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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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    An American Manager in America [Football Manager AAR]


    I was originally going to hold off doing this until the New Year, but I've gotten the urge over the past couple of days, and now seems as good a time as any. Before we get into the specifics, let's get the basic definition out of the way first:

    On my homesite, outside of the mafia forum one of my favorite things were video game After Action Reports (AAR). They've gone by the wayside with the advent of Twitch and Let's Plays, but the basic gist is someone on the forum plays through a game and shares screencaps and commentary to anyone who wants to follow along.
    This AAR is going to be a direct sequel to my last AAR, in which I played Football Manager 2018 and took a third-division club based in a pleasant seaside city in a backwater province in Spain and molded it into the best soccer team in the world over the course of a decade. This game will take place in the same universe, and I'm going to use my last savegame as the starting point. In other words, such veritable names as Jesús Gutiérrez, Borracha, and Dirk-Jan Bruinier will be running around in this AAR as well. You will not need to have read/remember the last AAR for this one to make sense, but there will probably be some references that go over your head if this is the case.

    Unlike last time, I'll be playing this with a very specific team and goal in mind: I'm going to take over the United States Men's National Team and stay with them until we win the World Cup.

    What is Football Manager?

    Broadly, it's a soccer sports simulator somewhat in the vein of Madden. However, it places an emphasis on the off-the-field stuff, and is particularly known for its deep features in player scouting/signing/development. It's much closer to Out of the Park Baseball and even Paradox games than it is Madden.

    As a matter of fact, you don't even play the games - you're simply a spectator. While you can adjust tactics and make substitutions and do everything that a regular coach can do, at the end of the day, if the players just aren't having a good day, there's nothing you can personally do about it. It's exasperating, terrifying, and really really fun all at once.

    Game Details:
    As previously mentioned, I will be playing in the same universe as the last AAR and using the same savegame as a starting point. This means that, as before, I'll be playing with entirely fake, randomly-generated players. I've decided to do this for a few reasons: First of all, I want to play this straight and not exploit my knowledge of cheap wonderkids that I usually rely on. Second of all, initially in the last AAR, I intended to start in the lower leagues and it would most likely take me several years to get to the top level so by that time most of the good players would have declined/retired anyway. Third of all, it's more fun to make up stories about fake people.

    I will be making use of the In Game Editor for one reason only in this campaign: If I am ever sacked, I will force-rehire myself as coach of Team USA. Call it corruption in the higher levels of US Soccer (so unrealistic, I know), call it a dogged desire to finish the job, but I will not be leaving until we win the World Cup. I will not be using the Editor for exploits.

    In Football Manager, you have the option to simultaneously be in charge of a national team and a club team. I will not be doing this. I will be fully leaving Cartagena behind and solely focus on the USA job.

    Game mods: I will be using the Licensing and Real Names fix from sortitoutsi as well as several uniform and logo mods for immersion purposes. Not bothering with face packs since I'm using fake players anyway.

    I will stay away from most standard FM tactics that I consider exploitative. This includes but is not limited to: Knowingly taking advantage of set piece tactics that the AI has a problem defending, ruthlessly culling everyone over 27 on my team in favor of cheap South American regens (i.e. the "Argentinian wonderkids" meme; though I reserve the right to buy an appropriate amount of them), and engaging in over-the-top $%#!y in transfer/contract negotiations. I intend to play as an unsentimental but still realistic manager.
    Lenny - Today at 10:08 AM
    Atpg sometimes the paragraphs you write are pretty good


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

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    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    A primer on how national teams operate:

    This guide will be somewhat different from my primer on how soccer teams operate in the last AAR, as national teams operate in their own universe for the most part. It's a lot different of an experience from running a club team.

    Time with the players:

    The clubs have the players for most of the year. They are released to the national teams a few times per year during international breaks, and this is for the most part the only time I will be able to mold the players to my will. As the European season runs from, generally, August to May, national teams get the players during the following periods (in line with the European calendar):
    - September (one week-ish, two games)
    - October (one week-ish, two games)
    - November (one week-ish, two games)
    - March (one week-ish, 1-2 games)
    - Summer (variable depending on tournaments, 1-2 games at minimum, up to a month and change)

    Player Eligibility:

    Players can be eligible for multiple national teams, depending on their birth, ancestry, residency, and other factors. They do not have to commit to one national team until their first appearance with a senior national team, also called a "cap" (for example, a player eligible for both Germany and the USA can run through the entire German youth setup, the U18s, U21s, etc, but can switch to the US anytime before his first full cap with Germany).

    Once the player is capped at the senior level, even if it happens only once, they're locked in with that national team for the rest of their career. The one exception is that the cap has to be in an official competition; a player can still switch national teams if his only senior national team appearances have been in friendly matches.

    Competitions:

    The US Men's National Team (USMNT for short) can potentially play in five separate types of competitions over the course of a four-year cycle. They are as follows, ranked in increasing order of importance:

    - Friendly matches. These count in terms of players' official statistics for the national teams, but aside from that they're no-consequence matches that I'll generally use to get the players more familiar with each other, my tactics, or something else I want to experiment with. I'll probably roughly evenly alternate in terms of friendly scheduling with emphasizing "tactics practice/morale boosting" (vs. weaker teams) or playing stronger teams to give the players a taste of World Cup levels of competition.

    - The Confederations Cup was recently scrapped by FIFA IRL, but as I'm using an older version of Football Manager it's still included. It's a tournament run once every four years, the year before the World Cup, contested between the six most recent winners of the continental competitions (see below), the most recent World Cup winner, and the host of the next World Cup. If we get in, great. If not, no biggie. Prestige-wise, it's generally considered a dress rehearsal for the World Cup the following year, and there will be a few good teams in there, but that's about it.

    - The CONCACAF Gold Cup is North America's aforementioned continental competition (CONCACAF, being very inclusive, stands for the Confederation Of North, Central American, and Caribbean Association Football). It runs once every two years in the summer. CONCACAF as a whole is known as one of the weaker soccer confederations, so this competition isn't really prestigious, but a tournament is a tournament. There will usually be one or two Central American countries experiencing A Moment, and a couple of pesky Caribbean countries that end up being more trouble than is worth, but our chief rival here is Mexico. There are technically Gold Cup qualifiers, but as the US almost always hosts due to our superior infrastructure and money, I don't think we'll ever have to go through these.

    - World Cup Qualifiers, while not a tournament in themselves, are our ticket to the big stage and are thus more important than the Gold Cup. We'll once again be playing other CONCACAF teams in these. Qualifiers begin a couple of years before the World Cup. Lesser-ranked teams start earlier, stronger-ranked teams get more of a bye. CONCACAF, if a non-CONCACAF country happens to be hosting the World Cup, gets three direct slots to the World Cup and one additional slot where the team has to enter an intercontinental playoff for a shot at a remaining slot. We should typically be able to qualify in one of the top three slots, but weirder things have been known to happen. Case in point: Trinidad, 2017.

    - The World Cup. The ultimate prize in team sports and the reason why we're here. It runs once every four years.

    IRL, the CONCACAF Nations League is a new competition that's in its first cycle. As it is not included in Football Manager 2018, we will not be taking part.

    Additionally, once in a blue moon, we might be invited to take part in South America's continental competition, the Copa América. This happens because South America, having few countries, needs two additional teams to fill out slots and get to a good number to run a tournament in the first place. If we ever get invited to this, I will take it very seriously, as the level of play is typically much higher than in the Gold Cup. It's good practice for our team, and the possibility of a non-South American team winning the Copa América is simply too amusing to pass up.


    Table of Contents
    Last edited by GeneralHankerchief; May 16th, 2020 at 11:23 AM.
    Lenny - Today at 10:08 AM
    Atpg sometimes the paragraphs you write are pretty good


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

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    Soul Reader OrangeP47's Avatar
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    Hot damn, this will be good. I approve of using the old save (seeing as I'm still playing my own FM18 save in the year 2031) and am itching for content as my prefered youtuber hasn't *really* started a let's play yet with FM20.

    Edit: Oh and bonus for using FM18 - You'll use the current format WC forever, instead of the stupid "groups of 3" WC that will take effect in a few years time.
    Last edited by OrangeP47; December 29th, 2019 at 01:44 PM.

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    Wants It More LanMisa's Avatar
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    First!

