30 minutes left in regulation!



    60 min: Mexico makes their second substitution of the day. In a striker swap, Ayala comes off for Jesús Torres. I make one of my own: Taking Enríquez off, I move Alvarez up into his spot and bring on Lee Holness, whose technical precision might be needed in the final stages of this game.

    63 min: Corner kick, USA. Spielmann takes, to Alvarez, to Kim, who tries for another shot! Cantú gets to this one, but he has to dive for it. Michael Kim making his case to stay on for as long as necessary so far in this second half. Sorry, Cherneski.

    64 min: Maybe not. He just picked up a yellow card, the first card for anybody in the match so far.

    65 min: Mexico make their final subsitution. Right winger Carlos Campos off, Tottenham midfielder Gilberto Capetillo on. RW isn't Capetillo's natural position, but he's also very fresh.

    71 min: I delayed this for as long as I could, but Spielmann has nothing left in the tank. I take him off for Keron Thomas.

    74 min: Free kick Kim, goes just wide left. Ever so close...

    81 min: Debating on whether I want to push for the finisher in regulation or not. Run of play has been in our favor and I still have one substitution left in my back pocket. I split the difference, keeping my subs but telling the team to push forward.

    83 min: Old nemesis José Alfredo Guerrero tries for a long shot that Musah isn't ready for and awkwardly dives for to push out. This is cosmic retribution for me daring to use the "push forward" command, I'm sure. Musah redeems himself by coming out and claiming the ensuing corner, though.

    86 min: The match is becoming more open as each side is making more and more desperate lunges to put it away for good. Our midfield is matching up better than theirs, but their defense, led by Padilla, has been equal to the task and is starting with long balls that bypass the midfield entirely.

    90 min: Four minutes added time. I still have one sub to use but am not sure of who to use it on at this time.

    90 min: Great backheel pass by Escobedo to Thomas in the box wins us a corner late. This could be decisive. Escobedo gets the ball and has a shot, but hits it straight at Guerrero's chest.

    90+4 min: Late attacks by both sides, moreso Mexico, amount to nothing. Guerrero has a very late free kick but it's headed away by Espinosa, and that's the last play of regulation. We're going to extra time for the second straight match!



    The choice of my final sub is looming large. Do I take off Michael Kim, who's had a strong game, but is already on one yellow card and is very tired? Victor Martínez, who's had a shaky-at-best game but for a non-impact position in right back? Escobedo, one of my better penalty takers? In the end, I simply didn't want to risk going down to 10 men. I took off Kim, but instead of putting on either Cherneski (who has a penalty skill of two out of twenty) or Phillips (20 years old), I put in Nick Appleby. Appleby's natural position is on the left wing rather than central midfield, but he's good on the ball, knows his way around the position, and is a good penalty taker. I've tinkered with this midfield so much for this game; hopefully the combination of Alvarez, Holness, and Appleby will prove to be the winning recipe.

    93 min: The first potential attack by either side sees Alvarez deposit the ball roughly 25 yards wide of the net in some bizarre attempt at a half-pass, half-shot. Not an inspirational sign from our captain, who has otherwise had a strong game.

    96 min: GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL MEXICO! aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa



    Guererro, of course. He sent in a sizzling pass, perfectly placed, that whizzed by all of our defenders and latched onto Capetillo's head. I could only watch and hope that it would bounce off the post or go out or something. It didn't. 2-1 Mexico.

    98 min: This deficit has necessitated a shift to a 4-2-3-1 formation. Appleby is now playing in the hole; Holness moves up to play alongside Alvarez in central midfield. 4-2-3-1 isn't my favorite formation in FM 18, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

    105 min: The whistle signals the end of half of our overtime. I don't think we have it in us to get the equalizer here.

    108 min: Passes aren't crisp, players aren't decisive, Mexico in the right positions. Alvarez finds an open Appleby in the box, but the shot is wide.

    111 min: Without my prompting, the players are hitting more long balls and generally getting more desperate. The most promising of these sees Holness find Escobedo from 50 yards away, but the young striker is whistled offside. Saucedo gets whistled for the same offense two minutes later.

    114 min: Attacking formation, high tempo, the kitchen sink (I dislike Overload as I feel like it often leads to the other side scoring more often than you do despite your aggressiveness).

    116 min: Our aggression is paying minor dividends, as our long passes have been generally accurate, but Mexico has been up to the challenge. Cantú had to run out to claim a long cross into the box, for example, but he was still able to do it.

    117 min: GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL MEXICO! That will about do it. A long pass found Guerrero with the ball in the box and only Musah to beat. Prideaux scythed in and tackled him off the ball, but it dribbled right to the feet of Torres, who was able to put it in. Sigh.



    118 min: Now we're going in Overload.

    120 min: I feel sick.

    120+1 min: GOOOOOOOOOOOOOL MEXICO! Capetillo, again, with us having thrown caution to the wind. No gif. 4-1, and that's the end of it.





    ---

    And so ends Cycle 1 of my campaign with Team USA. From a purely objective point of view, we did well. The USMNT hasn't made the quarterfinals since 2002, we knocked out Portugal, and we took our opponent to extra time. I received a lot of the following types of messages in the immediate aftermath of the game:



    Subjectively though, I feel terrible. I pulled out all of the stops, but Mexico had all the answers. Mexico. Mexico. Our arch rivals defeated us on the biggest possible stage and are moving on to the semis as a direct result of having beaten us.

    I'm not gonna lie: This one hurts. A lot. It will probably take a couple of days before I fire the game back up again.

    ---

    AROUND THE WORLD CUP:





    Mexico get Argentina in one of the semifinals. England and Spain face off in the other. I'll have a report on how the rest of the World Cup went in my next update, but right now, the only World Cup that I can bear to think about is Australia 2034.

