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[FM23] Born to Run - A Journeyman’s Escape from America - AC Milan


13th Man
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From the creator of such "hits" as Finding Myself in Tuscany and The Ballad of Benjani comes a new save thread for FM 23 - Born to Run.

Will it feature tactics?  Oh yes it will.

Will it feature way too much waffle?  You bet.

Will it be a fully realized, fully produced film to one up The Ballad of BenjaniAbsolutely not.

This will be a bit of a return to an extreme focus on tactics, but, yes, a good thread (for me) is all about a narrative so there will definitely be that too.  So...without further ado...

Prologue

[For reasons that may become clear in later posts, I recommend listening to Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run while reading this introduction.]

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Imagine with me for a moment. 

Imagine that you’ve just received the ball on the flank. A defender is coming to close you down.  You see the angle he’s taking - he’s been too aggressive and underestimated your pace.  Again.  

But you wait. You make him think that this time he has you. You wait until he has fully committed.  Only then do you change your line just a bit and switch into that extra gear you’ve been saving.  You see in his body language that he knows. He knows you’re about to leave him for dead…for the third time that evening.  Just as the other two times he desperately goes to ground.  You push the ball out and around him with two flicks of your right foot. One out, past where he’ll be able to reach, then a light side foot into the space behind him, a little pass to yourself. You leave him no chance. You see the open green in front of you. You look up, seeing if your teammates are making runs…

Then you feel studs on the side of your right leg, a bit below the knee, just as you were pushing off to continue into that beautiful open space.

Actually, you don’t feel much other than the sudden loss of momentum.  You hit the ground hard.  You’re used to that.  You’re a speedy winger, and you are fouled at full sprint constantly.  

That leg hurts though.  

Not in the way that any of your constant injuries have hurt.  This is different.  It's like a bruise but…deeper. You look at it, right at the top of your sock - he's left a mark.

But you get up.  

You can’t let that defender know he hurt you. That’s asking for more abuse.  He is, of course, shown a yellow card. Your manager calls for a red, but it falls upon deaf ears (honestly should have been). You hurl a few choice words in his direction as he trudges off, switched to the opposite flank by his manager. 3rd time’s a charm.

That leg hurts.

But you are 21 and you’ve played through pain before.  Your side is in a playoff push and a season long injury crisis.  At any given  time, it seems as if there’s been 5-6 starters out. You’ve managed to play through two sprained ankles and a strained hip flexor, even if it feels like you’re held together by athletic tape.

But your side is still in the hunt. Your manager asks you if you’re okay at the half, his eyes not fully trusting when you answer that you’re fine.  

A combination of adrenaline, determination, and youthful ignorance gets you through the rest of that match.  You even get an assist - your opposite winger crashing the far post, beating the player who fouled you - your side wins and stays in the playoff hunt.

But that leg hurts.

It hurts as you hobble home that night, as you walk around Sunday, as you walk through training on Monday.  

But there’s no time for hurting. There’s another match on Tuesday. One of three left in the season. We probably need to win all of them to make the playoff.  Your manager again asks if you’re okay to play.  You don’t really feel confident when you say that you are.  He really doesn’t seem to believe it either.  But there’s not much choice. You’ve been slowed down, but you pass the fitness tests.  Not with flying colors, but you pass. We’re struggling to make the numbers to play the match…

But that leg hurts.

You’ve played through pain before. You take it as easy as you can during the match.  You don’t make any unnecessary runs.  No chasing lost causes today. You keep things simple on the ball.  Take a touch, make a simple pass. Read the game.

But then one time you cut out a pass in a muddy, squelchy, sticky part of the pitch. As you get to the ball, just a bit ahead of your opponent, you look up.

You plant your right leg - the hurt one - to complete a simple side foot with your left. Your foot sticks in the mud. Suddenly, a horrible cracking sound rings out.  It seems exceptionally loud. 

Something is horribly wrong.

You fall to the ground, your voice hitting high notes like that would not be out of place in Bohemian Rhapsody.  You can’t think. All you know is that something is horribly, horribly wrong with your leg.  It is moving in ways it shouldn’t…things that are supposed to stay still are moving inside you.  It doesn’t hurt, not really.  It just feels wrong. Deeply, profoundly wrong.

A few hours later, the x-rays come back. You've broken your tibia and fibula. You’re lucky it’s a clean break, it won’t need surgery, but it will be 6+ weeks before you can put any weight on it. A 4-6 month recovery before you’re fully fit again.

You’re alone in the back of the bus on the ride home with the team. The painkillers and the way you feel every bump in the road inside your leg leave you unable to talk with your teammates. There’s also the disappointment - we lost.  No more hope for the playoffs, not that you’d be able to play in them…

That’s when the logistics problems hit. You won’t be able to drive for months. This is a problem because you live alone in a semi-rural area that requires a car. You won’t be able to get to and from class, to get food, to cook for yourself. Even getting up the narrow, steep stairs to your place will be a challenge!

You end up at your uncle’s house a few days later. You’ve pulled out of classes until you're back on your feet. You've gone from having no time to having all the time in the world. A full class load to an empty schedule. Daily training and often two games a week to laying on a couch all day.

What do you do now?

You study the game.

 

 

Edited by 13th Man
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10 hours ago, GIMN said:

Ah, I've seen your comment, and now I understand what you mean!  A much better write up by yourself, of course.  Interested to see where this goes.

It'll likely be very different from yours, and I don't know about 'better' write up.  I just like me some waffling...

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The big reveal

As fascinating as the prologue was, it probably left you with no idea what this save is going to be about.  To make a long story short, this one is going to be all about tactics. Yes, some narrative too, that’s just how I am, but my work is currently very demanding mentally and I don’t have the energy to do the “production values” of The Ballad of Benjani right now. Plus, I mostly just want to dig into tactics, so this save will be focused there. It'll likely be a less month-to-month, and more about tactical evolution and long term narrative.

So now, it's time to choose your own adventure. Will you go with the short version, read a few paragraphs and get on with it, or will you read the long version and get into the meat of what made me decide to do this save? Or, will you read the short version, start on the the long version for a bit before getting tired of it and skipping it? So many choices.

Short version

This will be my first journeyman save where I have to start in a backwater nation (United States) and use my tactical acumen to slowly gain a reputation and climb up the footballing ladder - without control of transfers, youth set up, or even scouting.  It'll be all about how well I manage the first team players that are given to me. It’ll make for tactical challenges as I won’t be able to build a team to my vision, but will have to build my tactic around the team. 

I’ll also have my nationality against me here, though that will likely have to be a self imposed rule as the game doesn’t seem to see it as an issue. 

What does the above have to do with the Prologue? Why the US? [For those answers you have to read the long version]

Long Version

I started the The Ballad of Benjani with a thinly disguised auto-biographical story, and repeated that trick here. Now I’m going to refer back to my Livorno thread which started with a confession. A confession that will lead to what this save is all about…eventually.

Dear reader, it is with a most profound shame that I must confess that I am…an American.

*Gasp!!!* The horror! An American!!! I bet he calls football “soccer”!!!

I am so very ashamed to admit that I do. When I say “football” in my everyday life, I usually mean the sport where extremely large men spend minutes at a time standing around before engaging in 5-10 seconds of brutal and meticulously choreographed violence before standing around again. That does not even include the constant commercial breaks. (For the record, I do love American football.)

Now, what you were probably actually thinking when I ‘confessed’ was either “who cares?” Or maybe ‘isn’t this just peak American to think anyone cares?” If you’re especially woke, you might even be thinking that it’s imperialist of me to call myself American when there are 35 countries in the Americas (North and South). All true, but unfortunately, United Statesian isn’t a thing, and I haven’t personally heard an alternative.

I promise, though, that my United Statesian-ness is key to the set up for this save.

I’m not actually ashamed of where I come from even if I’ll freely admit that the USA has many problems both at home and abroad. It’s also likely that I’ve already outed myself. While I try to use correct terms for football, I’m sure I’ve fallen back on my Yank vocabulary on occasion. 

Soccer! Sideline! Tie (for draw)! PK! GOALIE! Field!!!

 Ok, got ‘em out now.

Yes, yes, you think, we’ve already established that we don’t care, get to the point!

Fine.

Though I am not ashamed of where I come from, what I am ashamed of is American ‘soccer’.  It’s not because the men’s national team is kind of **** (which it is), it’s way deeper than that. It’s just garbage (rubbish) from the ground up.

See What Happens ‘Soccer’

The football (back to world football) that we play makes Route One look enlightened and progressive.  In Route One you have a solid, disciplined defensive block and a target man with runners making anticipatory runs. In the US, we have a strange combination of headless chicken pressing and booting it to the fast ones on the wings or up front. Then we see what happens. 

The ‘see what happens’ is a key thing here - we don’t really have a style or understanding of the game. Speed is all that matters. Are you fast? Can you do a few tricky dribbling moves? If you said yes to either of those questions we’ll stick you on the wings or up front and kick the ball up to you and see what happens. That’s basically the average level of American football tactics. Kick it, dribble, and see what happens.

Is this a massive generalization? An opinion stated as an objective fact? Absolutely, but this is the internet. 

Still, it’s what I’ve noticed in my own experience, from talking to various people from across the country, and from suffering through watching MLS or our national team every once in a while. I’ll get into my ideas as to why I think we’re so terrible at football in a future post, but for now let’s get on with it.  

Point 1 - it’s my dislike of American ‘soccer’ that inspired this save.

Now, at least, we can return to the opening story. 

When I broke my leg at 21, I went from a full class load, training in the afternoon and rehearsals at night (musician) to…nothing. I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t drive, and being vertical for any length of time was both challenging logistically and uncomfortable. I was basically stuck on the couch as a pre-warmed piece of furniture for my uncles’ cats.

But there was football. So much football, more than I’d ever realized.

My college teammates, many of them from Europe, had already mostly educated me on the workings of the European game. 

-Relegation and promotion? You mean terrible clubs aren’t rewarded by getting the best prospects?

-Games can just end in ties? Wait, they’re called draws? Ties are just games? You even earn points for those draws? And those points from draws and wins are separate from goals? And it’s three for a win and one for a draw?

-You just buy players? (It’s all about trades in the US). You can loan players out and get them back later?

Now this is football

Now, lying on the couch watching live football as much as five days a week - and catching plenty of replays as well - I found there was so much more to the game than the man marking, kicking and running and the 90 minutes of running up and down the wing that I’d been taught. I’d watched the World Cup every four years, it was a big deal in my house, and I’d always thought it was the pinnacle of world football. It made me familiar with a lot of the big names, and watching a lot of the ‘06 World Cup while in France has given me a regrettable case of Les Bleus [Treatments include - often petulant players, reality show level bickering, and a sex scandal or two, but a cure has not yet been found.]. Turns out that the World Cup can’t be beat for spectacle or drama [*cough* or corruption or human rights abuses *cough*] but the actual football on display generally can’t match top club football.

In America, the Premier League is by far the easiest to watch. I entered knowing only that I hated Manchester United - I think because they were the English club that everyone bandwagoned onto at the time. I also thought Beckham was a bit of a fancy pants who was more into fashion than anything else and I loathed the Spice Girls growing up.  I’d already tried out a few clubs, but that year I ended up falling in love with the way Arsenal played.  This was in 2007/2008, several years past the Invincibles and the first post Henry season for Arsenal. I actually had started watching them because of Henry - one of the French players I’d enjoyed watching in several World Cups.

I didn’t know it then, but that year was the best it’d get for the club - until maybe this season.  But then, as I lay on a couch day after day I was mesmerized by the quick passing and fluid movement. It was unlike anything I’d seen and I liked the quicker pace that they went at compared to, say Barcelona. This was before Tiki-Taka truly went brutally dull and conservative, and Arsenal felt faster.

