For this save, to SAVE (heh heh) me from feeling totally inadequate at football management, a random number generator (random.org, known on these pages as RANDOM) will be picking my formation before each match from the below list:
Part One, taking charge for pre-season at DC United, is here.
Coming off my 7 friendlies and the few signings I’d made (Juan Niño, Perry Kitchen, and Tyler Adams*), I made a couple more free signings around the start of the MLS regular season. Chris Schuling, a 27-year old centre-back, was brought in to bolster the squad in case RANDOM made me play with 3 CBs a lot. Gabino Velasco, a central midfielder, was also signed. He’s 31, which doesn’t exactly fit my goal of reducing the age of the side, but he’s been fantastic for us so far at ten games in. [*My mistake on Tyler Adams in the first instalment of this; Tyler Adams was drafted in the March waiver draft, not the MLS SuperDraft].
A reminder that the board’s expectations for me are the play-offs in the eastern conference (6th out of 10 teams), and therefore mid-table in the Supporters Shield (both conferences smushed together into a ‘proper’ league table). They don’t care about the cups.
Game 1: For my first MLS game RANDOM gave me a 4-4-2 to play with, at home to Drogba-led Montreal Impact. We lost 3-0, partly down to Big Didier and partly due to me not being used to playing 4-4-2 at all. Below is my starting XI for that match, as well as the shot map for the game.
Game 2: Our second game away at New York Red Bulls didn’t go a whole lot better, losing 2-0. We were given a 5-4-1 by RANDOM, but we weren’t very good. Outshot 17-2 (although both our shots were on target), we made Bradley Wright-Philips look good. It was shortly after this game that I started to become frustrated with Saborió, by my assistant’s rating our best forward.
Game 3: RANDOM gave me a 3-5-2 for this match against LA Galaxy and… we won (thank goodness)! After going down in the 18th minute, we came back to win 2-1, with their goalkeeper picking up man of the match, so we could probably have had more. We still shoot too much from distance, although their goal was tremendously lucky, a long shot that hit the bar and went in off Hamid’s back. I also found a formation that I actually kind of liked, although this could just be because LA Galaxy weren’t great.
Game 4: A 5-4-1 chosen by RANDOM, and a 0-0 away at an Orlando who were doing quite well. However, we were dominated the entire match, although they didn’t really have any clear cut chances. A direct quote from my notes after the game: “We were mediocrely never in it. That’s kind of a theme of my management tbh”.
Game 5: ANOTHER WIN! Home to New York Red Bulls, and another 2-1. RANDOM had given us a 4-4-2, which looked pretty similar to our earlier 4-4-2, but here Velasco was playing in the centre next to Kitchen. He had a stormer, scoring both of our goals.
Game 6: A disappointing 2-2 draw at home to Houston, with another 5-4-1. This was when I well and truly gave up on Saborió, and replaced him with Aguilar in my mind as our main striker, the former having a poor first half and being replaced by the latter (who was brought to the club just before I joined in the January SuperDraft). Aguilar scored both our goals.
Game 7: RANDOM gave me my first 4-2-4 for this match, away at Vancouver, so with that considered I was kind of happy with a 0-0 draw. Unfortunately, my lack of understanding of MLS transfer and trade rules kicked in at Games 6 & 7, with 2 of the 3 full-backs in my squad injured for this game, and the third played badly.
Game 8: Fortunately, considering my full-back troubles, RANDOM gave me a 3-4-3 for this game. It was at home to Columbus Crew and we were expected to win, which we did, 2-0. This said, that scoreline probably flatters us compared to the chances both teams created.
Game 9: RANDOM gave me a 4-5-1, for the first time since our 6th friendly, for a game at home to Sporting Kansas City. We drew 1-1, which should probably be a disappointment, but there’s no way we deserved this. Velasco had a man of the match game, setting up our goal to Saborió (not good enough to get back in my good books), but Kansas had TWELVE shots on target. The shot map is below, our shots on the right and theirs on the left, orange shots are shots on target. We should have been battered.
Game 10: I predicted after game 9 that we’d go on a losing streak soon and lose we did here at home to Orlando. RANDOM had given us a 3-4-3 and we’d lined up similarly to how we had against Columbus (below). However, we were up against a team with Kaka this time. We only lost 3-2, and it was probably a tighter game than others we’ve ended up drawing. Our game improved after I switched the three wide forwards to three narrower ones, as our wide forwards ended up occupying the same space as our wide midfielders, leaving a gaping space in the middle.
So after 10 games we’re 5th in the conference and 12th in the Supporters Shield table (though with maybe a couple of teams below who could catch us with games in hand), roughly on track for board expectations. Worryingly though, 7 out of our 10 games have been at home, and we haven’t really taken advantage of that. We’ve also only scored 11 in those 10 games which is pretty bad (conceded 13, -2 goal difference).
In terms of top performers, it works in my favour that near the top of the average ratings are some of my signings. Velasco is top, and Niño second (discounting Tyler Adams, who’s on loan). You can see that we’re not a team, in any formation, that creates a lot of shots, so that needs to change (shots column per 90 4th from the left, 3rd from the left is shots on target per 90).
I’m going to show 3 of my base formations now. As FM allows you to train with 3 tactics at the same time, I have one 3 at the back, one 4 at the back, and one 5 at the back, so I have to change less before each game. These are just the last formations that I played for each number of defenders, so there’s not necessarily any preferences here.
The 3-4-3 I’d change to put 2 other guys alongside Aguilar. Rolfe can play up front, and I’d switch DeLeon for Espindola (who’s on a Designated Player contract but my assistant reckons he’s only at a similar level to Aguilar, so I might look at how much he’s earning and what that means for the budgets).
The 4 at the back may be a 4-5-1 but could also work as a 4-3-3. If it was a 4-5-1 I’d probably change the inside forwards to make at least one of them a winger, and I might experiment with the other being a wide playmaker or something.
For the 5-4-1 I might change it to push the DM (Kitchen) forwards into a clearer midfield 3, but I’m not sure. A weird thing about playing the game this way (as well as the FM news centre calling me Tinkerman Thompson after each game) is that you can stumble on a tactic you like, or something you want to tweak a little, but you can’t play it for ages until RANDOM brings it up again.
I’ve now got, because of bizarre MLS scheduling, 3 away games in a row before 3 home games in a row. Hopefully we’ll be a bit better over this stretch.