It is with hate-tinged thanks to Alex Stewart and his new Moneyball meets Football Manager series with Livorno (a previous series with Bristol City is here) that I opened up FM16 again. The last save on the game I had ended with a superficial finger injury after snapping a biro in frustration.
I decided, though, to return, but to do so with a challenge. This way there’d be less pressure to succeed because, y’know, you can just blame the challenge for hindering your inner Sir Alex Ferguson. I decided that my challenge would involve, before every match, letting a random number generator choose my formation.
Now, I’m not so ridiculous as to let it choose the number of defenders, midfielders, and attackers for me, ending up with some odd 6-1-3 combination; instead I drew up a list of base formations, which gives me a degree of flexibility
(The number generator I’m using, by the way, is random.org, which I will henceforth refer to as RANDOM)
Now, to choose my team, I gazed over the Atlantic waters at the MLS. On a previous FM I’d had a good save as Vancouver Whitecaps, and I really like that the play-offs exist there (I might feel differently if the Premier League started tossing the idea around). I wanted an East coast team (to feel closer to home), and one not predicted to do too well, but not one that is terrible either. DC United, predicted 5th in the Eastern conference for the 2015 MLS season, fit the bill.
I decided, mostly because I don’t quite understand the MLS’ roster rules that I wouldn’t try and bring in tons of transfers and set to work playing matches. After cancelling our final friendly to allow more prep time before the start of the proper MLS season, I had 7 games in which to get used to this formation hopping challenge, though none of these were against MLS standard oppositon.
For the first friendly, against the reserves, RANDOM rather helpfully threw up a 4-5-1, so I could go with a fairly standard 4 at the back, 2 centre-mids, an attacking midfield trio, and one striker. We won comfortably 2-0, outshooting them 24-4.
I thought, for part of game 2, that this save would be easy. RANDOM had thrown up a 5-4-1, a formation I’d not played with before, but we were beating Louisville City 2-0 within half an hour. Early in the second half I switched to more intense pressing and a quicker game, to try and test our players’ fitness and see if we could turn the heat up against a weaker side. We ended up drawing 2-2. In truth neither our shot volume or shot locations had been that much better than Louisville’s and a draw was fair, but losing it from 2-0 up was my bad.
RANDOM took us back for a 4-5-1 against Charlotte Independence, but we were lucky, a free kick in injury time saving my bacon. Stupidly, I realised as the game ended, I’d been trying to play a short passing game in my 4-5-1 through a congested centre of Charlotte’s narrow 4-4-2 diamond. You can see the result in the shot map (our shots on the left, theirs on the right):
Game 4 was our first loss, 1-0 to Charleston Battery. RANDOM had given us a 4-4-2 to play with this time. Their goal was from a corner, and the best chance they got all match, but we weren’t creating either. I started to remember how much I dislike being bad at this game and wondered how long I would last in this job.
Our fifth friendly brought the taste of victory that we hadn’t tasted since playing our reserves. RANDOM had given us a 5-3-2. We conceded too many chances for our liking but came out on top 3-2, after a few tactical changes (like switching my middle CB to a stopper instead of cover, as opposition players were happily milling around between our defensive and midfield lines).
In game 6, RANDOM brought us back to the 4-5-1, and we trounced a Wilson Palacios playing Miami FC, though in truth the result flattered us.
Our final friendly of the season was a 2-0 loss. RANDOM had given us a 4-4-2, but again the failure to win was on me. They didn’t deserve to score 2 from the chances they had, but we weren’t attacking enough in our outlook, our 2 strikers swamped amidst St Louis FC’s 2 banks of 4.
Towards the end of the friendly period I did begin to brush into transfer territory. To free up some salary cap space I let go of three central midfielders who weren’t good enough for us. I later discovered that I could move some allocation money (transfer fund essentially, I think) to give some more cap space, which allowed me to re-sign Perry Kitchen who had apparently left the club just before the game had started and was now a free agent, despite him coming in and being one of the better players in my squad.
I also bought Juan Niño, a 24-year old Mexican central midfielder, an improvement on the players I’d let go, and drafted Tyler Adams in the MLS SuperDraft. He’s a 16-year old defensive midfielder with good potential, but for some reason no other clubs decided to make any draft picks.
As time goes on I’ll need to think about my squad for future seasons. A few important players, like Martin Sarvas and Davy Arnaud, are getting into their mid-30s, or are replaceable players on relatively large contracts. Hopefully at some point I’ll be able to bring in some younger replacements and send off a few guys with larger salaries, but not yet.