Probably the thing that got me connected with the club most, however, was when the Croatian striker Eduardo went down with a horrific leg break just as Arsenal looked set to take hold of the title. He’d been my favorite player at the club (a mantle that would soon be taken up by oddly, Barckary Sagna), the calm, silky way he’d move around was just unreal to me - who was mostly a blunt instrument of a player at the time. To see him lying there with his leg all messed up just as I was starting to walk again created a bond with the club that I would regret and try, unsuccessfully, to break. [Good god was Emery’s Arsenal dull]. That’s not quite how fandom works though, and this year has been pretty nice.

Cosmopolitan

Back in 2008 I didn’t yet know all about the ins and outs of the formations, but my intensive introduction to the real game played by top players turned me into an entirely different player when I returned to the pitch that summer. I saw so many more angles and shapes on the pitch. I graduated college and played in a very cosmopolitan league in New York City (literally called the Cosmopolitan Soccer League) on a team that was 60% non-Americans (mostly English, but several Scots, Frenchmen, and an Argentinian), and it was wonderful. We sometimes changed formation and tactics based on the opposition! Though we usually played a 4-4-2 our manager, a 5 foot tall woman who ran a small empire of small sided leagues along with a few club sides after she’d been aged out of the theater world (not making this up), would occasionally send us out in other shapes when the opposition required it. 

More importantly, she gave us actual instructions and feedback, and picked balanced sides with a good mix of free roles, runners, target men, and playmakers. (She was also completely insane, but that’s another story). Though right footed, I played on the left as one of the team's runners, and she instructed me to play as what I would now call an inverted winger on support duty. I was to keep the width until I got the ball, and my most effective partnership was with a deep lying forward with whom I would often link up, swap positions, or play one-twos to get each other in behind - we created a lot of chances for each other. Other options included playing in the playmaking center mid, sending inswinging through balls/crosses for our poacher - or, yes, running to the byline to put in crosses with my decent left foot if it was on. Being over 6ft and solidly built, we had me as a bit of a wide target man too, with the keeper often distributing it my way for knockdowns to the players around me.

Since moving away from NYC, I have played on a handful of teams and every one has been a disappointment after that. The common thread - all the teams were filled with Americans and we played against teams filled with Americans.

Most Americans are taught to react, to follow a pattern (it’s how most of our sports work) so we don’t anticipate the way I’d learned during my recovery from my broken leg. Off the ball movement is non-existent, anticipation is rare, and positional awareness is brutally poor.

Some of that is likely due to a lower level of play in general, but a lot of these players have great skill and control - often better than my own - but lack the mental/tactical understanding of the game.

Are we ever getting to the point?

So, you ask (getting tired of my ranting rambling and wanting me to get to the point),  am you going to do a career where you reform “soccer” in the USA and bring it up to the level of the international game?

Ha, nope!! I don’t have the patience for that.  Or not that kind of patience.  I know some people do the national team and pick a club team, but I don’t think I’m up for that whole thing - tactics are my thing and that’s what I want to get back to.

Instead, I will have to start in North America and make a name for myself. USA, or possibly Canada or Mexico. Ideally, I’d start off in one of America’s lower leagues, but they aren’t in the game so it is what it is. Some Americans might have a chance elsewhere right off the bat, but I do find it unrealistic that an English club would reach out to a random American like they did in my test save, so I'm only going to make North America playable until I’ve earned a name for myself.

Like me in real life, though, the manager will want to get out of the Americas. [For me, I never literally wanted to leave the US, just not to play with Americans.] 

So, dear reader, this shall be my first ever Journeyman Save! Well, I’ve actually tried the journeyman route a few times but never quite got into it. Having a specific challenge, however, I think might help me.

So, finally, here’s what this save will be about - Born to Run: A journeyman’s escape from America.

I thought about going the real life manager route, but didn’t find a suitable candidate. With this all being pretty autobiographical, I’ll create a fictional avatar instead of a real life player.  I think I’ll make the thread a kind of journal style notebook of the manager’s tactical thoughts and key events.

And now, finally, I tell you about the save rules/goals/etc!

The save rules -

- Start out in North America and look to build a reputation enough to move across the Atlantic. BUT…

- Don’t apply for/take jobs that wouldn’t realistically be offered. I need to build a reputation first.  Americans have a bad reputation, especially as managers, so I need to do enough to overcome that so that a European club would be willing to take a chance.  I may need some audience participation to decide whether I am worthy.  I’ll need to win or challenge several times for a major trophy, develop some players that make big money transfers to Europe (so get scouts watching my games), or massively overachieve with limited resources. Or, I guess, hold my nose and get in woth Red Bull or City Group with one of the two New York teams, to get those juicy international connections.

- Complete tactical flexibility. My avatar will be out to break the mold of many American managers who aren’t tactically astute. Despite my recent adventures with 3atb, I think I’ll gravitate towards a 4-3-3, but if the club would do best with a 5-3-2-1 WBs, or a 4-1-3-2 with a packed central midfield, than that’s what I’ll run.  I’ll be out to adapt based on the club, the league, the board expectations. I’ll set up my tactics, shape and system based on a combination of board expectations and squad analysis. 

The save spice

- If there’s a DOF/GM at the club, I’ll have to let them do their job.  No finding gems and doing contract magic - my focus will be on the tactical side.  If I steer the club in the right direction and earn trust, I’ll take over those duties, but I have to earn it.

Flexible goals -

- Look to start out in a lesser European nation first - possibly Scandinavia? Never managed there before.  Lower leagues in major nations are fine too. Thinking of other American managers, though, it seems like you have to cut your teeth in places like 

- Ideally, I’ll manage in France as it's the European nation I actually spent a fair amount of time in and my French was pretty good at one point.

- While it is a journeyman save, I may end up with a reasonably top club to stay with for a while - maybe one that needs a little push to get to the top of the game. With my affinity if Arsenal comes calling…

Onwards!

So here we go. I started unemployed, with a Continental C license and a Professional (Regional) reputation.  I went in for the man manager, adaptability, and determination side of things. Honestly made me a fairly **** coach, but hopefully I will improve over time.  

I tried to go a little lower in licenses and reputation, and force myself to start in the Canadian league or something, but no one would hire me.  Problem with starting in North America is that the database just doesn’t go low enough for me to truly start at the bottom, so we’ll pretend I did real well at the NCAA [aka College/University] level before making the jump.  

My second attempt bore fruit however. In June of 2022, about three months into the MLS season, I bagged a job that an up and coming coach just might be able to get ...

Edited by 13th Man
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Good Luck with this! I don't like Man U either, but I think of them as the Yankees of Soccer....ahem I mean Football! LOL

 

Also, I didn't care for the "Spice Girls" either ......but if I had the chance back then to talk one of them into a "Horizontal Position" I would have! (Except Scary Spice)

MLS is a fun league and without being able to control the draft it might be hard to dominate the league within Three Seasons.

Especially if you learn the Salary Cap Rules.

 

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8 hours ago, Hootieleece said:

Good Luck with this! I don't like Man U either, but I think of them as the Yankees of Soccer....ahem I mean Football! LOL

 

Also, I didn't care for the "Spice Girls" either ......but if I had the chance back then to talk one of them into a "Horizontal Position" I would have! (Except Scary Spice)

MLS is a fun league and without being able to control the draft it might be hard to dominate the league within Three Seasons.

Especially if you learn the Salary Cap Rules.

 

My dislike for Man U has declined with their...well decline, but yes, the Yankee is definitely a parallel.

We'll just leave the spice girls out of this and never talk about them again before their songs get back in my head and stay there for another fifteen years, but onto the MLS -

I have no understanding of the Salary Cap Rules, no ability to control the draft, and we'll just have to see what my Director of Football is able to do.  Then I'll make do with who we can keep and how that all works.  The idea is relying 100% on tactics and getting the best out of the available players.  We'll see how it goes!

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Football MUNSTERMANN-ager 23 - Graphical Attribute Skin - Credit to @GIMN

A little more backstory for this save.  I’ve been planning this save for a while. I considered trying it in FM21, but Livorno kept my interest.  I was then definitely going to do it in FM22, but then the WCBs came out and I knew I had to go in a different direction.  Now it is time - and now it’s time for something else I’ve wanted to do for a long time - do away with the 1-20 attributes somehow.  I’ve always felt a bit like I’m cheating when I can so comprehensively compare two players in one screen and know exactly how good they will be (with a bit of help from scouting for hidden attributes).  Yes it takes some understanding about how all the attributes interact and how they might or might not fit your style of play, but it still takes the guess work out of it.

In real life, you can definitely tell who’s a good dribbler, passer, or finisher, or who can anticipate and who had good positioning, but that player is 16 positioning vs that other one who’s 14.  I’ve long wanted to get an idea from the player profile, but then have to see them in games, use stats etc.

In the last year, I noticed several people using true attribute masking skins such as @GIMN and @Shrewnaldo.  I knew I wanted to do it…but I am horrifically ignorant of how to go about creating my own skin...and don't have that kind of patience to learn right now.  I also wanted to start my save now, and surely no one had gotten a skin out this fast right?  Wrong.

@GIMN was already well ahead of me, and seeing that he was starting his save with the skin convinced me to take the plunge.

https://community.sigames.com/forums/topic/569678-fm23skin-mustermann-23-v102-updated-121122/

Along with being a journeyman save, and having several other self-infliced restrictions, I’ll also be using his wonderful skin.  I came for the graphical attributes, but am loving the stats that are available in the player profiles.  It is light (I prefer dark, dark like my soul) but it looks great and works really well.  Having the ‘tablet’ feature is also interesting and different, and while I didn’t like it at first, I’ve found myself watching the actual game more rather than relying on ‘points of attack’ and other data that wouldn’t be available to a real life manager in real time.

So now, at last, we move on to the first job…

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Breaking News - Austin FC Hire Lindsay

4 June, 2022

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The firing of head coach Josh Wolff wasn’t a surprise.  Yes, Austin FC is only in its second year as a MLS expansion team, and that’s why Wolff was given more time after last season’s second-to-last placed finish in the Western Conference. The problem is that he made no progress in his second season, and a series of toothless displays have left Austin bottom of the conference again.

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Austin’s last eight games in the league featured six loses, two draws, and no wins with 13 goals against and only four scored. A brief respite of narrowly beating NSL team Rio Grande in the US Cup wasn’t enough, and Wolff rightly lost his job.

So now, the fans must have surely thought, Austin FC will bring in an experienced coach to turn this young club’s fortunes around. Instead, the club hired Brian Lindsay.

[The origin of the name?  A mashup of two names of people I know.  Simple as that.]

If you’ve never heard of Lindsay, you are not alone.  Born in New York City, Lindsay had a ten year professional career as a left winger and a forward, and was known for being both an intelligent and physical player, he was also versatile enough able to play any position in a pinch.  While he had promising spurts of form, he never made enough waves to be considered for the national team or a move to Europe.  As a coach, he’s gained a bit of a reputation in the NCAA [College/Uni level]  as a flexible manager who gets the best out of his players and plays to their strengths.

Coaching a professional team will be a big leap for Lindsay, though, and Austin FC appear to be aware of this.  Sources at the club say that he will solely be in control of the first team and that Sporting Director Claudio Reyna will be responsible for player transfers and contracts, as well as scouting.  There will be questions as to why Austin FC have gone with another untested coach, but the club will argue that a young club might as well take a chance on an exciting young prospect. Already having one of the worst records in the league, there’s only one way for the team to go.

Up.

The question is whether Lindsay is the man to take the club there.