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    Soul Reader OrangeP47's Avatar
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    Also I know it's a bit early to be making demands, but when you introduce the players, can you please include the info about where they were born? It really adds to the "hometown hero" that Team USA likes, and also awhile back I discovered that my county seat is actually in the game files (despite having a population of 15,000), so theoretically players can be from my town, though I'd settle for having a favorite player from Illinois.

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    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by OrangeP47 (#5)
    Also I know it's a bit early to be making demands, but when you introduce the players, can you please include the info about where they were born? It really adds to the "hometown hero" that Team USA likes, and also awhile back I discovered that my county seat is actually in the game files (despite having a population of 15,000), so theoretically players can be from my town, though I'd settle for having a favorite player from Illinois.
    Sure, I'll make sure to include that once I figure out a semblance of a starting XI and get settled a bit.
    Lenny - Today at 10:08 AM
    Atpg sometimes the paragraphs you write are pretty good


    Looking to waste an afternoon? Vamos Cartagena - Football Manager 2018 AAR (complete!)
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    Fair enough DaveDob's Avatar Discord Moderator
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    Well if there was ever a reason to get kicking my $%#! to continue my AAR

    As for the challenge itself, I await getting our hearts broken by Ghana every 4 years. Should be fun times I'm sure
    “DaveDob is the best player in the zoom” -Manti 2018

    NCAA Football 14 AAR

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    US Mutant Ninja Turtles

    no Olympics?

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    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zack (#8)
    US Mutant Ninja Turtles

    no Olympics?
    I straight-up forgot about the Olympics. They are, I believe, specifically classified as a U23 (for players under 23) tournament and thus players racking up appearances in them will not get official senior caps or anything. Qualifying is something that the U23 teams do and I do not have control over it in my capacity as senior team coach unless I wanted to (and I don't).

    For the Olympics themselves, the U23 rule is in effect but each team is allowed to have three over-age exceptions, and the senior coach can also take direct control of the team during the tournament should I desire (I might do this).

    In short: They're not really important, but if we qualify for the Olympics at some point I'll play it by ear. It's far less important to the men's game than the Olympic tournament is to the women's game, though.
    Lenny - Today at 10:08 AM
    Atpg sometimes the paragraphs you write are pretty good


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

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    Soul Reader OrangeP47's Avatar
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    Yeah, Men's Olympics is U23 but for Women's it's the full squad, which is why Olympics is considered a major tournament for the USWNT. There's some historical drama between FIFA and the IOC that is the reason why this is, and the women's game took shape a suitable period of time after said drama occured that the drama didn't matter anymore which is why it's different, but it's... complicated...

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    Galaxy Brain The Lukundo's Avatar
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    I hope England crush you. But I also hope you crush all the other teams and I cannot wait for this!!

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    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Lukundo (#11)
    I hope England crush you. But I also hope you crush all the other teams and I cannot wait for this!!
    Funny you should say that, they're actually the very first team we're playing (in a friendly). I'm... not optimistic about our chances.
    Lenny - Today at 10:08 AM
    Atpg sometimes the paragraphs you write are pretty good


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

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    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    Cycle 1, Part I: The Task


    *record scratch*

    *freeze frame*

    Yup, that's me. You're probably wondering how I ended up in this situation.

    Truth be told, I'm not exactly sure myself. It was only a few weeks ago that I was still in Cartagena, having just flown back from the 2027 Champions League final in Munich where we got revenge against our arch rivals Real Madrid for our defeat in the league a week prior, and cemented our overall supremacy by winning the European Cup for the third consecutive year.

    The parade through the Cartagena city center, ending up at the Roman Theater, had had more of an air of finality to it than did our previous celebrations. It was driven by tensions that had flared within the team late in the season, the knowledge that I was set to do the biggest roster turnover since we had established ourselves as European powers, and the general awareness seeping in that we had scaled the last and most difficult mountaintop and weren't sure of where to go from here. But all of those vibes had subsided as the champagne flowed in the afterparty. Even more so once the accolades started rolling in.



    Ennui had set in. The standard cavalcade of players, before they went off on their summer holidays, made it known through their agents that they expected new contracts by the time they regrouped for the 2027-28 campaign. My staff, having been briefed on my offseason plans, was passing along updated lists of our transfer targets and how realistic of gets they were considering our budget. It was another cycle beginning, another summer where we tried to reload, only this time we had nothing more to prove. Real Madrid had cruelly denied us La Liga on the final day of the season last year, but we had unlocked the tactical way forward of beating them in the Champions League final, and before the season had already begun its outcome looked to be written in stone. I was sitting in my shiny new office in our shiny new stadium atop a hill that my successes with the team had allowed to come into being in the first place, and there was nothing left for me anymore.

    So while I started getting some contract renewals in on autopilot, the bulk of my attention was focused on flipping through the history of Team USA during the decade I was abroad and setting records in Spain.

    IRL, this game's campaign started in summer 2017. That November, the USMNT (in)famously choked away a World Cup spot on the final match of qualifiers, losing to the weakest team in the group, Trinidad and Tobago. In-game, there was no Trinidad defeat and the USMNT was able to make it to Russia 2018, but they were summarily knocked out of the group stage without much fuss. This course of events repeated itself in 2022 as well as 2026. The 2026 campaign was particularly embarrassing, as the team didn't score a single goal in their three group games in the World Cup and were unanimously voted as the worst team in the tournament once everything was concluded. In retrospect, losing to Trinidad might have been the better outcome long-term. At least in this universe it prompted an inquest and a partial reset of the team's development (yesyes, I'm aware that the results have been less than promising so far).

    But in the FM-verse, none of that happened. The USMNT has become a shambling zombie of a team, our national version of the Flying Dutchman where the ship keeps on sailing despite the fact that the entire crew is dead. Sure, we've done better in the Gold Cup, but the Gold Cup is also stupid. I probably could have challenged for the Gold Cup with my Cartagena team when we were still in the second division.

    Spain had been good to me for the past decade, but there was nothing left in that country for me. It was time for a rescue operation. And thus, shocking the world, I entered Cartagena chairman Fran Hernández's office and submitted my resignation.



    Amused as I was at the level of coaches that were tripping all over themselves to take over my old job, the main speculation in world media became where I would go next. Was I going to take a Guardiola-after-Barcelona style sabbatical for a year to better study the intricacies of the game? Was I simply walking away from the game for good? Was this the first stage of some bizarre Zidane-like power play where I stepped away, watched the club chairman try in vain to replace me, and then come riding in less than a season later demanding more money and autonomy?

    The world media didn't have to wait too long for an answer, though. Immediately after I claimed previous USMNT manager Caleb Fitzgerald's office, salary, and job by ritually beheading him Highlander-style, I was announced as Team USA's next head coach/messiah.



    It's summer 2027. The next World Cup is in 2030. Honestly, I think we're going to have to wait until the 2040s at minimum before we see fruition here. Straight up, I think that I've just taken on a more difficult assignment than guiding Cartagena to glory was a decade ago.

    The main reason why is a question of resources. While, yes, financially the entire United States soccer apparatus has slightly more pull than a third-division club in Spain did, I'm critically limited by how much access and control I have over my players.

    In Cartagena, even at the start, I was God. Over the course of years, my unrestricted access to the players meant that I could bend them to my will with our training schedules and focus. I could see it that they developed to my specifications. If something went wrong, I could ship the player out somewhere and bring in a different player to fill a hole.

    Here, though, I don't have that option. For the most part I don't have access to the players; the clubs do. If they get injured with the clubs, or if they get run hard enough where they show up to camp exhausted and useless, I can't do anything about it. I have very limited time to get them to play the way I want them to. And, most critically, I don't have a near-infinite supply of players to potentially choose from to fill a hole. In the national teams, the player pool is the player pool, and if you simply don't have any good goalkeepers or strikers or what have you available, there's nothing you can do about it aside from, essentially, reworking your entire system to cover for the faults in the team.

    There is a way around this, that I think I mentioned in the OP: In Football Manager, it's possible to simultaneously control both a club team and a national team. This is particularly useful when both are in the same country; that way you have the resources of the club at your disposal to potentially bring in promising national team players in and get more time to develop them to your specifications, but I'm not doing that here. I'm in charge of Team USA and only Team USA; otherwise I'm at the mercy of my former peers.

