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Building a better USMNT together using ‘Football Manager’

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What if we ran a club with the sole goal of developing young American stars?

Uruguay v United States Photo by John Todd/ISI Photos/Getty Images

Like all United States Men’s National Team fans, I was looking forward to seeing how some of the team’s best talent might blend together in upcoming games. Unfortunately, we’re not going to be seeing any soccer until at least May, so why not create my own USMNT fantasy and bring y’all along for the ride? Welcome to Football Manager 20. I’m going to use the game to build the best version of the USMNT I can, and I want you to help.

FM allows you to control every aspect of a professional or international soccer team, except for actually playing the games. You pick the players and set the tactics, but the matches are all in coach mode. The game requires problem-solving skills and a lot of patience, since you can’t just take control of your best player and use mechanical skill to go on a 60-yard slalom run through an entire defense.

To build my dream USMNT, I’ve taken over both the United States and FC Dallas. In real life, Dallas has become the most productive youth academy in America. No club has signed more homegrown players, and no club has more players in the USMNT youth teams. We’re going to take its ethos a step further and build an army of homegrown stars in Dallas to help the USMNT.

I’ve always wanted to see what would happen if an MLS club was more committed to developing players for the national team than to winning trophies or selling tickets, and FM gives us the opportunity to test out this philosophy. It’s also going to take a long time to reap the rewards: the full career of our youngest players will take about 300 hours of gameplay to get through. There are going to be some serious breakthroughs and setbacks along the way. But we are — if I’m any good at this — going to see young American players develop from MLS backups to key components in two teams competing for the World Cup and Club World Cup.

We’ll get more to Dallas in future episodes. The club is in preseason when the game starts, and there aren’t too many young Americans to be had cheaply at the start of the game.

Our USMNT journey starts where any good program-building does, regardless of the sport: ‘CROOTIN.

I went to the page of every dual-national I know of and asked them to commit to the United States. Then I Googled a few different terms like “USMNT dual-national prospects” and found a handful of listicles and message board threads. I asked every dual national I could find to join us. I found a lot of players I’d never heard of, and most of them weren’t any good.

The best players I got to switch were:

Siebatcheu will go into competition with Josh Sargent for a starting spot right away, while the other two are very raw talents who are a couple of years away from getting a shot at the senior USMNT. Hopefully my Under-20 coach calls them up and gets them some experience. Unfortunately, there isn’t a setting that allows me to take control of that team’s roster selection.

There were four notable players who rejected us. I think all four of these guys will come around eventually because they’re not good enough to play for their other nations, and they look like they could become impact players for the USMNT.

Here’s a full list of our best Under-20 eligible players.

I’m most excited about:

  • Our depth at attacking midfielder. Gil Fuentes and Gianluca Busio look like they could both be the superstar No. 10 American fans have been pining after for decades. Efrain Alvarez is currently in the Mexican NT system, but I’m hoping to flip him too.
  • The tricky inside forwards we have to challenge for a spot on the left. At least one of Tim Weah, Jonathan Amon or Konrad de la Fuente is going to become the perfect complement to Pulisic.
  • We rolled lucky on George Bello, who looks like he can become one of the best left backs in the world.

Here’s the next page of decent Under-20 eligible players. If you haven’t seen your favorite young American on either page, they probably got the short end of the stick. Young players have a potential range, and their actual potential is different every time you boot up a save.

Extremely astute observers might have noticed that our list includes one player who is not a real person. Meet Davy Parsons of Pontiac, Michigan. HE’S REALLY GOOD. Attribute ratings are out of 20, for the uninitiated, and the highlighted attributes are the most important ones for that player’s role.

Parsons is a newly-generated (and therefore fictional) player, and I want him for FC Dallas very badly. Unfortunately, MLS rules prevent us from doing so while he’s an amateur. I’m praying he signs for a minor league American or Canadian team, and we can buy him from there. He’s the kind of player we want to recruit to Dallas build up for the national team, and I’m hoping he becomes one of the stars of this project.

It’s clear that Parsons has a big future for the USMNT, but he’s a bit too raw to end up in my initial squad. Here’s what I landed on.

We’re committing to the bit when it comes to developing young players. The only guy who really doesn’t belong here is 32-year-old left back Edgar Castillo, who I imagine will be replaced by George Bello or Chris Gloster — both teenagers — within 18 months. The one extremely raw, not quite ready youngster that is in our squad is Busio, who I’m going to get sub appearances in blowouts and meaningless friendlies.

Our initial starting XI and tactic looks like this. I think that Adams and McKennie’s positions would be reversed in real life, but on the game, Adams is much better in the box to box role than he is in any defensive midfield role. My philosophy isn’t terribly dissimilar from real life head coach Gregg Berhalter’s, though we’ll be a little riskier with our press and countering into space quickly.

I’d like to experiment with some different formations, but we’re unfortunately a bit hamstrung by the fact that Pulisic is a) our best player, and b) not versatile in the game. In FM20 he can’t play central attacking midfielder like he does for the USMNT in real life, so we need to play him on the wing. We also have much better midfield depth than striker depth. Playing anything but 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 would be a waste of our roster.

And here is where I want your help. I’m going to put questions about three different aspects of the team to y’all, and we’ll spend the next edition of this series addressing them.

  • Would you rather see 4-2-3-1? I think it would necessitate benching one of McKennie or Adams, but I’m open to suggestions, especially from people who play the game a lot. Have you run 4-2-3-1 with, say, a box-to-box midfielder and a ball-winner? Does it work?
  • Do you want to see a philosophical change? More focus on a solid defense or counter-attacking instead of pressing? More focus on possession?
  • Any players that you really wish were in the starting XI that it’s going to make you sad to not see play a big part? We’re trying to win games and trophies, obviously, but I’m more interested in how this feels. I want us to love the teams we’re putting out there.

Comment below or hit me up on Twitter, and we’ll spend episode two making a team that y’all can get behind.

Next: Episode 2