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The Club - Austin FC

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The city of Austin is located in the state of Texas.  Texas is a strange place.  While most areas are regions that have their own general culture (the South, Northeast, Pacific Northwest, Midwest, etc) Texas is kind of just its own thing.  It also keeps threatening to succeed from the US, which would not be a good idea because they also can’t seem to keep their own electrical grid working.

The place is crazy for football… American Football, obviously.  This is ‘Merica!  The strangest part is that this state is obsessed with non-professional football.  Texas is the state where there are stadiums built not just for College (U23s) but for high school (U18s).  That’s right, they spend 10s of millions on  10-20k seater stadiums for 14-18 year olds.  Stadiums that are packed every Friday night during football season.

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Just look at that.  That’s a purpose built, 18,000 capacity stadium for teenagers. America is weird.

Deep inside this strange state lies a strange city - with an unofficial slogan of “Keep Austin Weird”.  With a population of just under a million, Austin is the 11th largest city in the US, but only the fourth biggest in Texas.  This hotbed of music, culture, and food is a strange island of liberalism in a state known for its militant conservatism.

It also has a 100k seater stadium…for the University of Texas Longhorns football team.  

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Strangely, Austin FC is the first professional sports club to call this large city home.

Austin FC are a young club, even by American standards.  Founded in 2018, they began playing in the MLS in 2020.  

The original spice was that the generally good to quite good Columbus Crew were strongly considering a move from the cold, rustbelt environs of Ohio to sunny Austin - a ripe market for a ‘soccer’ club.  However, an Ohio based group bought Columbus Crew and kept them in place.  Undeterred, Austin decided to go ahead with things, and managed to get authorization to become an MLS expansion team starting in 2021.

For those of you who don’t know, American teams can just pop into existence if enough people decide they want it to happen.  Along with Austin FC, David Beckham’s Inter Miami are also new arrivals to the league.

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Austin FC play in the brand new, 20,732 capacity, purpose built stadium and have excellent training facilities.  It’s a side with good talent, especially up front and in midfield.

In real life, Austin had a great season, finishing with a run to the MLS Cup that ended at the semi finals and finishing 4th overall in the MLS.  I actually had no idea about this before starting this save, which just shows how much attention I personally pay to the MLS.

In game however, they remained at the foot of the Western Conference going into June of 2022, and in steps Brian Lindsay to see what he can do…

UP NEXT - Brian Lindsay’s Tactical Journal

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  • 13th Man changed the title to [FM 23] Born to Run - A Journeyman's Escape from America - Austin FC
On 14/11/2022 at 06:05, 13th Man said:

Dear reader, it is with a most profound shame that I must confess that I am…an American.

I'd mock, but I'm a Brit whose chosen to support the Cleveland Browns, so I'm in no position to throw stones.

Claudio Reyna is a pretty high-profile name as Sporting Director - which suggests Austin FC have intentions of being competitive quite quickly.  What's the 5-year plan?

 

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28 minutes ago, GIMN said:

I'd mock, but I'm a Brit whose chosen to support the Cleveland Browns, so I'm in no position to throw stones.

Claudio Reyna is a pretty high-profile name as Sporting Director - which suggests Austin FC have intentions of being competitive quite quickly.  What's the 5-year plan?

 

Very unfortunate team choice, although I was born a Jets fan, so who am I to say anything :lol:

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On 16/11/2022 at 00:57, Hootieleece said:

quoting Matthew McConaughey "All right, All Right, All right!"

Well, no club is perfect.

1 hour ago, GIMN said:

I'd mock, but I'm a Brit whose chosen to support the Cleveland Browns, so I'm in no position to throw stones.

Claudio Reyna is a pretty high-profile name as Sporting Director - which suggests Austin FC have intentions of being competitive quite quickly.  What's the 5-year plan?

 

That is a rough, rough choice my friend.  Even worse than me being an American.  There really isn't a worse team to have picked, though @Fudalis close.  I have a friend who's a season ticket holder for the Jets and he just lives that misery year in year out.  The yearly hope, the yearly crushing of hope. But they aren't quite the Browns.

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The side

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Brian Lindsay’s Journal

June 4, 2022

The board of Austin FC have very few requirements - they want youth and they want to grow the reputation.

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With Renya mostly covering the transfers, that’s not my department.  Growing the reputation of the club?  There’s only one way - results.  They’re aiming to reach the playoffs [finishing in the top half] in the next two years, so I have a season and a half to turn around the fortunes of this club.

The Tactic

The first thought, the first thing to consider now that I have the job is the style of play. What will suit this team? What will help them succeed when the last coach failed? 

Route to Goal

Wolff used to run a 4-2-3-1, which, at first glance suits the team well.  They have several decent attacking midfielders and several players that are versatile enough to play in any of the four forward positions.  The problem is that it congests the wings and half spaces where the wingers Druissi and Rigoni operate - and that’s where the danger is in the side.  They’re both at their best cutting in from the flanks with the ball at their feet.

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[Note, the attributes in this skin are darker the better the player is. So dark blue for elite, light blue for good, grey for decent, and no color for poor. Druissi, for instance, is quite good across the board on the attacking side of the ball.]

Leading scorer Driussi is the star - an offseason signing from the Russian Premier League who bought out his own contract to come to the MLS.  Dangerous with the ball at his feet, he is the main goal threat on the team.

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The pacy Rigoni plays opposite.  Not quite as clinical as his countryman, but he has plenty of skill as well.

The forwards? Nothing to write home about, and the best of them is set to move to the Netherlands in a few weeks. The attacking midfielders? Average at best.

So it seems better to open up those half spaces and flanks and allow the wingers to operate in space.  Get them one-on-one with the fullbacks or into the space in behind.  They are the best route to goal so let's not get in their way.

So it’ll be a front three with two wide players rather than the front four of a 4-2-3-1.  I was first thinking of having Druissi as an attacking inside forward on the left with Rigoni on the opposite flank as a supporting inverted winger.  

But the issue was at left back.  There weren’t any, no natural left backs anyway.  The player who started the season there was traded to New York, and while there are three players who can do a job there, they are all right footed.  Not the end of the world, but certainly interesting.

So the front three needs to keep the width, so…

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It only took one glance at the defense to see that it had to be a back four.  With only four central defenders at the club, there wouldn’t be enough depth to play 3 at the back, so that was out as an option.

It was looking like a 4-3-3 would be the best fit for this side.  This became even more clear as I dig deeper and see that the midfield is another strength of the side.

The engine room

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Club captain Alexander Ring is an aggressive, hard working, all around player that could serve as the engine room of the three man midfield.  Well suited for a box-to-box midfielder.

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Another solid, all around midfielder in Jhojan Valencia wasn’t as good on the ball, but his solid all-around game gave me the idea to turn him into a ball-winning midfielder that would step up and disrupt attacks before they began.

The third midfielder will be used as a proactive attacking threat from deep. He’ll look to link up with Rigoni on the right and be that often deadly runner from deep in transition.

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There were several decent attacking midfield players to fill in the final, attacking midfield role, but Fagundez would get the initial nod largely due to his pace and finishing ability.  This midfield would be dynamic and aggressive without completely throwing caution to the wind.

The backline and the problem of the right footed leftbacks

Now we return to the back four.  With the CBs solid but not great on the ball, I figure I should just let them play and not get to cute there.  I don’t want them lumping the ball at every opportunity, but I don’t want them trying to thread passes either. 

Nick Lima was a good right back with a decent cross, so he would act as a wing back and add some width on the right. 

The interesting thing came on the left.  With no left footed, natural leftbacks, I am forced to be creative, but the solution was one I quite liked.  With Valencia likely to often aggressively press in the center, it would be good to have a bit of cover there.  With right footed left backs, this meant an inverted wing back would be perfect.  

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The issue is definitely that the left flank will be vulnerable. The right flank wouldn’t exactly be lock tight either.  This, however, is a risk I am willing to take.  With Driussi as our main attacking threat, this shape may very well suck the other team up their right flank, giving Driussi space to hurt the opposition.

For the general style of play, we have an aggressive, reasonably technical side that is not short on speed, though it’s not exactly a fast side either.  With the ability of the midfield to work hard, and the reasonable pace - but overall questionable decision making - on the backline, it seems like the best bet is a high line with a compact mid block.  

The Initial Tactic

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I want to keep things simple at first, waiting to see how the shape works before making additional changes.  I’ll start with a low-key possession oriented style, trying to keep possession where possible, but also look to hit teams on the counter with our dangerous wingers.  I do want a bit of width as with inverted wingers on both sides and the left sided inverted wingback will naturally make for a narrow shape.

I will wait to see, but I’ll likely start to have the keeper distribute to the back four and to possibly play out from the back.

Likely tweaks will include pressing higher up the pitch when needed, stopping short goalkeeper distribution.

Also, I wouldn’t be surprised that I might need to instruct both wingers to stay wider to keep the width.

For now I have three days to meet the team and prepare for a US Cup match away to FC Dallas, a team much higher than us in the table.  Plenty of time to get to know the players and get them familiar with the new shape and tactics…

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UP NEXT - The Journey Begins

Edited by 13th Man
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Fagundez as Central Midfielder? He came through the Revs Academy as an Attacking Midfielder (winger) a local boy made good. (Immigrant family moved to Leominster, MA) (Not far from where I live.)

A 4-3-2-1 might have worked with Two Mezzalas and Inverted Wingbacks'.

 

And Yes, I am a Patriots Fan! Settled on them about 30 years ago......before they truly got good.

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I didn't realise Druissi had gone to Austin.  Obviously makes sense buying himself out of Zenit, but definitely a key piece to build around.  I'm genuinely intrigued by Ring's traits, too - a mixture of winger and centre-back tendencies; could possibly make for some interesting opportunities there.

Possibly quite nice to start with a cup match, too - probably not so big of a focus, and a chance to see your team in action.

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On 17/11/2022 at 23:23, Hootieleece said:

Fagundez as Central Midfielder? He came through the Revs Academy as an Attacking Midfielder (winger) a local boy made good. (Immigrant family moved to Leominster, MA) (Not far from where I live.)

A 4-3-2-1 might have worked with Two Mezzalas and Inverted Wingbacks'.

 

And Yes, I am a Patriots Fan! Settled on them about 30 years ago......before they truly got good.

Shows how much I know a lot the MLS! I can see that  Fagundez mostly played on the wing, but he’s basically an attacking midfielder in my system that starts deeper (CM on attack).

- no need to apologize for supporting the Patriots. I mean, yes, I absolutely cheer for every loss, but they were certainly worthy of respect there for a long long time. And at least you didn’t choose the Browns! Speaking of which…

19 hours ago, GIMN said:

I didn't realise Druissi had gone to Austin.  Obviously makes sense buying himself out of Zenit, but definitely a key piece to build around.  I'm genuinely intrigued by Ring's traits, too - a mixture of winger and centre-back tendencies; could possibly make for some interesting opportunities there.

Possibly quite nice to start with a cup match, too - probably not so big of a focus, and a chance to see your team in action.

Druissi is certainly a key piece. He hasn’t actually been super effective as of yet, but it’s also something to do with defenses keying in on him and his presence opens up space for others. Time will tell.

The cup match was a good, lower stakes start - though the lack of relegation in the MLS means that being bottom is a bit less of an existential problem so the league is actually lower stakes than it would be in most leagues.

17 hours ago, keeper#1 said:

Definitely following.  I like the concept behind this save.

Thanks, and glad to have you aboard! Been thinking of doing this one for a while now, so I’m glad it appeals to others too!

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Fagundez is a player I really like - I've actually met him before whilst he was at the Revs and I was visiting!

love this concept and love how you tell a story. I'd lost this thread for a while and was surprised to think you wasn't writing about FM23 but it appears you are so I'm back and following!