    This is the first time in my FM career that I've ever only played as a national team manager. Previously, I've either doubled up or gone exclusively club. I haven't advanced the game a single day since I took the USA job and already I feel more naked and exposed than I ever have in this game before.

    The next World Cup is in three years. The next major tournament, the Gold Cup, is in a month. I took the USA job on June 9th, 2027. Our first match where I'm in charge is a friendly against England... on June 9th, 2027. My assistants, who I've never met before, are asking me for team sheets and are demanding that I decide on a permanent team captain. I don't even know what continent I'm on right now.

    Bring it on.
    Last edited by GeneralHankerchief; December 30th, 2019 at 12:51 PM.
    Lenny - Today at 10:08 AM
    Atpg sometimes the paragraphs you write are pretty good


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

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    Soul Reader OrangeP47's Avatar
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    Have you loaded MLS into the save now that you're dealing with America more directly? And if so, please, for the love of all things good, do NOT update the Chicago Fire logo. When I got merchandise for Christmas I specifically got something with the old logo. It's about sending a message.

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    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by OrangeP47 (#14)
    Have you loaded MLS into the save now that you're dealing with America more directly? And if so, please, for the love of all things good, do NOT update the Chicago Fire logo. When I got merchandise for Christmas I specifically got something with the old logo. It's about sending a message.
    I loaded the MLS in when I changed over, but because of seasonal scheduling it's not going to fully take until December. The fact that we didn't have it in at the start is probably why we're in kind of a dire state to begin with (I've briefly looked over the players but haven't played any games yet), but as a lot of this deals with game mechanics rather than anything I'm remotely able to RP, I'm not gonna touch on it much.

    I haven't updated any logo packs I have for this game, so the Chicago Fire logo will stay in its pre-2019 form.
    Lenny - Today at 10:08 AM
    Atpg sometimes the paragraphs you write are pretty good


    Looking to waste an afternoon? Vamos Cartagena - Football Manager 2018 AAR (complete!)
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    Soul Reader OrangeP47's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GeneralHankerchief (#15)
    Quote Originally Posted by OrangeP47 (#14)
    Have you loaded MLS into the save now that you're dealing with America more directly? And if so, please, for the love of all things good, do NOT update the Chicago Fire logo. When I got merchandise for Christmas I specifically got something with the old logo. It's about sending a message.
    I loaded the MLS in when I changed over, but because of seasonal scheduling it's not going to fully take until December. The fact that we didn't have it in at the start is probably why we're in kind of a dire state to begin with (I've briefly looked over the players but haven't played any games yet), but as a lot of this deals with game mechanics rather than anything I'm remotely able to RP, I'm not gonna touch on it much.

    I haven't updated any logo packs I have for this game, so the Chicago Fire logo will stay in its pre-2019 form.
    I'm in 2031 in my FM18 save and have had MLS loaded from the start, and they've hovered around 30-35 in the world rankings for what it's worth, for comparison. They've made the first knock out round once or twice I think but never progressed past that, so I guess it might make a small difference.

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    Wants It More LanMisa's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GeneralHankerchief (#13)
    I don't even know what continent I'm on right now.
    Admittedly, that might be from all the partying after leaving your old job... or just, generally, you being you.

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    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    Cycle 1, Part II: The Team


    So the friendlies went about as well as expected.



    In my defense, we were playing England, at Wembley, on literally my first day on the job. At least I finally knew what continent I was on, but that was about the only answer to my many pressing questions that I was able to get. Two days later we lost 3-1 to Italy in Parma (seriously? Two away matches against top-tier teams with one day of rest in between?), which I consider an improvement in only the most mathematical sense of the word.

    With the dust settled and me doing best to keep my players' fractured psyches from shattering entirely, and with me getting a few weeks to breathe before the next set of matches started, I finally took to the task of sorting out what exactly went wrong in those three days and where Team USA collectively stands in terms of our roster makeup.

    For starters, meet my assistant manager. He's a living corpse who, while his heart is in the right place, has occasional fits of senility which lead to him scheduling away matches against two top tier-teams with one day of rest in between. I tried to replace him and some of the other staff with folks from Cartagena who decided to depart the club when I resigned, but they turned me down. Evidently they're smarter than I am. So I'm stuck with Tyler Bourne for now, at least until he keels over.



    The opinion of players he gave me seems to be based solely around how attentive they are to his lectures about his childhood during the Coolidge administration, so I had to figure out our players the hard way. This post won't be a complete breakdown of every player currently on the team, as I don't want to hit you with an infodump all at once, but we'll hit the highs and lows from each position group.

    Goalkeeper

    I'm probably going to turn this into an open competition. The nominal starter, Ryan Jones (born: Tampa, FL), is older, more mentally resilient, but less physically talented, and he looked outright bad against England. The nominal backup, Tim Kadkhodaian (born: Roanoake, VA), is four years younger, more talented, but less mentally reliable. He looked better against Italy, but was also not tested as much.

    I think I'm going to give Kadkhodaian first crack at the job in the Gold Cup and hope to build up his confidence against the various Caribbean minnows we're set to play in the group stage, but all in all I'm disappointed by a position that's traditionally been one of the USMNT's strengths.






    Defense

    All in all, defense seems to be relatively - and let me say how strongly I emphasize the term "relatively" here - our strong suit. The defense contains our overall best player, and likely our most promising one too.

    First up: Meet our left back, Christian Musa (born: Nacogdoches, TX):



    Left back is an important position on the field, but if your team is middling at best, ideally your best player is a midfielder or central defender or something. Pretty much anybody but a fullback, really. Musa is a physically capable left back who offers more on the defense than he does going forward, but he'll do. He's probably the only player on the USMNT that could have seen time in my last Cartagena squad (as a reserve, not a starter). As a sidenote to those who followed the last AAR, Cartagena evidently feel the same way, as they're eyeing Musa to replace Dirk-Jan Bruinier, who they shipped off to Chelsea for an eye-watering €186 million.

    Our most promising player, and my great hope to keep us afloat in the next World Cup and beyond, is Liverpool's Liam Espinosa (born: Murrieta, CA):



    Espinosa has your prototypical size and skills of a stopper, but he doesn't quite have the athleticism yet to back it up and fully ascend to the ranks of the elite. I'm hoping this changes over the years. His mentals are excellent though, and upon seeing this I immediately named him the team's vice captain. Tyler Bourne objected, crying something about young age and lack of caps and disrespect for seniority. I told Tyler Bourne to go suck eggs.

    We have good depth in central defense behind Espinosa, though none of them are as skilled or as promising as him. Right back, on the other hand, is a complete nightmare between injuries and a general lack of talent there to begin with. I'm gonna have to improvise there, or potentially even play a back three.


    Midfield

    The first problem with our midfielders is that we don't have enough of them, period. For me, someone who likes to play a 4-3-3 for the most part and generally play through the center, this is a problem. The second problem with our midfielders is that most of them are your hard working types, but none of them really have any creativity.

    Our best of the bunch, and only performer of note at this position in the friendlies, is team captain Andy Alvarez (born: Rio Rancho, NM):



    Alvarez was the incumbent team captain upon my taking the job, and as hesitant as I was to have the captaincy of the USMNT go to a holding midfielder-type after sitting through too many years of Michael Bradley IRL, he was really the only choice. Alvarez, for his part, rewarded my trust by scoring our only goal against England in his 100th cap (the screenshot is slightly out of date). He can stay. For now.

    As for our potential creatives, such as they are, I'm pinning most of our hopes on a 5'3 (that's 160 cm for you metric users) 20-year old with two total caps to his name who I haven't ever seen play in person because he wasn't called up to the team for this set of friendlies. Meet Steven Cherneski (born: Baltimore, MD):



    He's raw, and his shrimpy height and 4 strength (out of 20) absolutely terrifies me considering that CONCACAF is known for its... let's say "chippy"... play, but I'm really hoping that Cherneski can mature both physically and technically into the type of player who can unlock a defense. The only other "creative" option is a 31-year old named Derek Wambach (born: Silver Spring, MD) who I'm mostly going to include on the team out of respect for his last name. He's probably better than Cherneski right now, but at 31 and with the World Cup three years away, I'm hesitant to rely on him too much. The two of them will probably alternate time at the Gold Cup.



    Besides those names are an interchangeable bunch of workers, and flex central defenders/defensive mids. Overall, midfield is the position group I'm most concerned about.