    It's a long way away.
    Last edited by GeneralHankerchief; January 26th, 2020 at 08:33 PM.
    Lenny - Today at 10:08 AM
    Atpg sometimes the paragraphs you write are pretty good


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  42. ISO #92
    Soul Reader OrangeP47's Avatar
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    Ouch, I could say more, such as discussing the merits of 4-2-3-1 (what I use), but I'll just leave you to it after that. I think with extra time the game before it was just bound to happen, tiring faster.

  43. ISO #93
    Wants It More LanMisa's Avatar
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    That is bitter.. Not sure if your depth is deep enough to rotate though, Fatigue is something that just happens during tournaments like these

  44. ISO #94
    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by OrangeP47 (#92)
    Ouch, I could say more, such as discussing the merits of 4-2-3-1 (what I use), but I'll just leave you to it after that. I think with extra time the game before it was just bound to happen, tiring faster.
    I mostly don't like the 4-2-3-1 because I like having a specified defensive midfielder. I think, in this version of FM especially, that position is pretty critical to locking down the defense and generally resetting play. It also helps that most of the teams I've played in these AARs (and in general) are those where I don't feel particularly comfortable imposing my will most of the time. If I was playing as, say, Liverpool, or the France national team, I'd feel better about it, but I like having that extra bit of insurance.

    Quote Originally Posted by LanMisa (#93)
    That is bitter.. Not sure if your depth is deep enough to rotate though, Fatigue is something that just happens during tournaments like these
    I think it's worth noting that Mexico's last three goals were all scored by their subs. I did try to account for rotation and freshness, but the guys I brought on because they weren't dog tired (Enríquez, Martínez, Escobedo) didn't really do well, and the guys who I had battle through obvious fatigue (Spielmann, Musa, our central defenders) just outright ran out of gas.

    With hindsight, should I simply have just flipped my start/sit decisions? Potentially, but I don't think that would have addressed the larger issue. I think I was too cautious in the final 15-20 minutes of regulation, keeping my last sub in my back pocket and generally not making any major adjustments. We probably should just have gone for broke then, with me realizing that we were gonna be doomed no matter what in extra time due to fatigue.
    Lenny - Today at 10:08 AM
    Atpg sometimes the paragraphs you write are pretty good


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  45. ISO #95
    ༼ つ ;-; ༽つ give smith another day mhsmith0's Avatar Game Manager
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    I think a good chunk of it is just, when you're building a program from close to nothing (and let's face it, US soccer has been $%#!ty for a real long time even if it's not, I dunno, Guyana level of $%#!ty), some things will work and others won't (you could have been like 4-2 against Mexico and then gotten just a single good win over a non-Mexico world power, for instance).

    I'd tend to think the Mexico thing is the sort of losing streak that will eventually flip around, it'll just take time. Beating a bunch of meaningful powers in games that matter, and then losing squeakers to a rival who's still a bit better than you (but the gap is clearly closing), suggests that it's just a matter of time.

    Though if you drop your next 3 or 4 CONCACAF/World Cup meetings w/ Mexico, I reserve the right to start putting up John Cooper memes
    Last edited by mhsmith0; January 27th, 2020 at 01:55 PM.
    Life is simply unfair... don't you think?
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  46. ISO #96
    Soul Reader OrangeP47's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GeneralHankerchief (#94)
    Quote Originally Posted by OrangeP47 (#92)
    Ouch, I could say more, such as discussing the merits of 4-2-3-1 (what I use), but I'll just leave you to it after that. I think with extra time the game before it was just bound to happen, tiring faster.
    I mostly don't like the 4-2-3-1 because I like having a specified defensive midfielder. I think, in this version of FM especially, that position is pretty critical to locking down the defense and generally resetting play. It also helps that most of the teams I've played in these AARs (and in general) are those where I don't feel particularly comfortable imposing my will most of the time. If I was playing as, say, Liverpool, or the France national team, I'd feel better about it, but I like having that extra bit of insurance.
    I'll admit, I've flirted with using a DM, but maybe the reason I didn't really stick with it is I just had bad candidates for the spot, at the time. Defense is always something I struggle with, but seem to make up for with powerful attack. I didn't consciously choose that style, but it seems to have become my style nonetheless, but I understand it's not for everyone. I'll also admit that after watching the latest round of TIFO transfer videos on youtube I've been wondering if 4-1-4-1 is worth anything.

  47. ISO #97
    Mafia Backup Amrock sheepsaysmeep's Avatar Game Manager
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    it's coming home
    Quote Originally Posted by moth (#67)
    Stop calling things natural. This world isnt natural. You can get butt implants and $%#!
    Quote Originally Posted by roro__b (#8185)
    I see this game as an experience that makes you that little bit stronger afterwards but you thoroughly hate it and it's a disaster while you're in it. I see probably every game of mafia like that, but especially this one. Like getting dumped, or being in a car accident, or a house fire.

  48. ISO #98
    Wants It More LanMisa's Avatar
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    Did you consider installing a mod that removes Mexico from the game entirely?

  49. ISO #99
    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    Alright, the three-day national mourning period has ended. Gonna pick the game back up tonight and press onward. The next Gold Cup is only a year away, after all!
    Lenny - Today at 10:08 AM
    Atpg sometimes the paragraphs you write are pretty good


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  50. ISO #100
    Soul Reader OrangeP47's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GeneralHankerchief (#99)
    Alright, the three-day national mourning period has ended. Gonna pick the game back up tonight and press onward. The next Gold Cup is only a year away, after all!
    Looking forward to see if we manage to produce any exciting new prospects this window!

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