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n9GuAI-yz293pdLqlAeeJLsyYGIcCXAsh-0gHJovgD4mLbmG-AB7A4SnP7tFrrsmvd_2ZpB4S0wXXa-eFlo3ger37uDXGVW71wIB1onBprguBd-CoQgKCcadoqdQpEZfcbh7vD9z9IaWHHtoIti_37XA_oV3iSuTQab5s0mdJwmIf09aBSKVr-2_tR72Ew

The Journey Begins

[I'll likely go into less detail as the tactic settles, but here’s an update from the early days.  I forgot to/deleted a bunch of the end match screenshots so it’s a bit scattered on the graphics.  Not sure if anyone but me cares though.  I also have yet to settle on a layout design for this save…]

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There was a bit of fortune about Lindsay’s first game in charge, with FC Dallas being reduced to ten men within the first ten minutes.  Austin still made it hard for themselves, conceding first on 14 minutes.  They scored scored twice and looked set to progres…and then conceded a last minute equalizer deep into stoppage time before getting a third in extra time.  

Both goals against, it must be said, were very stoppable shots. It quickly quashed Lindsay’s notions of giving a young, promising keeper a chance in the first team.

Still, with the caveat they were playing against 10 men, Austin grew into the game and Lindsay was pleased with the way his side played.  The wingers were dangerous, the midfield was tenacious, and the backline was mostly steady - with the left IWB contributing to the deep buildup nicely as well.

A 2-1 win over USL [lower league] side Tulsa a week later didn’t tell Lindsay much about whether his tactics could turn around the team’s fortunes. The largely second choice side got the result and generally looked good, but the opposition wasn’t especially impressive.

Their first real test would be away to CF Montreal in Lindsay’s first MLS game.  The Canadian side weren’t exactly setting the league on fire, but it was an away game against a mid-table side that might show Lindsay just where his team was…

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It was perfect.  Winger Druissi started the game by cutting in from the left, beating his man on the dribble, and scoring with a perfect curving finish. Austin dominated possession (58%) from start to finish, and both wingers got in on the scoring with excellently executed moves that were everything Lindsay wanted.  In the tactical side, Lindsay was now leaning into the possession tactic, instructing his players to play out from the back and having his keeper distribute to CBs and FBs.

Another fixture against FC Dallas, would prove a sterner test, with the fellow Taxas side sitting in 4th in the Western Conference.

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Austin passed with flying colors.  It was at home and it took a penalty to break the deadlock, but it was no less than they deserved.  Both wingers got in behind on several occasions, and a slightly better or there or there would have led to a tap in.

The match actually started with Dallas on top, but then Lindsay saw that Austin were having trouble playing out from the back with the Dallas press.  He decided to still distribute to the backline, but not try to play the ball through that initial line of Dallas pressure. The result was actually more possession - with Dallas having dominated the opening stages.  After that…Dallas created almost nothing and it was all Austin.

This game was also the debut of the first signing of Lindsay’s tenure at Austin…

Transfer Alert!

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The Italian defender became available on Waivers and when Lindsay suggested to Sporting Director Renya that he could be a solution at left back, he was quickly claimed.  He was, to be fair, on a very expensive contract so it made sense that his former club waived the contract for the 35 year old, but he would be a valuable asset to Austin - who had plenty of cap space.

[If none of that made any sense to you, don’t worry, that’s all ‘Merican.  I also, admittedly, don't understand it.  Basically, I saw a good player available, apparently for free, and we basically just took over his contract.  It happens all the time in American sports].

Two solid away results continued to raise spirits at the club.  A goalless draw over a middling Charlotte side and a breezy 3-1 win over a lower table side kept up Lindsay’s excellent start to management.

First Loss - 3-1 

Then came a very disappointing 3-1 loss in the US Cup away in rainy Portland.  Yet it was disappointing more because of the way the goals were conceded than due to the play on the pitch.  The first two goals came from the chaos following set-pieces where the ball dropped kindly to a dark green shirt [Austin in lime green, Portland in dark green].  The third was a defensive lapse.  Still, the second half was much better, with striker Urruti getting a good goal upon his return from injury.

Lindsay had keyed in on the US Cup as a possible way to earn some silverware, so the result was a bit disappointing, but a bad day at the office was the end of that dream.

Back to the league

Up next came a chance to bounce back against a lower/mid table Houston side.  A 1-1 draw, it was a disappointing performance all around, but Austin managed to salvage a point from a corner after Houston had gone ahead. Austin were the better side between the two boxes, but were wasteful in the box, making a fair result.

It was this game that solidified another tweak that Lindsay had been leaning towards - instructing both wingers to stay wider but also to roam from position. Yes, he wanted them to cut inside with the ball, but he wanted them to keep the width a bit more and pull the defense wider - but also to be free to use their off the ball movement to get into space. Getting the ball to both of the wingers in space was key.

Transfer Alert!

8S-xXlpNJJxyKdWqzqImEZ-tGEKohJ-EcGafR0626p1ZLxYLJl4ZLIVVld16rGsI8xt6wEDVr1yTJFEGdJt8D79HzdJsdKcBE5J6R2UZ-hn4jNNDMICpnsoxPz3imeLRjbzQw7IaewcshE1L6SUdYJhqslu5rHkRT7XCnJhghXDbSmabkOldtUGS_ih0iQkkon4Hr0Pv1USv3UFDzQ3htH_pWu5x4jvRfd97mDtwW3kquqxENAMYah18x5u9cqJaGon9HxqMBs0Fi-vM808dGqR-m8GXjyF-0q_TDwx0zMVXUXnMvsM_hqOAApos6dgYHkHLT8BsEYxRU9hGELnjgnmh8jydD1Sgf0V42hXRtNbkkLcDIizAU2f_4ZBA

In comes Brazilian keeper Gabriel Chapeco, the first true transfer of Lindsay’s time at Austin. Everyone at the club agreed that there was a significant weakness at the keeper position, and Chapeco came highly recommended by the scouting staff. Being only 22 he fit the club vision of players under 23. He was in good form, and known for being strong under pressure and consistent, Lindsay was very pleased that Renya pounced to bring him to Texas.

With the squad already at their allotment of foreign nationals, one player’s loan had to be terminated, but he was the third choice striker in Lindsay’s estimation so it was not exactly painful to say goodbye.

Up next was a stern test, Lindsay’s third time facing a solid FC Dallas side that came into the match again in 4th place in the Western Conference. This time it would be in Dallass…

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An incredible performance that shouldn’t have been anywhere near as close as it was. While Dallas scored in the scramble following a free kick, one from a soft penalty, and the last after a series of uncharacteristic errors from Austin, four of Austin’s five were from brilliant sequences of play.

Dallas played a bit into Austin’s hands by fielding a 4-1-2-1-2, maybe hoping to punch through the middle, but leaving their flanks largely exposed especially when they sent their wingbacks forward. Wingers Rigoni and Druissi had a field day.  LB Criscito was played as a FB(s) instead of a IWB to keep the width while DM Valencia was played on defend duty instead of support to fortify the center.

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76ldrbAV496KXSkumlDipyRR26uFhYfpCEhyGntsCRGQPOzfX0ivZKVvsdKE-0pJ8m07XsOJim9gwCCCt6G6e6GYE782i9OiNSmG1Jdr2pDx90NOZEL3-IIRKgh0VClmHn1s0myeOyUhtp0qlr2J-j-L6YwYCcZqg_MyL6pKLnDCWuxv4VsEvHQXYyG-0grn93vtzQlg3mxBcLG0kyBPJv0yYdPaVGOnON4T0tr9G-jw0uTBT2MOnPE79Sn5HxRIBh2c-MZ-7EhlSgWUbJEcPp0SZXO6XB-46d35GMY7XQSxONNVktJGGJM6HTx5SzaKOwdxlSCKJnNIRTH4UJ2SKJAty6G85DN58yfdkUcRSVKM9PACdyZX0ignXsDA

FC Dallas was pinned back, with most of their possession proving less than progressive while Austin found plenty of joy attacking down the left flank.  Austin’s ‘coiled spring’ defensive set up (to be explained in the next post) let Dallas pass around in their end but kept their attackers isolated and unable to keep hold of the ball once they crossed midfield.

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The xG and momentum charts also tell a more accurate story of the game than the scoreline. Dallas had a few moments, but got very lucky in scoring three - none of which were earned from good play.

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Amazingly, after starting his tenure in 14th place, Lindsay’s Austin FC had not only dragged themselves off the bottom, but popped into the playoff spots with their win over Dallas.  While it was true that only three points separated them from 13th place, it still felt like an accomplishment.

Next three matches - 

A 4-0 demolition of a 10 man Atlanta team was followed by two 1-0 wins over the New York Red Bulls and Sporting Kansas City rounded out a wildly successful first two months for Lindsay.

Form Before Lindsay’s Hire

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8 League games: 6 losses, 2 draws, 0 wins.  13 goals against, 6 for.  Only win against a lower division side in the US Cup

Form Following the Lindsay Hire

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9 league games.  7 wins, 2 draws, 0 losses.   20 goals for, 6 against.  Only loss in the US Cup against a decent MLS team.  It doesn’t get much more perfectly opposite than that.

MLS Western Conference

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MLS Supporter’s Shield

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[Note for uninitiated, American sports tend to culminate in the playoffs and regular season form is often just about seeding in those playoffs.  The MLS is split into the Eastern and Western conferences for the sake of playoff seeding, though teams play teams out of conference as well. That means that the Western Conference standings is the important one.   

The MLS Supporters Shield, however, is the overall league’s regular season championship and, while considered less important than the MLS Cup, the team with the most points does gain entry into the CONCACAF Champions League.]

 

Improvement under Lindsay

To the left is Austin’s position graph in the Western Conference, and the right is their overall MLS position graph.

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Typo - they’re in 4th in the Western Conference and 5th overall but that’s still 20 places of improvement in two months.  That means than in only 9 league games, Lindsay turned Austin from one of the worst sides in the league to one of the best - and that while having to overcome a horrible start to the season.

Lindsay expected the league to adjust, wondered what a few bad results would do to moral when the team still didn’t really trust him, and was a bit concerned with the fact that Austin showed a tendency towards wasteful shooting and/or less than great scoring chances, but overall, things were going incredibly well…

UP NEXT - A look at the tactic in action.  Screenshots and stats, oh my!

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Wow - a great start to your career!  Do you feel this is where the squad should be and that they were just underperforming under previous management, or that you're currently enjoying the benefit of the "new manager bounce"?

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1 hour ago, GIMN said:

Wow - a great start to your career!  Do you feel this is where the squad should be and that they were just underperforming under previous management, or that you're currently enjoying the benefit of the "new manager bounce"?

Hard to say. The squad has talent and I think the previous set up didn’t get the best out of them. Still, I think Lindsay’s found a way of getting the best out of a bunch of different players, and also using the too fast for the skill level pace of the MLS to his advantage without putting too much on his players tactically. The “coiled spring” defense that I’ll describe once I find the mental energy to finish my tactics post has been working a charm.

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  • 1 month later...

pYEFq0VRxA5FFlI8Jd915exlRVtV--VKI6FM0-RJpSaPsH1SggyqKBkoQf47yucxr0_OiJHOJtH2BUO-X-Vn6DOnIG8PHzpSzRBi2i9hnOAsmYkNHNWXngp5GXBqxNCAyfYMyjYuUocjU35TYas-K7SllBYyEPFdhEsUfSG_kgcR3jZw3EA3VKnQCAYSqg

[Howdy y’all from Texas! (not where I actually live)  Been too busy to think straight.  Teaching full time is no joke!  Then there was the second annual get-COVID-at-Christmas tradition.  But I’ve been chipping away at the season lately and am back with an update.  A tactical post will drop soon. I'll also try to catch up on what I've missed!]