    Wingers/Wide players

    Overall we have a bunch of versatile players here who can play on both wings, but sadly versatility does not equal talent. The best of the bunch is probably Ben Milton (born: Lynwood, CA), a player with more flair than sense:



    Hey, at least he's fluent in four languages and proficient in a fifth! Maybe he can taunt the other players and cause them to get carded or something.

    I'm probably also going to give time to Vincent Tovar (born: Carmichael, CA), simply because he's younger than a lot of my other possibilities at this position set:



    Milton and Tovar will get first crack at locking the wings down for themselves (and both of them can play equally well in a 4-3-3 or further back in a 4-4-2), but this position set is up for grabs for anyone who performs.


    Strikers

    Much like the real Team USA, I have about 3-4 strikers to choose from, but all of them are roughly about the same level of skill and none of them are what you'd call "reliable". Neither of the goals we scored in either of the friendly matches were scored by the strikers, for example.

    First crack is probably going to Kevin Fogg (born: Carson, CA. Go Chargers!), mostly because he's got the youth advantage and seems least likely to spiral into a funk if things aren't going his way:



    I still have about a week before I need to pick a full team for the Gold Cup, so I haven't locked in every decision yet. My main two I'm still ruminating on are whether I'm going to primarily run a 4-3-3 or a two-striker system, most likely a flat 4-4-2 (4-4-2 diamond has served me well but I don't remotely trust our strength at right back to get away with that here, nor do I trust our midfielders to help out and cover), and who the hell I'm going to play at right back.

    I'll probably start with a 4-3-3, as it's the formation I know best. Might go to a 4-4-2 in games that I feel comfortable in winning, but for now, this is the plan.



    Next: The 2027 Gold Cup. Not sure if I'll do the entire tournament in a single update or whether I'll break it up. It depends on how much there is to say!

    Happy New Year, everyone.
    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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    I don't want to be a downer, because really it's not *that* bad of a starting spot, but still, definitely rough around the edges. Honestly I'd be inclined to develop more from youth levels, but 1) that takes time, so isn't ideal, 2) you don't have much control over that anyway, and 3) USSoccer is pretty shambolic about that anyway, so lol.

    I've never managed a national team, so I don't exactly know how you go about finding players or what that particular UI looks like, but one tactic that seems to work both IRL for the US and also I've noticed the AI US doing in my save is trying to poach dual nationals if possible, but that might be too much youth development again.

  20. ISO #20
    Cuddles Wolves Mill Crab's Avatar Flake Moderator
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    The AAR I didn't know I needed. Excited to follow this one!

    U-S-A! U-S-A!
    Quote Originally Posted by Cron (#16505)
    another is mash

    Another powerful game of the city of crappy

  21. ISO #21
    Wants It More LanMisa's Avatar
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    Could you put one of your stoppers into the Defensive midfield instead? They might not perform AS well but if you have more depth in the back this is an idea at least.

  22. ISO #22
    i) Apart from the inability to buy in what you're lacking, the biggest problem in international football is that you can't train tactical familiarity. This means you have to pay more attention to players' position/role competencies than you would with a club team. Don't try and force your best players into a system. Identify a few systems that make good use of your best players without having to play weaker players out of position.

    ii) Players who are second string at their clubs, getting mainly substitute and cup appearances, will often outperform those who are getting consistent first team football.

    iii) Fitness and fatigue are a whole new world of pain. For mid-season fixtures, you'll have half your squad show up $%#!ed. During tournaments there's so little recovery time that heavy squad rotation is unavoidable. Tactics with different intensities and workloads can give you the flex to maximise your players' fitness over the course of a tournament.

    iv) Having leaders on the field is even more important than in club football, and mental abilities are generally more valuable.

  23. ISO #23
    Fogg's a solid CF, but he's a bit middle-of-the-road.

    Have you got anyone with a spikier profile?

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    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by OrangeP47 (#19)
    I don't want to be a downer, because really it's not *that* bad of a starting spot, but still, definitely rough around the edges. Honestly I'd be inclined to develop more from youth levels, but 1) that takes time, so isn't ideal, 2) you don't have much control over that anyway, and 3) USSoccer is pretty shambolic about that anyway, so lol.

    I've never managed a national team, so I don't exactly know how you go about finding players or what that particular UI looks like, but one tactic that seems to work both IRL for the US and also I've noticed the AI US doing in my save is trying to poach dual nationals if possible, but that might be too much youth development again.
    Finding players is somewhat the same as when you're managing a club team: you have a "national pool" of players that's not useful but not extensive, and it's up to you through scouting/running a decent youth setup to help expand it to make sure you don't miss out on any potential hidden gems.

    I've been limited, partially because I won't have the MLS loaded as a league until December, in both the talent and staff available to me, so I've mostly gone for a quantity over quality approach (to a degree) when it's come to making staff hires. Haven't seen any potential dual nationals I can lure over yet, but I expect this will change in the coming years when I get MLS loaded.

    Quote Originally Posted by LanMisa (#21)
    Could you put one of your stoppers into the Defensive midfield instead? They might not perform AS well but if you have more depth in the back this is an idea at least.
    Yeah, this has been the plan. I've got enough players who can flex between defense and DM so a rotation seems like the right thing to do for now. Results have been... well, an update's coming shortly.

    Quote Originally Posted by McGinty (#23)
    Fogg's a solid CF, but he's a bit middle-of-the-road.

    Have you got anyone with a spikier profile?
    We've got one player who's been ruthless in front of goal so far and outperformed Fogg at the striker position. I'll introduce you to him in the next update.
    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 III: The First Tournament


    The USMNT is derided, probably deservedly so, as a second-rate team on only its absolute best day. The Gold Cup is derided, also probably deservedly so, as a second-rate tournament that doesn't nearly command the prestige of other continental tournaments such as UEFA Euro or the Copa América, potentially even the Africa Cup of Nations.

    All of this aside, it would be considered a national disaster if the US did not make it out of the group stage of the Gold Cup. Luckily, this was never an issue: we won our three group games by a combined score of 11-1 (4-0 over Cuba, 3-1 over Costa Rica, 4-0 over Curaçao).

    Your outstanding performers of the group stage are midfielders Wambach and Alvarez, and winger Jamie Williams (born: Wigan, England). Williams, when not plying his trade for FK Rostov in the Russian league, is embracing his status as a silver fox and has already broken the record for most GQ cover appearances by a member of Team USA:



    While I was obviously pleased that the team breezed through the group stage with ease, there were two niggling concerns that I had heading into the knockout round of the Gold Cup.

    The first is that, of the three standout performers I highlighted above, two were past the age of 30, and the third, Alvarez, will also be by the time of the next World Cup. This is already starting to feel to me like every USMNT game between 2014 and 2017, where the aging stars such as Clint Dempsey were called upon to deliver time and time again and we didn't really have anybody to fill in the gaps once their skills declined. There isn't really a quick fix to this, it's just going to take a lot of proactive planning and probably more than a little duct tape to work on in the coming years.

    The second thing is one that's far more imminently pressing of an issue: Our collective mentality is terrible. Observe the team's reaction immediately after we beat noted world soccer power Costa Rica in the group stage:



    Guys. It's Costa Rica.

    Sure, they're probably one of the tougher and more consistent teams in CONCACAF, but CONCACAF is mostly terrible. We have a population roughly 65 times that of theirs, and yet whacking them 3-1 in a group stage game is considered a "widely unexpected" result? What's going to happen the first time that we play Brazil or Germany in an official competition? This team has roughly the opposite of the fighting spirit that I try to instill in all of my sides, which is always a great thing to discover when you're in the middle of a tournament.

    ---

    Anyway, I figured that the best way to cure this collective lack of self-belief was to keep winning. We progressed to the knockout stages and started to get some key contributions from people might actually be in their primes come the next World Cup. Shrimpy midfielder Cherneski's passes started becoming more pinpoint. Right winger Tovar uncorked some crosses that, while not as crisp and precise as they could have been, still caused the opposition defenses lots of trouble. Tovar also contributed more directly with three goals of his own. Finally, striker Mike Sayers (born: Kenner, LA) got hot and ended up scoring four of his six total national team goals in this tournament:





    We easily dispatched Haiti in the quarterfinals, winning 3-0. But then came the semifinals and Jamaica.