Lindsay Leads Austin All The Way To the Top!

November 10, 2022

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Early in the season, it was clear that Austin FC were underperforming.  The team had talent.  It was a team with several very good players.  New signing Sebastian Driussi is a quick, technical, and dangerous winger with an eye for goal.  Captain Alexander Ring was a perfect combination of industriousness and skill to lead the midfield. With a supporting cast of skillful winger Rigoni opposite Druissi, the solid all around Urruti through the middle, a destroyer in Ring’s midfield partner Valencia, and Nick Lima excellent at right back was more than enough talent to compete in this league.  They didn’t deserve to be near the bottom of the table.

Still, not even the most fervent Austin FC fans could have foreseen a turnaround the likes of which Brian Lindsay has led here in Texas.  Show me a tweet, a post, or a vlog that seriously claimed that Austin FC should win the Western Conference under a new coach and I will eat my hat.

 

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Yet here we are.  Austin FC finished the 2022 season atop the Western Conference.  Yes they only beat out Seattle on narrow goal difference after a poor showing on the final day - a goalless draw against a bad Colorado Rapids team.  Yes they benefited from an unusual amount of fortuitous red cards across the season, including playing against only ten in a crucial game in Seattle. Any qualifiers, however, are blown away by one simple fact.  

Austin FC won the Western Conference despite giving the rest of the league a fourteen game head start.  A fourteen game head start in which they only managed thirteen points. To say that they do not deserve their position would be beyond disingenuous.

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They beat just about everyone along the way, defeating previous leaders Seattle in Seattle, and humiliating other top Western teams in LAFC (4-0) and Real Salt Lake (4-1). They have won with a short passing game that holds onto the ball well but is not afraid to suddenly go direct, combined with a fearsome trio of deadly finishers that have managed to outperform xG all season long. They ended the season 3rd in possession percentage with 55% and 1st in Goals Scored with 60 in 32 games.  

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Austin FC are an aberration, creating far more and converting at a rate that was 3rd best in the league.

In fact, the only team that Lindsay has not been able to defeat is Portland, who somehow managed to hold Lindsay’s fearsome attack at bay and win twice - following up their 3-1 win in the MLS Cup with a smash and grab, 1-0 win in the league. They remained the only team that can claim that honor in any competition.  If Lindsay had been at the helm from the beginning, they may have surpassed even the Ohio juggernauts this season - Lindsay’s 2.45 points per game over a full, 34 game season would have roughly meant a 83 point haul for the Texas club.

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As it is, Austin earned not only a first round bye in the playoffs, but the label as the hottest and most feared team going into the postseason.

 

[Note for uninitiated, American sports tend to culminate in the playoffs and regular season form is often just about seeding in those playoffs.  The MLS is split into the Eastern and Western conferences for the sake of playoff seeding, though teams play teams out of conference as well. That means that the Western Conference standings is the important one.   

The MLS Supporters Shield, however, is the overall league’s regular season championship and, while considered less important than the MLS Cup, the team with the most points does gain entry into the CONCACAF Champions League.]

The question that many have asked is just what has Lindsay done?  What has turned a team looking destined for lower mid-table mediocrity at best into potential MLS Cup winners?

“When I arrived I saw the potential of this team,” says Lindsay.  “All the pieces were there, I just had to find the right way to assemble the puzzle.”

He has certainly done so, and what is the most remarkable is that it came not through massive shake-ups in personnel - though he and the Sporting Director Claudio Reyna did make several moves during the season to bring in left back Domenico Criscito and goalkeeper Gabriel Chapeco, both of whom have contributed at a very high level. 

Instead, it was through subtle tweaks that Lindsay transformed the team….

UP NEXT -The Coiled Spring

Edited by 13th Man
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5 hours ago, Hootieleece said:

You have to love 50-70 hour weeks with the planning and grading time needed.

I really try not to take work home with me, but it means I have to be full focus, complete attention all the time, full efficiency, no breaks…and I definitely have to think off the clock about how things like how to engage that one little sh%t in 3rd period so he stops distracting the entire class constantly…

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Welcome back!!  Thank god teaching is a financially rewarding career that makes all those hours worthwhile :rolleyes: (joking aside, I appreciate it can be rewarding in other aspects).

A fantastic end to the season, and brilliant that you've been able to maintain that form through the last 11 games.  How do you think you shape up against the Crew, who I assume will be the favourites in the East?

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58 minutes ago, GIMN said:

Thank god teaching is a financially rewarding career that makes all those hours worthwhile :rolleyes: (joking aside, I appreciate it can be rewarding in other aspects).

Well, before shifting into teaching I was trying to make a living as a musician so for me the $ is great! Also teach in a well paying district, relatively speaking. 
 

1 hour ago, GIMN said:

How do you think you shape up against the Crew, who I assume will be the favourites in the East?

Crew were an absolute juggernaut in the East. They finished with 17 more points than Austin (next best in MLS), but also the East was weaker than the West with spots 2-6 in the overall all taken by West teams.

But Austin have been a juggernaut in the West, and if Lindsay’s form had been over 34 games they would have won the Supporters Shield.

Crew is the best in the MLS defensively and Austin boasts the best attack so if they meet it’ll be a contest of strength vs strength.

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Now for my favorite part - tactics! The goal behind this save is to focus on creating tactics that fit the club rather than bringing my own, top down system in. It just so happens that Austin’s best shape was a proactive 4-3-3, but it also demanded something quite different from my previous 4-3-3 systems that I ran a few years ago in my pre-write up days.

The Coiled Spring - A Tactical Post

Brian Lindsay claims he didn’t bring a tactical revolution to Austin FC. He says that there’s nothing brilliant about his team selection. He refuses to take credit for the signings of veteran left back Criscito and promising Brazilian keeper Chapeco, though sources inside the club say he pushed for both signings.

Yet the fact remains, the difference between Austin FC under Wolff and Austin FC under Lindsay was clear from the first game. Under Wolff, Austin were never terrible, but were blunt in attack and shaky in their defending. Under Lindsay, Austin have been practically unplayable, a hardworking side that can score in a lot of different ways and are difficult to break down.

Shape - predecessor Wolff left, Lindsay right

[This is not exact, but based on roles listed in the ‘form’ page for each player listed.  Substitute Pereira for Ring on the left side of the midfield]

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Under Wolff, the midfield was much more stagnant and reactive, with even the AM waiting for service rather than proactively passing and moving.  Keeping Ring all the way back at DM didn’t allow him to be the dynamic, end to end player that he can be, and Valencia was stuck in a reactive, stagnant role as an anchor.  As a box to box midfielder and a ball winning midfielder respectively, now the two are flying around the midfield, making tackles, interceptions and driving the play forward.

This, I think, more than anything, has been the difference.  Yes, the switch to the 4-3-3 opened up more space for the wingers, but the midfield is where the games have been won.  It’s the midfield that personifies the “Coiled Spring” tactical style that Lindsay has implemented at Austin.

The Coiled Spring

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[This screenshot is out of date, there are a few additions

In Possession - play out of 

In transition distribute to FB + CBs

PIs 

Both IWs - stay wider

Front 3 - roam from position]

Austin FC play a possession based system, building from the back and looking to win back possession far from their own goal.  They are not, however, a heavy pressing side. They use possession somewhat defensively, with the ball spending a lot of time in their own half, and their aim is slightly different than gegenpress or even tiki-taka. They look to use the ball and movement to open space in behind for their pacy and skillful wingers to either take on the fullbacks or get in behind.

Lindsay uses an overload side and an isolation side, and central midfield roles that are proactive and flexible.

On the right, IW(s) Rigoni spearheads the attack, he excels at creating chances but can also score when a good chance falls to him.  CM(a) Fagundez has the pace to surge into spaces as PF Urruti pulls the defense apart, and the finishing ability to act as almost a fourth attacker.  WB Lima serves as the width, putting crosses in the box and making himself available to recycle the ball.

The right side is designed to isolate Austin’s top scorer Druissi with the fullback or to give him the opportunity to get in behind.  

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The IWB Criscito sits more narrow, allowing the build up play with BBM Ring and DM/BWM(s) Valencia.  Druissi lurks with the fullback or between the fullback and the CB, sometimes dropping to receive the ball to feet and take on his man, or waiting for a ball over the top.

Shape when progressing up the right

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Shape when progressing up the left

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Here we can see that IWB Criscito has plenty of space to move into, CM(a) Fagundez is sitting almost in line with the front three, and Druissi is isolated against the FB.

What catches many teams off guard is the quickness with which Austin will switch from playing keep away around midfield, to suddenly putting a ball in behind or having one of the wingers driving at an isolated fullback. Though the team is encouraged to play shorter, the roles and shapes often mean that the closest, most available player isn’t always close - and this is by design.

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It is in the way Austin are set up defensively, however, that they truly resemble the coiled spring.  They keep a high line, with a mid block - meeting teams around midfield, staying compact and harassing while keeping their shape.  Here, though, Lindsay relies on the natural aggressiveness of his players.  Watching Austin defend is like watching a snake preparing to pounce.  The movement is subtle, seemingly unthreatening, then suddenly an Austin player is nipping in with a tackle or, most commonly, an interception.

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A few things to note - Austin had many more interceptions than average, and their defensive actions and possession gained position tended to be much more concentrated around midfield than average.  Without heavy pressing and constant tackling, Austin relied on being first to either first or second balls, and doing so far from their own goal, while crucially, pulling the opposition into the Austin half to create space in behind.

Crucial to this style of play - and in keeping the ball in the opposition half once Austin worked it up there - was BWM Jhojan Valencia.  He has become the MLS’s own version of Thomas Partey, a proactive defender, but also one who can pick a pass that quickly starts and attack.

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One of the best in the MLS for both winning the ball and keeping it, he has surprised many with his range of passing to go with his known defensive qualities.  His partner, Alexander Ring, was no slouch when it came to winning the ball either.

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The backline also play their part very well, with both CBs both great in the air and at interceptions, while also tidy in possession.

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The beauty of the counter

It was only when the possession style and the high but compact defensive style combine together that the Spring metaphor comes together.  Austin are accomplished at progressing the ball into the opposition half, but if they lose possession they retreat to midfield, get their shape, pull the opposition onto them, and wait for a loose pass.  Suddenly, all the short, patient passes give way to a sudden, brutal counter.  Suddenly, there is space in behind the opposition backline, and any of Austin’s front four are fully capable of getting in behind and finishing chances.

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Here we can see FC Dallas right after a goal kick.  Austin FC have retreated to about the halfway line with only PF Urutti beyond .  The Dallas left back sees space and charges into it, especially when winger Rigoni actually marks another player and CM(a) Fegundez runs all the way across to try and stop his run.  Dallas pushes out towards midfield.

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The Dallas leftback then sees RB Lima (top green circle) ahead of him, and doesn’t feel confident taking him on 1 v 1.  Valencia (lower green circle) has now moved into position to intercept a pass to the midfielders, and Fagundez’s pace is allowing him to catch up.  The LB tries to pull it back to the supporting midfielder.

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Rigoni nips in and nicks the ball off the Dallas midfielder and turns.  Instantly, Austin’s entire team turns and charges into the wide open spaces left by an eager Dallas team.  Notice how far up the pitch Dallas is - with only three players behind the ball.

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Rigoni plays the ball into PF Urruti, who attracts both centerbacks.

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Urutti stops, takes one step to the side, and plays Druissi in behind, who has the pace to beat the RB trying to cover.

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The chance isn’t an easy one, but Druissi’s shot curls into the far corner.

This goal was a good counter goal, but it was also the perfect example of Lindsay’s Coiled Spring system.  Austin pulled Dallas onto them, giving them space, inviting them to commit men forward.  Yet if Rigoni hadn’t nicked the ball off the Dallas midfielder, he still would have been without many options, with Valencia waiting for his chance, the CBs retreating but ready to pounce.

UP NEXT - The Playoffs

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3 hours ago, 13th Man said:

I really try not to take work home with me, but it means I have to be full focus, complete attention all the time, full efficiency, no breaks…and I definitely have to think off the clock about how things like how to engage that one little sh%t in 3rd period so he stops distracting the entire class constantly…

I tried to not take work home and go in early and stay a little late, but also have work life balance this year at a new school and was transferred to a less direct teaching role.

 

On the other hand, back to FM! The Coiled spring is Brilliant!

I was skeptical of Fagundez as a CM but you seem to be making it work.

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On 29/01/2023 at 11:54, Hootieleece said:

The Coiled spring is Brilliant!

I was skeptical of Fagundez as a CM but you seem to be making it work.

Thank you!

Funnily enough, Fagundez has been very good in the role, and occasionally really really good.  In this system, his pace and finishing ability make him really dangerous as a late runner from deep.

On 29/01/2023 at 21:03, karanhsingh said:

Nice to see you back! Even if you're managing in a league I don't understand at all. Just catching up on all of this. 

Don't worry, I don't understand it either.  I guess I probably kind of understand it better being used to American football and some of its workings with salary caps, drafts, etc - but I've always found it all quite confusing.   MLS is a strange hybrid of American and European models (though much more leaning towards American) so it's extra confusing.

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The Playoffs!!!

It all comes down to this.  This uniquely American idea that the whole entire season is just a preamble to the playoffs!!!  The MLS made it more of a big deal to win the regular season title - the regular season champion wins the Supporter’s Shield, which is a ‘major trophy’ and comes with automatic entry into the CONCACAF (or however you spell it, I can’t be bothered) Champions League, but it’s still nothing like winning the league in most of the world.  At least it’s something though. In every other America. sport, the regular season means nothing if you don’t win the (usually) World Series, Championship, Super Bowl or whatever. Case and point - the New England Patriots once won 100% of their games, made the Super Bowl (finals) and lost. Failure! Boo!!!!

 In case you’re wondering, for all my banter, I’m all about the NFL playoffs right now.  Or was, until my team’s very successful year was ‘ruined’ by an injury that left us completely helpless.  That was fun.

On With the Story

Austin put themselves in a good position by winning the Western Conference and earning a bye - meaning they don’t have to play in the first round of the playoffs.  Instead of winning four matches, they only have to win three.  Still, all that good work would be for nothing if they didn't win the MLS Cup. [A-mer-i-ca, F#(K YEAH!]

First up…LAFC.

LAFC ended the season in 5th place and beat 4th place FC Dallas in the first round of the playoffs in a comfortable 2-0 scoreline and with 57% possession.  They prefer a possession based style and feature former Arsenal player Carlos Vela and Barcelona product Cristian Tello.  Austin beat LAFC under Lindsay 4-0, but that was another of the games where Austin were gifted a red card after LAFC’s striker went in for a two footed lunge after only two minutes.  Would this game go similarly?  Or would the California team give Austin a better match this time?

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In their match against Dallas, LAFC were slow in their buildup from the back.  They passed slowly, cautiously until they got the ball to their front three, wearing down Dallas' concentration in the proper [*cough* painfully dull *cough*] tiki-taka style.

Lindsay decided he would not let them play their game.  He would put them under pressure with a high press and a much higher defensive line - along with looking to prevent short GK distribution - though he opted against a more intense press.  With Austin getting over ten days of rest and LAFC only allowed a measly four following the first round, Lindsay hoped to take advantage of his sides’ freshness.

Spoiler


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A hattrick for star man Sebastian Druissi saw Austin ease their way past LAFC 4-1.  While neither side created much in the first half, Austin ground down LAFC, not letting them play their game, and when the floodgates opened, it was brutal.

The first goal came from Druissi driving down the left flank late in the first half before sending in a pacy cross that was going to be a tap in for PF Urruti, only for the striker to be fouled.  Druissi made no mistake from the spot.

His second came off a sumptuous volley only two minutes later as CM(a) Fagundez found him with a long, floating ball in behind.  The control to hit it with power and precision on the volley was fantastic. [It was not unlike Mbappe's WC Final goal]

Druissi’s third was rather scrappy, but after Rigoni recovered possession inside LAFC’s box (high press!), he found his opposite in a yard of space, and Druissi curled the ball into the net to secure the victory.  Even LAFC’s 81st minute consolation goal was canceled out by a late counter goal by backup forward Djitte.

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Lindsay’s plan of pressing and harassing LAFC worked perfectly, with Austin controlling the match from the start to the finish.  LAFC were able to keep a decent amount of possession, but they remained trapped in their own half. They were limited to only 2 shots and never looked like scoring when the game was in the balance.

In the other Western semi-final, local rivals Portland and Seattle went head to head. [Yes, we consider cities that are 2 hours and 40 minutes away by car to be ‘local’.  This is ‘Merica.]  Seattle had the better record, earning eight more points and a massively better GD.  Surely, Lindsay would not be forced to face his boogey team for a third time?

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Portland managed a narrow 1-0 win over Seattle and so would go into the match feeling confident in their chances.  Portland ran a 4-4-2 that would retreat into two solid, deep banks of four with a PF harassing the opposition DM/deep midfielder.  They’d managed to nullify both Austin’s wingers, and be solid enough through the center to handle Austin’s midfield 3.  In possession, Portland would go direct, and their strikers were strong and good in the air - a match for Austin’s backline.

Still, Lindsay felt confident that Portland had gotten lucky in their last meeting, and expected his side to be able to score and dominate. 

 

Spoiler

Austin v Portland

The match nearly started just like Austin's 3-1 defeat in the US Cup in Portland - with a set piece goal for Portland.  This time, however, the ball looped just over the bar after three and a half minutes.

The game continued in much the way their previous two meetings had - Austin controlled the ball, but Portland defended well, keeping Austin at arm's length while their strikers gave Austin’s backline all kinds of trouble.

On forty minutes, left IWB Crisicto lost the ball around the midway line, allowing Portland to break dangerously.  They flooded forward, catching Austin too high up the pitch.  Portland moved the ball to the right, where RB Lima was still recovering back, and a chance fell to Portland’s right winger who’s shot whizzed past the post.

It was clear that the usual gameplan wasn’t working.  Portland were having little trouble defending against Austin’s wide attack, and were successfully isolating the ball carrier, picking off the ball, and hitting Austin with quick counters.  The Austin CBs were losing their aerial duels and Portland were getting to the second balls.  Portland were playing their way and looking set to nick another win.

Lindsay decided to switch tactics going into the second half.

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Instead of a slow short build up, Lindsay decided to go more direct.  Austin wouldn’t play out from the back either, they would take the game to Portland - but go narrow to allow for quick combinations that would overload and outnumber Portland’s two in midfield while still keeping the flanks honest.  Defensively, he would return to the same high line and press from the LAFC game, hoping to keep Portland from lumping it forward with any accuracy and not allowing them to get numbers forward before the defense was forced to get rid of the ball.

After the break, Austin began to look the better side.  They weren’t waiting for Portland to get into their compact block, but looking to play more direct whenever they could.

Finally, after sixty-two minutes, the breakthrough came.  After a promising attack down the right flank was sniffed out - WB Lima having charged all of fifty yards and put a good ball into the box - Portland cleared their lines under pressure.  Without enough time to get set, Austin’s CB was first to the ball, and quickly sent it wide to WB Lima again.  This time, Lima saw a Portland backline backpedaling, and sent a ball in behind.  Right IW Rigoni charged onto the ball, took a touch, and thrashed the ball into the net.

Austin 1 - 0 Portland

Austin stayed on the front foot, with Druissi dangerous on the left and Ring hitting the crossbar from distance.  Portland could no longer afford to wait for their chances, and Austin feasted upon sides that started to press forward.

The next goal, however, came off an excellent move straight of the training ground (big game meant extra time on set-pieces!).

A free kick near the halfway line was sent wide to Druissi, who charged towards the byline, cut back inside, and delivered a beauty of a cross - the perfect height and weight for Austin CB Romana to power home from just inside the 6 yard box.

Austin 2 - 0 Portland 

Austin saw out the remaining twenty minutes fairly comfortably, winning the Western Conference Final and booking their ticket to the MLS Cup final…

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In the Eastern Conference, the dominant Columbus Crew - winners of the Supporter’s Shield (best league record) by a whopping 17 points! - have breezed their way through to the final, beating Philadelphia 5-1 and their closest challengers Orlando City 2-0 in the conference final.

This would be a tough, tough game.  Both ran 4-3-3 systems that tended to dominate possession - Columbus 59% (best in MLS) and Austin 55% (3rd).  Both had potent attacks - Austin scored 63 times (best), and Columbus 55 (3rd).  Both had solid defenses - Columbus conceding 24 (best) and Austin 33 (4th). 

At first glance it was advantage Columbus, but Austin hadn’t started playing well until Lindsay had turned around the club’s fortunes 14 games in. 

What was certain was that this would be a very good game.

The one issue for Austin, however, was that one of their starting CBs in Columbian Jhohan Romana had picked up a yellow card against Portland, and that (bafflingly) ruled him out of the MLS Cup final.  His backup Julio Casante was not only a less intelligent player, but known to crumble under pressure - he had not fared well when Romana had missed a few games with a minor injury.  Would that be the difference?

UP NEXT - The MLS Cup

 

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Seems like you chose just the right time to overcome your difficulties with Portland!  Fantastic results.  Those average positions in the LAFC match are quite something, too - absolutely pinned them back.

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On 30/01/2023 at 21:48, GIMN said:

Seems like you chose just the right time to overcome your difficulties with Portland!  Fantastic results.  Those average positions in the LAFC match are quite something, too - absolutely pinned them back.

Right!  I was so frustrated when it was Portland who got through, but then beating them was extra satisfying.

8 hours ago, SixPointer said:

Just catching up man. Loved your tactical post. I feel like it’s something I’ve neglected a little this year. Reading your sublime post has me considering one!

Bring home that MLS CUP!

Thanks - I'm looking to focus more on tactics, less on story this time.  I love both, but only have so much mental energy at the moment.  The outcome of the MLS battle is COMING. RIGHT. UP!!!

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The MLS Cup

November 5, 2023

Columbus, Ohio

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While the game was technically treated as a neutral ground, the match would be played in Columbus, Ohio - the home field of the Columbus Crew.

This would truly be a clash of the top two teams in the MLS, with both clubs emerging as the dominant force in their conference.  Both were possession based sides.  Both could score and defend - both had been unplayable for just about every team they came up against. What would happen when a unstoppable force met an immovable object?

Tactic

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Lindsay decided to return to his standard tactic.  Not only were Columbus a side to be respected, but Lindsay hadn’t faced them yet - and his standard tactic was a good jumping off point that he could tweak as needed.

While Lindsay had used the high press very effectively against possession hungry LAFC and counter attacking Portland, Columbus had the quality to pass through the press.  Instead, Columbus seemed the perfect side for Austin’s return to the ‘Coiled Spring’ that had been so effective since Lindsay’s arrival.

Columbus themselves favored a high, intense press and relied on possession.  Setting up in the ‘Coiled Spring’, Austin would invite Columbus to come forward with their patient possession style or press Austin high up the pitch.  This would open up the space in behind and pull Columbus out of position, and Austin had enough players who could pick a pass to play out from the back and hit Columbus with their quick and skillful wingers.

 

Spoiler

Columbus Crew v Austin FC

From the kickoff this looks like an absolutely cracking match.