    Gambling on the fact that we would be able to outclass Jamaica with the talent gap and my tactics, I went for the flat 4-4-2 "bully" formation and a heavily rotated lineup, saving a good amount of my better players more fit for a more cautious 4-4-3 on the bench for any impending final.

    Through the first half this approach appeared to be correct, with us taking the lead in the 27th minute through a forced own goal. The 1-0 scoreline held through the first thirty minutes of the second half, and while I obviously would have preferred if we got a second, game-clinching goal, I was content with seeing out the game.

    It was not to be, though. In the 75th minute, Jamaica caught us on the counter, with their left back launching a long ball from deep in his own territory. Our defender, Betis captain Michael Santiago, was the last man back. Santiago is 34 years old and was my final inclusion on the team roster, with me ultimately deciding to bring him for his steady leadership and strong international experience. All of these traits are well and good, but sometimes you just need to be able to outrun somebody, and Santiago wasn't able to do it here. Jamaica striker Matt Lee beat Santiago to the ball, kept moving forward, and was able to slot it past Kadkhoadaian to level the score. 1-1.



    I started cursing. International tournaments are already murder on players' fitness levels; going into extra time would devastate our chances if we got into the final, especially since the previous semifinal had been played the day before. The "if we got into the final" bit was also a big "if", seeing as how, you know, we were tied with 15 minutes left to go in regulation and this team was used to blowing it when it mattered most.

    Whatever happened, I knew we had to avoid extra time. I told the team to hell with defense, go for it and try to bag the win right here.

    Thankfully, they listened. Mr. GQ Jamie Williams launched a long ball of his own, striker David Kelly (born: Aurora, CO) got a handle on it, started running forward, and hit a simple cross to his partner, Mike Sayers, who put it in and sealed our victory.





    So all in all, despite the scare, we're in a decent position. The players seem to be getting the hang of how I want them to operate, their confidence is growing, and many of my preferred starters are relatively fresh not completely dead on their feet as we head into the final. This is a good thing, because... well... it's about to get real.

    Last edited by GeneralHankerchief; January 1st, 2020 at 02:08 PM.
    Lenny - Today at 10:08 AM
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    Soul Reader OrangeP47's Avatar
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    US vs Mexico.... awwww yeah! (I fell asleep IRL during the last such matchup in the Gold Cup, but that was due to some medication I'm on than the quality of the game, and the fact that it started so late).

    Jamie Williams is just the kind of winger we need (and I see his hair takes after Schweinsteiger). I take it with a name like that and being born in England he's a dual national?

    Also while I see your point about Costa Rica, I wouldn't sell them short either. FM really rates them highly (their league is consistently 3rd in CONCACAF behind Liga MX and MLS and just ahead of Mexico's second division, showing just how far ahead of other countries in the region they are).

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    Fair enough DaveDob's Avatar Discord Moderator
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    God that Jamaica goal is such an FM goal. The SoB defender stopped running.

    Glgl with the finals.
    “DaveDob is the best player in the zoom” -Manti 2018

    NCAA Football 14 AAR

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    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    This next update got ahead of me and should probably be split into two parts, but I'm keeping it as one. Apologies in advance for the length. I'll most likely have it up tomorrow daytime US time.
    Lenny - Today at 10:08 AM
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  29. ISO #29
    Quote Originally Posted by GeneralHankerchief (#28)
    Apologies in advance for the length.

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    Wants It More LanMisa's Avatar
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    I'm not sure what you are talking about. I think that Costa Rica has a better real life World Cup performance than the States in terms of ceiling... These giants do need to be beaten first.

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    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    Cycle 1, Part IV: The Enemy


    In my last AAR, Cartagena had no real natural rivals at the start of the campaign. Sure, there was a regional derby or two, but seeing as how we left everybody in the dust in a short amount of time, we pretty much had to build rivalries fresh. Luckily, the twists and turns of the campaign provided, and by the end of the AAR we had a very personal conflict with Juan Carlos Alonso as well as a perhaps more meaningful one against Real Madrid as our two clubs regularly battled for supremacy on three fronts.

    Here, while I certainly hope to forge great rivalries with the traditional European and South American powers down the line, there is no immediate pressing need to find a nemesis. We have one here, ready-made: Mexico.



    It would take far too long to delve into the full history of the soccer rivalry between these two nations here, but it stems from a shared geography, history, culture, and other factors. The Mexican fans hate us because, frankly, we're a very hateable team to begin with, but also because soccer is the one collective athletic event that we remotely care about that we don't typically have on absolute lockdown. Here, in the truest sport of the people, is an easy way to get one over the big bad beast to the north. Our fans hate Mexico because their players typically play dirty, they beat us more often than not (that glorious day in South Korea 2002 aside), and unless the match takes place in Columbus, Ohio, even our "home" games typically have a 50/50 crowd rooting preference at best. Here, at the Gold Cup Final in Los Angeles, I have no doubt that the crowd will predominantly be cheering for El Tri.

    But mostly, we hate each other because we're the two biggest fish in a very small pond. Unlike the Brazil/Argentina rivalry where the other South American countries are good enough to provide a credible threat, and unlike the Western European Dodecahedron of Loathing, for both us and Mexico, we are all we have to hate because there simply is no one else.


    This photo was taken at a match where the USA was playing at home.

    In a country where so much of our soccer culture seems manufactured, the rivalry with Mexico is the one thing that is unquestionably very real and very raw.

    ---

    Let's zoom in and focus a bit. Geopolitical, historical, and cultural reasons aside, I anticipate the animosity with Mexico to stay strong for the duration of this campaign simply because I will be able to closely follow the players throughout.

    Back when I was managing Cartagena, if there was a player on, say, Real Madrid or Barcelona who was tormenting us (and there were certainly enough of those) game in and game out, I knew that it was temporary to some degree or another. Chances were reasonable that they would be transferred to a different team, potentially out of Spain entirely, in a couple of years. If that failed, they would start aging and be replaced in the lineup by the always-hungry Madrid or Barcelona managements looking to get the Next Big Thing. If that failed, then time, the great equalizer, would have its due sooner or later.

    None of that is a factor in the international game. You don't just transfer to Brazil. The player pool is the player pool, so if you get replaced in the lineup, it's not because of a triggy-happy board of directors, it's because they found someone better than you. And even Father Time is a bit more lethargic here - after all, the player base is much smaller and many times the country will ask a player to contribute for just one more tournament run.

    So far, I've identified two players on Mexico who are almost certainly going to be thorns in my side for at least the next decade.

    The first is attacker José Alfredo Guerrero, who at 20 years old is having an absolute breakout tournament, having scored 8 goals in 5 games.



    Really it's 8 goals in 4 games, as he came up lame in the quarterfinal match against Trinidad and Tobago and was ineffective in the semifinal against Canada. He has since fully healed and is ready to continue his path of destruction in this tournament against us.

    The second one is a bit more personal. Meet central defender Mario Padilla:



    Padilla didn't make this tournament for some reason, but he's 19 and has already been capped nine times, so I think it's only a matter of time before he becomes a full regular. It's hard to get a full handle on his stats, but Padilla's "Perfectionist" personality, his wonderkid status, his cap count at that age, and stat ranges that I can see all scream that he's destined for great things. Basically, this kid is on his way to becoming Rafa Márquez 2.0, something that should strike fear in the heart of every USMNT fan.

    But there's another reason why I'm singling Padilla out. When I started this AAR, I spent a couple of weeks in Cartagena doing a couple of things to future-proof the club before I made the jump to Team USA. These mostly came in the form of giving contract extensions to players who I felt were useful, but I also tried to shore up the central defense as I considered that our weakest position. The first player I targeted was young Padilla, who had caught one of my scouts' eye some months prior. I activated Padilla's release clause, his own club Pumas didn't try to fight it, and things looked all set.

    And then when contract negotiations were set to begin, I got hit with this message:



    This was two weeks after Cartagena had just won the Champions League for the third consecutive year, by the way. Arrogant little twerp.

    So that's the future of the Mexico team. But we have plenty of time to worry about Guerrero and Padilla later. Now, there was a final to play.

    ---

    THE MATCH

    Neither side had any injuries of note, with Guerrero having fully recovered from a knock in the quarterfinals for Mexico and our winger Ben Milton having done the same with a damaged heel suffered in the group stage. Player fitness was a different matter entirely, but both sides probably came out even. Mexico's semifinal was a day before ours, but they had to go to extra time and penalties to beat Canada, where we were able to take care of Jamaica in regulation.