Austin take the kickoff, drop it to the CBs, and attempt to play out of the back.  Columbus is on top of it quickly and backup CB Casante sends a half-clearance, half-pass towards BBM Ring in the center circle.  The resulting pin ball leads to Columbus regaining possession and surging forward.  Columbus forward Zelarayan beats the other CB on the dribble, but IWB Criscito is the to cover, nicking the ball from him and GK Chapeco picks up the pieces.

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Austin set again, and again Columbus presses fast and high, swarming the ball carrier.  This time, however, Austin beats the press with two quick, incisive passes.  

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First CB Gabrielsen picks out BBM Ring first time.

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Ring takes a touch, and turns, sending it hard and fast to LW Druissi’s feet with two Columbus players closing in.  

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Druissi had apparently heard about Areta’s coaching that wingers are most dangerous when the receive the ball facing sideways and moving horizontally in from the sideline, as he picks up the ball in motion and ready to beat his man with a good move.  The speed of the counter is now removing Columbus players from the play with every passing instant.  Driussi dribbles to the center circle, pulling the DM towards him with the threat of a direct run through the middle - and thus opening the space for CM(a) Fagundez to run into.

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This is where Columbus truly break down.  With the LB too far forward to press Austin, and the DM sucked forward to deal with the threat of Druissi’s central run, Columbus are left with only their CBs and RB.  Worse, their right CB is marking PF Urruti, meaning the RB must press Fagundez or allow the speedy winger-turned-attacking midfielder a run on goal.

 

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This opens the space for RW Rigoni, who Fagundez finds before the RB can effectively press him.  The pace of the pass takes Rigoni away from goal, but with the space opened up for him, he’s able to cut inside and engineer just enough of an angle to score.

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With less than 40 seconds gone Austin are ahead!!!

While Austin’s first bit of possession might have given Lindsay a scare, their second was a perfect example of the coiled spring - and Austin had already exploited the exact weakness that Lindsay had hoped to attack.

Columbus 0 - Austin 1 : 1st minute

Of course, Columbus are a very good MLS side, and they did not crumble, not even after going down early.

Spoiler

15th minute

Fifteen minutes later, the Columbus keeper clears the ball under a bit of pressure after an unsuccessful Austin attack.  Instead of attacking the ball, right sided CB Casante backs off, and DM Valencia is forced to challenge in the air with Columbus striker Zelarayan, and comes up second best. Wi8UW7O96IyN-Q0B_xQ7Mvf3kZwazfwQDB-yNSWOiYpKmVKTxfvUcCEqgBVVcDAxwF3SP0UzkHF_Qk1TLNaKphsRPoWxHcVmb75XAvJW4t11xCVh6DkFkLhX20WcLBvpmJqFUzQTHSA6utCyMb4jifs

The knock down to Columbus winger Yeboah is knocked back to midfielder Nagbe, who one touches the ball into the space behind Austin’s backline.  Casante is found ball watching, unaware of the danger to his right.

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 WB Lima tries to recover, he can’t get goalside of the player.  Casante is well behind the play by the time LW James surges into the box.

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Columbus 1 - 1 Austin 

Like Rigoni before him, James’ finish is excellent from a tight angle, but it was an easily preventable goal.  The run was good, the pass better, the finish superb, but if Casante had dealt with first ball, or been aware of the danger behind him, he could have helped steer the winger wide of goal.  WB Lima was not free of blame, of course, but Lindsay was frustrated again at the absence of his first choice CB.

 

Spoiler

38th Minute

Both sides were having difficulty creating chances.  Entrances into the opposition third were rare, and into the opposition box rarer still.  Most of the game was played in the middle third with both sides trading spells of possession. 

Austin are able to escape a pressing trap on their right side, finding an outlet in PF Urruti, who played it out to Rigoni on the right, who played in BBM Ring as he made a surging run through the center.  Columbus were again chasing back, their defense opening wide.  LW Druissi was making an excellent run down the left into the box, and it was spotted by Ring.

Druissi’s effort, however, lacked conviction, and was held by the Columbus keeper.

 

 

Spoiler

45th minute

Columbus pass the ball along their back line, unable to find a progressive pass.  Finally CM Nagbe gets impatient and tries to play in RW Yeboah.  

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Austin’s wily IWB Criscito intercepts and one touches the ball to BBM Ring.

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Druissi was off to the races the instant possession was won, and Ring finds his run.

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Druissi attracts two players and notices the space opening up.  If he plays the right ball, Austin will have a three on one.

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The ball is excellent and, wisely, PF Urruti realizes he’s offsides at the time of Druissi’s ball, leaving it for Fagundez.  The winger-turned-attacking midfielder, however, is on his weaker foot and is unable to get the power or placement on the shot, and it’s a rather routine save in the end.

 

 

Spoiler

Halftime

The game is living up to its billing as a clash between the best to sides in the MLS.  Austin have had the better chances, but Columbus have a slight edge in terms of possession.  Linsday is happy with his side and makes no changes to the setup.

 

 

Spoiler

End of Regular Time

The second half was largely a stalemate.  Austin had a few chances - one from a set piece, another after PF Urruti nicked the ball off a defender, and finally a shot from distance from CB Gabrielson that grazed the crossbar.

Columbus again were able to control the territory, but created nothing of note in terms of chances.

The match was headed for extra time.

 

Spoiler

End of 1st ET

One good headed chance for Austin CB Gabrielson was followed by a quick Columbus counter and a decent chance for Columbus’ forward Zelarayan, but he drags his shot wide.

Spoiler

End of 2nd ET

The only chance of the 2nd extra time came from a Columbus free kick that was comfortably wide of goal.

The MLS Cup would come down to a penalty shootout.

 

Spoiler

Shootout

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Both teams remained perfect through 6 [screenshots were taking with wishful thinking].  Then…up stepped DM Valencia.  A man who had been crucial to the way that Lindsay had set up Austin to play.

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His shot was too close to the keeper, and it was saved.  Columbus’ next taker made no mistake, and Austin were left with the bitter taste of defeat in a match that was lost by the slimmest of margins.

 

 

Spoiler

Columbus 1 (7) - 1 (6) Austin

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This match simply couldn’t have been more even. 15 shots to 15, 4 on target to 4.  xG of 1.42 compared to 1.4.  Columbus enjoyed the slightest of margins in terms of possession, but beyond that there was nothing to separate the two sides but a penalty shootout.

Lindsay’s Coiled Spring tactic provided an early goal, but a bit of unsure and careless defending allowed Columbus back in.  Austin created the better chances on the whole, but it was impossible to say they were hard done by.

Austin could feel very, very proud of a season which saw them go from one of MLS’s worst sides to the MLS Cup final.  Yet Lindsay couldn’t help but think of what could have been if he’d had his first choice CB pairing rather than the nervy Casante.  Considering the outcome of the penalty shootout, he also wished he hadn’t subbed out the exhausted Druissi - the side’s best penalty taker - and Criscito, cool under pressure, but he wasn’t about to make his tactical decisions based on the possibility of a penalty shootout…

So dear readers, it is time to ask - has Lindsay earned his ‘escape from America’?  He turned one of the worst sides in the MLS into one which could only be equaled by the breakaway leaders of the league.  Would that be enough for a European club to take notice and hire him?  Or does he need to cut his teeth in the league a bit more?  Show he’s not a flash in the pan? I’ll put my own thoughts in one more hidden section.

[One last note on the way out - yes I did enjoy making all those 'hidden/spoiler bits where nothing actually happened'.]

Spoiler

My thoughts - I think Lindsay should have to stay another year at least and prove successful. He might have popped up on some radars after the turnaround at Austin FC, but might need a other successful  year and a good run in the COLAMBOLwhyisthisacroymsolong Champions League.

 

Edited by 13th Man
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Great Season!

The defeat should be used as fuel for another run next season. Hopefully you can keep the core of the team together. MLS is more about Payroll Structure and Squad Building than Tactics. The Salary Cap and the Draft make it much like the NFL. Where a team can go from worst to first.

I admit your tactics are intriguing and I would "borrow" them if I wasn't out to prove the Gegen press is OP!

 

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A gutting way to end the season, but still a phenomenal turnaround nonetheless.  I definitely feel that Lindsay has earned his escape if the right offer comes along - it seems like young managers are able to build a reputation quite quickly in real life and often able to move into bigger opportunities earlier than would've been the case, say 20 years ago - although, I completely understand if you'd want to stick around to win something.  I'm also a little intrigued to see how much the draft/free agency shakes up the standings for next season.

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On 04/02/2023 at 02:55, Hootieleece said:

Great Season!

The defeat should be used as fuel for another run next season. Hopefully you can keep the core of the team together. MLS is more about Payroll Structure and Squad Building than Tactics. The Salary Cap and the Draft make it much like the NFL. Where a team can go from worst to first.

I admit your tactics are intriguing and I would "borrow" them if I wasn't out to prove the Gegen press is OP!

 

Thanks!  Your notes about the payroll etc and keeping the squad together is what I'm most worried about.  There's an excellent first 11, all of whom are signed through next season, but I honestly don't know how it will all work with the salary cap etc.  I'm familiar with it all in theory from the NFL, but don't understand it in a strategic sense.  With Lindsay being so tactics focused and hands off with the Sporting Director calling the shots, we'll see what the squad looks like after the off season...

On 04/02/2023 at 05:46, karanhsingh said:

Oh man that's a really hard way to lose the final!! 

Btw which skin is this i like the metallic colours. 

On penalties is always rough, but somehow this one didn't hit so hard as some other finals losses I've suffered in my time.  I think it was that I never was sure if the side were as good as they seemed (they were) so I never quite had that expectation.

The skin is @GIMN's Munsterman23 skin.  Graphical attributes so you can't quite get into the nitty gritty of player differences and have to rely on stats or, in my case, more the whole general picture and the eye test.  Lot of other things that I have enjoyed a lot.

On 04/02/2023 at 06:41, SixPointer said:

Hard one to take but shows the progress Lindsay has made in such a short space of time. I think he’s earned his escape but perhaps he feels there is some unfinished business. 

Good to have your vote of confidence.  The draft and salary cap issues with MLS have me a bit nervous about next season - in the NFL a championship 'window' can close so quickly and suddenly your stock falls when it's less to do with the coach than the players the GM (aka Director of Football) chooses or is able to keep.

On 04/02/2023 at 17:31, GIMN said:

A gutting way to end the season, but still a phenomenal turnaround nonetheless.  I definitely feel that Lindsay has earned his escape if the right offer comes along - it seems like young managers are able to build a reputation quite quickly in real life and often able to move into bigger opportunities earlier than would've been the case, say 20 years ago - although, I completely understand if you'd want to stick around to win something.  I'm also a little intrigued to see how much the draft/free agency shakes up the standings for next season.

This is the way.  I'm torn between wanting to escape while on top and wanting to stick around a bit and see how this MLS thing works out.  Maybe it is good to keep the ear to the ground while planning for another season in Austin.

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  • 2 weeks later...

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Off season

Lindsay entered the offseason proud of the run his side made to the final - where they came up just one penalty kick short of lifting the MLS Cup.  In all, a fantastic first year in senior management for the young coach.  With the season closing, it was time to look back a bit, and then look forward.

The 2022 MLS Season

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Druissi, the star left winger, was certainly deserving of the honor of being the player of the season.  The Argentine led the team in scoring, and always had the potential to create that moment of magic that could change a match.

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With Columbus dominating the league from start to finish and Austin just about catching up, it’s no surprise that the MLS Best 11 consisted of 5 from each side.  Austin’s centre back pairing were joined by RB Nick Lima and Austin’s two deadly wingers. 

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The first 11 of this Austin side was beyond question.  The unit was exceptional in attack, solid defensively, and brutally effective in transition.  With the mid-season additions of LB Criscito and GK Chapeco, there were no weakness in the side.