    USA starters: Kadkhodaian ; Allen, McIntosh, Espinosa, Musa ; Alvarez (c), Schilly, Cherneski ; Tovar, Fogg, Milton
    USA subs: Ryan Jones, Adekoya, Kelly, Sayers, Williams, Wambach, Baladez, Pratten, Hancock, Santiago, Rodríguez, Devon Jones

    Mexico starters: Mondaca ; Alonso, Beltrán, Mora, Miranda ; Pedro López, Marín, Blanco ; Nicolás Cruz, Guerrero, Aguilar (c)
    Mexico subs: Ramos, Sanvicente, Eder López, Juan Manuel Cruz, Vázquez, Treviño, García, Andrade, Valeriano, González, Rodríguez

    The main points of contention in my lineup were slotting in Kevin Fogg at striker over the well-performing Mike Sayers, and doing the same at right wing with Vincent Tovar over Jamie Williams. On the wing, it was simple: Williams had played well, yes, but so had Tovar, and Tovar was more well-rested. At striker, Sayers had outright outplayed Fogg, but at 85% fitness I wanted to hold him in reserve in case we needed a second striker late. Fogg hasn't done poorly per se, so we'll see how he copes with the pressure.

    ---

    The match was surprisingly clean through the first fifteen minutes of play, with each side only picking up a single foul and no cards. I suppose we were both feeling each other out, as there wasn't much offensive action in the early stages either. The first sustained attack for either side came in the 16th minute, as we had a succession of corners and decent opportunities, but those were handled by a disciplined Mexican defense and the attack eventually petered out to nothing as defensive midfielder Tim Schilly (born: Quincy, MA) tried a speculative shot from 30 yards out that didn't even come close to the net.

    Mexico's best early chance came 10 minutes later, as Guerrero himself had a free kick in a dangerous area, but Tovar was able to deflect it out of bounds and we handled their corner kick.

    Through 30 minutes, the players seemed to be holding up well. We had mostly denied Guerrero and the Mexican attackers many opportunities to do their thing, and their right winger Nicolás Cruz picking up an ankle injury and playing through it certainly didn't help them much. Young Cherneski, who looked like he still could be in middle school, was doing very well as the midfield orchestrator, so much so that I instructed the players to be patient and do their best to work the ball into the box and wait for their opportunities.

    We were definitely playing more intensely than they were in the early half, as our foul count started to climb, and team captain Andy Alvarez picked up a yellow card in the 40th minute. I reluctantly told him to ease off, as I'd rather not sub him off, and I certainly want him sent off by the referee either.

    Halftime eventually came, with all of the main stats pretty much even between the two teams. It was the kind of half were the two goalies were singled out as the top performers of note, each of whom had a bang-average rating of 6.8. I was already preparing to tell the press after the match ended that it had always been my plan to be boring early in an attempt to take the pro-Mexico crowd out of it.



    ---

    The second half got off to a much faster start. After both sides tried some more speculative passes and attacks after the restart, we found ourselves with the ball in the 47th minute where Ben Milton received a pinpoint pass down the left from Cherneski. Milton dribbled around for a bit, tried to attract some defenders, and then - always with more flair than sense, him - just kind of shrugged and hit a cross with his weaker foot to Kevin Fogg, lurking in the box. Fogg cut inside, beat his man, and hit a low header that the Mexican keeper just missed. Goal Fogg, 1-0 USA!



    It always felt good to get a lead, but if the Jamaica match taught me anything, it was that we couldn't afford to let up, especially not against Mexico. With this in mind, our players continued to press their advantage. A few minutes after the goal, Milton hit a free kick that the keeper had to leap for to send out of play. Tovar took the ensuing corner, and we looked dangerous for a bit, but eventually Alvarez (uh oh...) fouled a defender in the box and Mexico was able to get out of immediate danger.

    55 minutes in, the ailing Nicolás Cruz, gamely playing through his foot injury, took a long free kick that sailed into the box. With everybody trying to head it either away or in, Mexican central defender José Mora, playing Márquez's position and wearing Márquez's number, connected and put it on target. 1-1.



    Milton very nearly retook the lead immediately after that, but the Mexican keeper was able to make a good save and the game settled into the final 30 minutes of regulation.

    Both sides started making subs: Mexico finally taking off Cruz, and me replacing the tiring, frail Cherneski with the fresh and experienced Derek Wambach. With 15 minutes to go, I took off captain Alvarez - still on a yellow card and looking increasingly murderous - off in favor of striker Mike Sayers. We were now playing a 4-4-2, but I decided to take the risk since Mexico's midfielders, now outnumbering ours, looked completely blown.

    In the 88th minute, with time slipping away, Guerrero had another free kick in a dangerous area. With my entire team forming a wall to try to block what everyone knew was coming, the young striker chose another option and instead passed the ball off to left back Luis Felipe Miranda, still in the box but off to the side. With my defenders desperately trying to adjust and close down the target, Miranda decided to go for glory, but Kadkhokaian was there and the shot ended up being off-target anyway. Too, too close.

    The referee added 5 minutes of stoppage time and I made my final substitution: Mr. GQ Jamie Williams in on the right for Vincent Tovar, who had been mostly ineffective all game. It had helped that Williams was a much better penalty taker, and I already had that in mind. This sub was a risk, as my two star defenders, Musa and Espinosa, were exhausted, but if ever there was a time to summon your last reserves, the final of a continental tournament against your arch rivals was probably it.

    Stoppage time went by fairly unmemorably. Jamie Williams immediately picked up a yellow card, and Guerrero had his most dangerous attack in open play all night, but eventually the whistle blew and we were headed to extra time.

    ---

    We started getting chippier in extra time. Two more of our players picked up yellow cards, and Mexico's free kicks were getting closer to seeing daylight. Musa, running on fumes, had a desperate slide tackle deep in the box right after a Mexico corner kick, but he showed his quality by getting the ball and getting it out of there. Shortly after that though, he made an errant pass that allowed Mexico to restart a dangerous attack, which resulted in Kadkhodaian having to make his toughest save of the night to keep the game level. The run of play was definitely tilting in the enemy's favor, and I was out of subs to do anything about it.

    We were able to fend off the attacks, though, and the field soon equalized as the game progressed deeper into extra time. Everybody was blown now: us, them, the subs, everyone. Free kicks started going wild. More people took desperate long shots that were either easily saved or didn't end up going anywhere near the target. People were trying to end it, but nobody had anything left in the tank.

    In the end, our guys simply blinked first. In the 121st minute of play, in stoppage time of extra time, my best player, Christian Musa, played a routine pass to my most promising player, Liam Espinosa. Espinosa tried to send the ball long, but he completely missed identifying a charging Guerrero, exerting his one last burst of energy, and Guerrero was able to block the intended clearance. He corralled it, dribbled once, shot at Kadkhodaian, collected the rebound that our goalkeeper wasn't able to hang onto, and buried his second effort. 2-1 Mexico.



    Ballgame.



    ---

    Disappointing result aside, this loss has some far-reaching implications. For starters, it locks us out of the Confederations Cup in two years' time, the dress rehearsal for the World Cup that I really wanted to play in because it would be our only chance at competitive action vs. European and South American powers before the World Cup itself [GH note: see below]. But even more importantly than that, it tells us exactly where we stand in the greater picture: Mexico is the class of CONCACAF, yes, but they're usually good for advancement to the Round of 16 in the World Cup and nothing more.

    Considering my ultimate goal is to win the World Cup, going toe-to-toe (before finally succumbing to a mental lapse) with a team that can generally hold its own but is not a serious contender on the world's stage simply isn't good enough. Much work lies ahead, and while a couple of our younger players had promising tournaments, the bulk of our top contributors are only getting older.

    There's one immediate positive I can take out of all of this. Overall, our performance, the final result aside, has served to get the players to start believing in themselves. Perhaps this is the start of the difference.



    With the Gold Cup concluded, the national team is done for the summer. The September and October international breaks only have friendlies in store for us. I expect World Cup qualifying to begin in November. As this is a relatively low-key period of the four-year cycle, expect updates to be somewhat less frequent for the near future.