Following the season, Sporting Director Reyna signed both star wingers to contract extensions for the next four seasons.  Both included rather low foreign release clauses, but for general planning purposes it would allow Lindsay certainly to go into the next season with the key attacking threat out wide intact. 

The issue was in depth, as the drop off from the first 11 to their backups was instantly noticeable.  The only exception was possibly in midfield, but even then there were only two players that Lindsay truly trusted.

With much of the team signed at least through the end of the following season, and with a great deal of available payroll [wages], it seemed likely that Sporting Director Renya would be able to keep the side mostly intact, though the offseason and the draft always adds a bit of intrigue and chaos.  Lindsay hoped to focus the scouts, and Renya, on adding depth to key areas - especially attacking midfield and central defense.  

Centerback

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While Austin’s first choice centerbacks came in first and 3rd in the Defender of the Year voting, the MLS final had drawn attention to the lack of depth as backup CB Casante was found out for Columbus’ equalizing goal.  Casante also wanted out, and his contract would be expiring anyway - that meant adding depth in this area had to be a top priority.

CM(a)

While Fagundez had proved very effective in the attacking center midfield role, Lindsay was hoping for a more natural central midfielder, which would also allow Fagundez to serve as depth on the wings.  With Austin qualifying for the Champions League, they would need to rotate and could not only rely on the same 11 as they had for most of the 2022 season.

FBs

With the backup RB turning 34, and the staring LB in Criscito turning 35, Austin would require depth at fullback.  However, long before the end of the season, Sporting Director Renya and Lindsay identified and signed 24 year old LB Francisco Venegas on a future free-transfer from Mexican side Tigres.  

 Francisco Venegas

Spoiler

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A right footed player who was a natural leftback, he would be perfect for Lindsay’s IWB role on the left side of the defense.  He was quick, could pick a pass, and pretty much ticked all the boxes Lindsay could hope for in a IWB, and even had the unusual skill (for a WB) of being a good header of the ball.  The one knock on him was his technique, but otherwise his composure and passing ability should serve him well.

Austin would still need a decent option behind RB Nick Lima, however.

PF(a)

The All-Argentina front three was rounded out by Max Urruti.  Though much less effective on the whole than his wide counterparts, he was still a solid contributor to the side.  He even went on a run of 5 games where he scored 8 goals, and he scored a total of 17 in 35 appearances.

He wasn’t a star, but he was good to very good, but he needed a decent backup.  The player behind him had pace and that was about it.  This was low on the list of priorities, and Austin could make do with what they had, but Lindsay hoped that the club would pick up a decent backup or someone to challenge Urruti for the starting spot.

Club Vision

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All pretty doable.  So long as Sporting Director Reyna can keep the first team together, and possibly add some depth, Austin FC looked set to challenge again for the MLS Cup. 

With Lindsay in charge from the beginning of preseason, would he be able to turn Austin into the dominant side in the MLS?  Or would the strange nature of the MLS, with its drafts, salary caps, and other very American quirks pull apart the team?

UP NEXT - The Silly Season

 

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The Silly Season

Some say the transfer window in Europe is the “silly season” but it's got nothing on the MLS.  First there are trades.  In most American sports the only currency exchanged between clubs is players.  You don’t pay a club for a player, you give them one or more players in exchange for that player.  Say Club A wants Star Winger from Club B.  Club B agrees to trade Star Winger to Club A for a solid RB, a goalkeeping and a winger prospect, and a future draft pick.  Sometimes those three players and draft pick are not worth as much as Star Winger, but they will cost less against the Salary Cap, and maybe Club B needs to stay under the Salary Cap - more on that later.

Oh, and then there’s the drafts where clubs pick players entering the league in order of how sh%t they’ve been recently.  Do the best teams go first? NO!  In true American fashion, we design our leagues so that the clubs who are in those leagues are ‘too big to fail’.  We reward the worst teams with the best prospects.  To be fair, this creates very good competition.  In the last 10 years there have been 7 different champions of American Football.  No team or small group of teams has a monopoly on the top spots. Occasionally a team or two will be one of the top teams year in year out for a decade or two, but that comes from having the best coaches or a generational talent.

In most American sports there’s just one draft - mostly of players coming out of college sports and going pro.  In MLS, there’s the ‘waivers draft’ and the ‘re-entry draft’ and then the SUPERDRAFT!!!

All that draft business, though, had little to do with Austin FC’s offseason business.  The only good players in the waivers and re-entry draft were those on high wages, and even though Austin’s wage budget still had plenty of room, they needed to be careful about the Salary Cap.

The Salary Cap

This is probably the most unfamiliar thing for those who don’t know American sports.  Truth is, even as an American I get confused.  This is also the biggest concern in the MLS - and something that my plan of letting the Sporting Director sort out didn’t fully work.

What’s the Salary Cap?  That’s where all clubs are required to keep their wages below a certain arbitrary number - regardless of what the club itself can actually afford in terms of wages.  In most American sports there is little wiggle room when it comes to the cap.  In Basketball, I think you can pay a fine, but in American Football, the cap is infallible.  There are ways around it, like structuring deals to pay more at the back end if the team is in ‘cap trouble’ or making the contract longer, but you can’t beat the Salary Cap.

In the MLS, it is done through player registration.  

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For the 2023 season, the MLS salary cap is $5.21m per year [note: I always like to play with the standard money and style of calculating wages of whatever country I’m managing in.]  You’ll notice, though, a few other requirements - a maximum number of internationals and a maximum number of Designated Players.

The first is interesting, because MLS clubs can trade “International Slots” as part of player trades.  In the offseason, for instance, Austin received an extra International Slot so that they could, if they wanted, have 10 non-American players in the first team.

The second is ‘Designated Players’.  The MLS decided to allow each team a few slots to pay for top, top players.  I think this may have begun with Beckham’s arrival, but I’m not sure.  This is the first wrinkle of Cap Management.  These players can be paid any amount but still only count for $651k against the Cap - which is the max salary for all non Designated Players.  Star man Druissi, for instance, is paid a salary of $2.3m, but only counts for $651k against the Cap.  The other designated players are the opposite winger Rigoni and Captain and BBM Alexander Ring.

Where it gets really weird though, is in the option to use “General Allocation Money” to “Buy down cap impact”.  This General Allocation Money is provided by the MLS and serves as a sort of transfer budget or a way for teams to get under the Salary Cap.  [I’m still not 100% clear on how it works].

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Here’s an example - we have DM Jhohan Valencia on a $400k/y deal, but then Austin used some of the General Allocation Money to ‘buy down his cap impact’ to $200k/y.  

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This means that, in terms of the Salary Cap, Valencia’s wages are only $200k.

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You’ll see above that for the bottom 5 players, their Cap Impact is only half of their salary.  This would prove crucial.    

Austin FC Offseason

With the Salary Cap the most daunting element of the offseason - Austin FC have plenty of cash, but no one can escape the Cap - all player transfers and contracts had to be with the Salary Cap in mind.

RB

Though Nick Lima was consistently good at rightback, the players behind him were a massive step down - and on fairly high wages for their ability.  With their contracts running down, Austin let them go and picked up 19 year old Brazilian rightback Ataide.

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Spoiler

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The young player certainly had a ways to grow, but at 19 he would be happy to take his chances when offered and possibly grow into a very good MLS rightback.  He was a good technical player and solid defensively, and what caught Lindsay’s eye most was his ability to make good choices.

CB

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Spoiler

 

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Sporting Director Reyna brokered a trade with Philadelphia for Canadian CB/LB Kamar Miller.  The Canadian, who had the added benefit of having an American second nationality, was strong, quick, and a decent passer.  He wasn’t the most technical player and his decision making was somewhat questionable, but still, Lindsay appreciated this move.  Not only did it add a solid depth option to the backline, but it also provided depth on the left where Criscito was looking like a potential ‘cap casualty’ that might need to be released.  The 36 year old was on a max contract and with a promising LB coming in, the Italian might be on the chopping block.

PF

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Spoiler

 

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Another acquisition by Sporting Director Renya - a very good looking forward out of Finland for $350k for a very reasonable wage ($122k/y).  This allowed Austin FC to get move on backup forward Djitte who was on $200k/y and taking up a valuable International slot.  The sale of Djitte also added more to the General Allocation Fund, allowing Austin to do buy down more Cap Impacts.

Garcia would also push forward Urutti for the starting role rather than being a clear second best, and might even be an improvement.

CM(a)

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Spoiler

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This one wasn’t actually a new signing, but a player returning from a loan in Argentina.  Pochettino was a very good technical player with pace and an all around game that would lend itself to the CM(a) role.  This would allow Fagundez to play more on the wings - where he was more comfortable.  The issue was that Pochettino was on a max senior wage ($651k) and so Lindsay wasn’t sure he could keep him on the books.

Salary Cap Hell

Several trades were made across the offseason, mostly with secondary players that didn’t concern Lindsay.  One notable player, though, was the promising but unreliable winger Rodney Reyes.  With a wage of $200k and having not played nearly enough, Lindsay was glad when SD Renya traded him away - gaining draft picks, an international slot, and more general allocation money.

With the regular season approaching, however, Lindsay and Renya were going to have to make some tough choices.  They used every last dollar of the General Allocation Money to buy down contracts and lessen the Cap Impact.  No matter what, though, there would be sacrifices.  When they worked through everything they could, it then came down to a choice between two players - CM Pochettino or LB/CB Criscito.  At first, Lindsay thought he would have to release both, but the Redes trade opened up enough funds to pick one.

Pochettino was younger, but hadn’t been on the team the year before.  He would free up Fagundez to play on the wings more - serving as high quality depth there.

Criscito, though, had been a massive boost for Austin when he’d arrived.  He was an intelligent, high quality player who had become a leader in the locker room.  Issue was, he was 36 and with LB Venegas arriving and new arrival Miller a cheaper alternative as both LB and CB depth, it was hard to justify keeping him around.  He was looking like what is known as a ‘Cap Casualty’ - a player you’d really love to keep but can’t quite afford.

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Until, just on the eve of the season, Atlanta United came in with an offer for Jhohan Romana - the young and already excellent CB for two first round MLS Draft picks and $1.8m in General Allocation Money.  Lindsay was a bit horrified that Renya had gone and accepted it - throwing away the excellent CB partnership that was 2 out of the 3 defenders of the year - but it did mean that they were able to - barely - keep both Pochettino and Criscito.

Lindsay hoped that, while his defense had been weakened, possibly his attack had been strengthened - and he was able to keep Criscito, who he rated highly, despite thinking he would have to lose him.

Season Preview

One of the interesting things about the MLS is its competitive parity. While fortunes ebb and flow, it is rare that a team will stay bottom or top for long. The Salary Cap forces squads to change regularly.

For Austin, however, the first 11 was largely unchanged. The loss of CB Romana would likely make them a bit shakier defensively, with neither newcomer Miller or Criscito as strong or aggressive, but the addition of Pochettino in the center of midfield boosted the wing depth as Fagundez could play both there and on either wing. They also had far better depth at both fullback positions and would have a good competition between forwards Urutti and newcomer Gomez.

The roster was smaller - at least in terms of players that could actually expect to play - but much higher quality depth wise. Lindsay could substitute and rest players without such a massive drop in quality. It did leave them more vulnerable to injuries, but it was a risk Lindsay was willing to take given the restrictions of the salary cap.

For his part, Lindsay spent much of the offseason studying for his Continental B coaching license. The board had reservations, worried that it would help Lindsay leave them. They were right to be wary, but Lindsay planned to find work across the Atlantic based on results on the pitch instead of his coaching qualifications. 

UP NEXT - The North American Champions League and some MLS too

Edited by 13th Man
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