    [Note: Despite us losing the Gold Cup final, we're still apparently entered into a one-game playoff against Costa Rica, the previous Gold Cup winners, for the right to take part in the next Confederations Cup. As our spot rightfully belongs to Mexico, I can't fathom why we have this opportunity unless they declined or something, but I'll certainly take it. This match against Costa Rica takes place in September and replaces the two friendlies we had scheduled for then.]
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    Soul Reader OrangeP47's Avatar
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    Was definitely an "oh no" moment seeing Padilla's stats, especially as they'll only get better. At least we've found a good foil.

    Shame about the loss, but given your lack of time to prepare, probably a realistic result. It doesn't take much to see an alternate universe where it was just luck making that a win, too. It's really FM though for the winning goal to come exactly when it did. I've been FM'd like that a few times, and I always watch the CL final each season in my save and have seen the AI get FM'd that way too.

    Regarding the confed cup playoff: maybe it has to do with who's hosting?

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    Wants It More LanMisa's Avatar
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    Better luck next time! What would be funny is if your team getting better will also pull forward the Mexican team to new heights and the two of you end up playing in the later World Cup stages at some point!

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    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by OrangeP47 (#32)
    Regarding the confed cup playoff: maybe it has to do with who's hosting?
    Good thought, but Italy's got the next World Cup (and thus Confederations Cup), nor were they otherwise qualified, so that shouldn't impact things.

    I did a little bit of digging and something's screwy with the programming of that playoff. The last time it should have been held, 2023, it wasn't needed since the game said that Mexico had won both of the previous Gold Cups and thus had an automatic pass to the Confederations Cup. Turns out that Mexico actually didn't - they won the Gold Cup in 2021 but not in 2023 (or even 2019). Bizarre, and honestly a bit disappointing, but I'm not going to purposely throw the playoff in the name of game integrity. I have a goal here that I'd ideally like to accomplish sometime this millennium, after all.

    Quote Originally Posted by LanMisa (#33)
    Better luck next time! What would be funny is if your team getting better will also pull forward the Mexican team to new heights and the two of you end up playing in the later World Cup stages at some point!
    You may get your wish. The result of the last match inspired me - I'm loading Liga MX (Mexico's league) into the game along with MLS, and it should take as of next summer.
    Last edited by GeneralHankerchief; January 2nd, 2020 at 06:41 PM.
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    Soul Reader OrangeP47's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GeneralHankerchief (#34)

    Quote Originally Posted by LanMisa (#33)
    Better luck next time! What would be funny is if your team getting better will also pull forward the Mexican team to new heights and the two of you end up playing in the later World Cup stages at some point!
    You may get your wish. The result of the last match inspired me - I'm loading Liga MX (Mexico's league) into the game along with MLS, and it should take as of next summer.
    I thought about suggesting that after the update too, but didn't want to give you ideas about making the game harder for yourself

    Nah, actually a good idea. BTW, I know it's not as "genuine" because they're simulated to a higher degree in the backlog since they weren't loaded, but when they're finished loading can we get screenshots of the past winners of both those leagues, just out of curiosity to see what the game says are the big teams right now?

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    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by OrangeP47 (#35)
    BTW, I know it's not as "genuine" because they're simulated to a higher degree in the backlog since they weren't loaded, but when they're finished loading can we get screenshots of the past winners of both those leagues, just out of curiosity to see what the game says are the big teams right now?
    My guess, just from the amount of players available to me in the national pool, is that the teams that are doing well in MLS are the LA Galaxy (lapping the field in terms of players available to me before the league is fully loaded), NY Red Bulls, and potentially Minnesota. Not sure about Mexico, but I'm guessing it's some of the usual suspects. Monterrey and Pumas have our two burgeoning bugbears, Guerrero and Padilla, respectively, so I wouldn't be surprised to see them at or near the top.
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    Quote Originally Posted by GeneralHankerchief (#1)

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    Quote Originally Posted by GeneralHankerchief (#36)
    Quote Originally Posted by OrangeP47 (#35)
    BTW, I know it's not as "genuine" because they're simulated to a higher degree in the backlog since they weren't loaded, but when they're finished loading can we get screenshots of the past winners of both those leagues, just out of curiosity to see what the game says are the big teams right now?
    My guess, just from the amount of players available to me in the national pool, is that the teams that are doing well in MLS are the LA Galaxy (lapping the field in terms of players available to me before the league is fully loaded), NY Red Bulls, and potentially Minnesota. Not sure about Mexico, but I'm guessing it's some of the usual suspects. Monterrey and Pumas have our two burgeoning bugbears, Guerrero and Padilla, respectively, so I wouldn't be surprised to see them at or near the top.
    Yeah, I think you actually can look in advance for leagues that are in the game, and it generates a record, and it'll preserve that now that I think about it, but that idea *makes sense* so to speak. I mean, LA Galaxy are a strong team, and while I don't think they're a dominant force, I can see FM rating them as such.

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    Loading the Mexican league sounds like a good idea. I do believe that having stronger opponents will increase the speed of growth by a lot.

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    Fair enough DaveDob's Avatar Discord Moderator
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    Nothing worse than when your defender mugs up possession leading to a goal. Just have to turn around and get them next time.
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    Cycle 1, Part V: The Opening


    The first four updates in this AAR cumulatively covered the span of somewhat over a month. This next update covers a span of eight months.

    Such is life as a coach of a national team. The regularity and familiarity of the club calendar vanishes. You're bound by the hard limits that FIFA sets on your time with the players: Three separate spells, one per month, in the autumn; once, as a refresher more than anything else in March, and then the active period in the summer that may not actually be that active depending on if you're playing in a tournament or not. Otherwise, you sit around, scout, hope your players aren't injured and/or being misused, and wait. You do a lot of waiting.

    We started off the slow season well, defeating Costa Rica in a tense 1-0 match to qualify for the Confederations Cup (undeservedly so, but hey!) in two years' time. The game was scoreless for the great majority of the match until left winger Milton hit a lucky shot in the 79th minute that dribbled in after striking the post at an angle.

    Milton got the goal, but the best player in the game was Cherneski, who despite his critical lack of physical presence continues to make pinpoint passes and get the offense nicely set for attacks:



    So far, the diminutive Baltimorean has done everything I've asked of him and is pretty perfectly suited for the role I ask him to play, but the problem is his constitution: he's simply physically not capable of lasting 90 minutes in this kind of environment. He's still only 21 so there's still time for him to physically develop, but man, the dude is just so tiny to begin with I'm not even sure it would do him any good.

    ---

    After that, the remainder of 2027 was filled with friendlies in October (a 1-0 away loss to Egypt, and a 1-1 away draw to Slovakia) and the start of World Cup qualifiers in November.

    This set of qualifiers was the round before the round that truly matters; the round where we played the relative minnows of CONCACAF such as Barbados and Honduras (who got to this stage in the first place by playing the relative plankton of Grenada, Martinique, and the US Virgin Islands, so the ecosystem is thus undisturbed).

    This was probably for the best that we weren't seriously tested in October and November, as my incredibly thin player pool was diluted even further by the fact that the game apparently placed a higher importance on Olympic qualifiers than World Cup qualifiers and that a lot of my best younger players, including Cherneski, were unavailable (our U23s lost in the final to Mexico, so I think we'll at least be spared an Olympic appearance in 2028). I ended up being forced to play a combination of regulars, past-their-prime veterans who had no chance of being in any tournament that mattered for me, and youngsters not even good enough for Olympic qualifiers and almost certainly weren't good enough for regular duty with the national team.

    No matter. We took care of business against the minnows and persisted.

    And then the calendar flipped to 2028 and MLS got fully loaded, and I felt like I had just won the lottery.

    ---

    For those unaware, loading a league into the game gives you complete access to that league's teams, coaches, and players. Teams in leagues not loaded still have some players, depending on if that player is on a national team or if the team is in a continental competition such as the Champions League or something, but for the most part the number of genuine players available is severely diminished. The rosters are filled out by fake, generic, "ghost players" who are basically replacement-level and aren't available to be transferred or called up to national teams or anything.

    Well, when MLS got loaded in, the entire breadth of the American league was open to me, and I went from having around 25-30 viable players on my national team to something closer to 4-5 times that number. It was an embarrassment of riches and I went from quiet despair wondering if I had bit off more than I could chew in this campaign to questioning on whether the game had become too easy. It was that dramatic.

    The turnover between our final Gold Cup roster and the team I fielded in March was 18 out of 23 total players. Only captain Alvarez, vice captain Espinosa (the goat of the final match vs. Mexico), Cherneski, Musa, and goalkeeper Kadkhodaian survived. Every single other player on the team was new, and this was only partly because I wanted to cap-tie some of them to the US. Fogg and Sayers, my top two strikers, didn't make the cut. Ben Milton and Jamie Williams, my stylish wingers, stayed home. Both of my top goalkeepers were no longer anything close to my top goalkeepers, though Kadkhodaian remained on the roster at least mostly for continuity purposes.

    I'm trying not to go rose-colored glasses on everybody, but my job just got a lot easier. I don't know what the hell the Team USA scouts were smoking before I took the job, because the team they left me with isn't even remotely close to America's best just based off skill points alone.

    There is one drawback: the bulk of my new best players are all around the same age, that 27-29 range which means that they're currently at their peak but will just start to be a little past it by the time the next World Cup rolls around in 2030. I don't want to rely on these guys too heavily as a result and want to keep the age of the roster balanced so I don't have to do a complete turnover in something like 2031 or 2032 when preparing for the next cycle.

    In practice, this meant I prioritized younger players when calling players up for the March international break. Some of them did very well for their first couple of games. Here's GH's pick of the litter:

    GK: Emmanuel Musah (born: Bridgewater, NJ)

    Probably my new best goalkeeper based on his stats and one of the very few American goalies whose Composure stat is in the green, period, Musah would have seen starting time anyway. However, he also has Ghanaian nationality, and the fact that he just got loaded into the game for the first time meant that both us and Ghana were fighting for his commitment. While I'm sure the fact that Musah was born in New Jersey and not Kumasi helps, apparently it was my promise of less required travel (since he plays for NY Red Bulls) that sealed his commitment to us. If not wanting to get on a plane and visit fun and new places out of laziness isn't the most American thing you've ever heard of, then nothing is.



    MF: Preston Torres (born: New York City)

    I finally have creativity in midfield! Torres is a natural leader who probably would have been given the captaincy right off the bat had he been in the game from the start. As I don't want to upset the apple cart by demoting Alvarez at this time and still have high hopes for Espinosa, Torres will just have to wait his turn and get some seasoning in the meantime. As far as his other skills, Torres is good with the ball and should be able to deliver what Cherneski does while being able to hold up to the rigors of play better than Cherneski. Not as physically strong as I'd like, but he's actually at least a presence instead of a wisp in the wind.



    LW: Nick Appleby (born: Provo, UT)

    Our resident Mormon isn't necessarily the most talented winger out there, but he's the best fit for my system as his main competition on the left is naturally left-footed. Appleby, on the other hand, being two-footed, can probably dribble better than his stat says he can and will provide more of a central threat, which is what I like. He rewarded my faith by scoring two goals in his first outright start for Team USA. He'll see more time on the field as a result.



    RW: Ged Spielmann (born: Huntington Park, CA)

    Look inside the spoiler and despair. No 20s, but Spielmann has a beautiful 19 in Determination (one of the most important overall stats to have), and there's just a lot of sexy green for him across the board. He instantly rivals left back Musa as our best overall player, and announced his presence in his debut with a fantastic cross to Appleby that the latter ended up putting in. Hopefully this is the start of a beautiful friendship between the two.



    ST: Patrick Escobedo (born: Alameda, CA)

    I picked up a lot of potential new strikers when MLS got loaded in. Some are better than the previous names I had there: Fogg and Sayers. Most of them, though, are around the same age: that 27ish area, which, while their physical peak, doesn't leave me much room to mold them into the kind of player I want to be with my limited time. Escobedo is the youngest of the bunch and, I believe, the most promising: he has strong technical stats, is physically imposing enough to get his head on the ball when needed, and is probably mentally passable. There are obviously weaknesses, but he, unlike most of his brethren, has time to sort them out. He'll split time up front with Jeff Suarez (born: Tacoma, WA), who is slightly more talented/refined at the moment, but is also 28.



    ---

    It is March 2028. Our summer schedule is light, as this is an off year for us. We only have two friendlies, against Senegal and Uruguay. Aside from our ritual dissections against England and Italy when I very first took the job (which I don't even count since I wasn't able to pick the team), Uruguay is easily the toughest opponent we've had to this point so I'm excited to see where USA 2.0 stands compared to them.

    After that, we break for the remainder of the summer and pick back up in September where we finish off this round of World Cup qualifying. We've already clinched the next round, but still need to even out the round robin. After that, the real qualifiers begin.

    Also, if you're worried that the game just got significantly easier, don't be: we have precisely a six-month head start over Mexico before their league gets fully loaded into the game and they receive the same injection of talent.
    Last edited by GeneralHankerchief; January 6th, 2020 at 09:08 AM.
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    Soul Reader OrangeP47's Avatar
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    Christmas came late! Wasn't expecting MLS to be that bountiful, but it's a welcome sight!

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    For comparison:

    Quote Originally Posted by GeneralHankerchief (#135)
    Quote Originally Posted by GeneralHankerchief (#41)

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    Comparing MLS salaries with European ones is eye-opening.

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    Wants It More LanMisa's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by McGinty (#44)
    Comparing MLS salaries with European ones is eye-opening.
    I guess they are playing the wrong kind of Football.

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    Soul Reader OrangeP47's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by McGinty (#44)
    Comparing MLS salaries with European ones is eye-opening.
    From an r/mls thread yesterday, in 2010 10 players in the league made over 500,000 a year. in 2019, that number was 162. It's going up, and with the recent round of player's union negotiations ongoing, we're probably due for another big increase.

    Also an interesting thread from a few days ago: https://www.reddit.com/r/MLS/comment...s_state_as_of/

    In case GH thinks about setting some home attendance records for each state while we're here, though I don't know how much control over *location* of home games he has.

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    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    I have zero control over home game location, and it's unfortunate as the FM programming is kind of limited in that regard. Tournament finals in any given country (almost?) always default to that country's largest stadium regardless of location, prestige, or otherwise, for example. So this means the Gold Cup final will probably always be in the LA Colosseum, the scheduled 2030 World Cup final in Italy at the San Siro instead of the Olimpico, any final in Spain at the Camp Nou instead of the Bernabéu, etc.

    Furthermore, for RP reasons I'd love to keep our home World Cup qualifier against Mexico in its traditional site: Columbus, Ohio, which seems to be the one place in the country that the Mexico supporters haven't been able to penetrate and has actually given us a legitimate home advantage there over the years. Given that that stadium only seats 20,000 though, the game will probably move it to a bigger venue regardless, even if it's Houston or something.

    -edit- Also, I can't invoke and exploit the concept of "lucky stadiums" this way, regardless of whether or not this concept actually exists. Now, if we find a stadium we win more often in than we lose, we have to rely on solely the game's algorithms to play there in the future.

    -edit 2- Another reason why I hate the national stadium programming is that I don't think there's a way for stadiums built during a campaign are ever included in a country's list of venues for a particular tournament, regardless of whether they would have otherwise qualified or not (or even as a final venue for the Champions League, for that matter). My dream was to play Spain at the Estrella de la Muerte (which we built) in Cartagena, and I've looked into modding it in, but I don't know if it can be done.
    Last edited by GeneralHankerchief; January 6th, 2020 at 04:13 PM.
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    Season 5 Champion GeneralHankerchief's Avatar
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    Extremely minor update: I don't want to focus on my old club too much because we have a World Cup to win (and also we should be looking forward and not back in general), but Cartagena is set to battle Real Madrid in the Champions League final for the second season running.

    La Liga is also very close.
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    Soul Reader OrangeP47's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GeneralHankerchief (#48)
    Extremely minor update: I don't want to focus on my old club too much because we have a World Cup to win (and also we should be looking forward and not back in general), but Cartagena is set to battle Real Madrid in the Champions League final for the second season running.

    La Liga is also very close.
    Good they didn't just collapse. Given how the pre-season predictions of a lot of clubs that get moved up the ranks always predict relegation, I always worry that as soon as the human steps away the AI is going to totally trash a club.

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    Fair enough DaveDob's Avatar Discord Moderator
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    Considering Mexico plays most of its friendlies in the US now adays I doubt you’ll get lucky anyways
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