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Building a better USMNT together: Picking the right tactics for the right team

We’re using ‘Football Manager 20’ to develop the United States’ young stars. But who should make the team, and how should we use them?

Photo of Giovanni Reyna running during a game while wearing a USMNT uniform. He is surrounded by graphic lightning bolts.

I’m using Football Manager 20 to build the best United States Men’s National Team I can, controlling both the USMNT and FC Dallas. Last week, we did a lot of dual national recruiting, took a look at our best young prospects, and set up the initial framework of our team.

At the end of the introduction, I asked y’all what you want to see and how I should set up our team, something I’m going to do regularly throughout this series. I got a lot of great responses, so let’s run through them. First, my former colleague and noted FC Dallas fan Tim Cato.

Where’s Paxton Pomykal?

We’re certainly going to try our best to make Paxton Pomykal a key player for Dallas and a regular for the USMNT, but I am going to need to be equal parts good and lucky to do so. He’s good enough to be a decent MLS contributor, but he’s far from a superstar. I think the game underrates his dribbling and work rate.

Here’s how USMNT assistant Josh Wolff rates Pomykal relative to our other options. He’ doesn’t have mega high potential, and he’s currently worse than Keaton Parks and Cristian Roldan, two players he’s competing with.

His potential isn’t set in stone, though; it’s just Wolff’s opinion based on current information. If we get our training schedules right and he plays well in MLS, he’ll improve. But Pax will likely be passed by Gianluca Busio and a couple of other high potential players in the U-20 pool. Perhaps even by his own club teammates, Brandon Servania and Thomas Roberts.

Where’s Giovanni Reyna?

I somehow failed to notice that Giovanni Reyna, arguably the best Under-20 prospect the USMNT has in real life, wasn’t in the pool I showed in episode one. I found him, tried to recruit him to the USMNT, and got this message.

Reyna looks really good, so I’m concerned we’ll lose him to England. NYCFC has his MLS rights, so we can’t loan him in and trick the system that way. We need to hope that his career stalls out for a bit, or that NYCFC signs him on loan. If he starts playing regularly for Dortmund, or on loan for a 2. Bundesliga team, I think he’ll get called up by England and we’ll be screwed.

Tactical suggestions

I’ve seen some content creators do this and it looks great. I’ve done it in previous editions of FM when it was meta. But a) I want Josh Sargent to be a key player for my team, and b) I’d rather play realistic tactics than cheese the match engine.

I like this idea with almost all of the USMNT’s personnel, but the problem is that Christian Pulisic doesn’t fit into the system. He’s not good enough defensively to play the winger/wingback role, and he’s not good enough in the center to start there, either. I have to play him in an advanced wide role, and I’m not benching him, so we’re stuck with 4-3-3 variants.

From SB Nation editorial manager Pete Volk: With tactics, I like the idea of trying out a hard counter-attack style, basically doing a successful version of the direct style previous real USMNT managers have tried? Might be a way of highlighting the athleticism of the squad and hiding some of the technical flaws? But maybe the solution is having one of each, dependent on the opponent (especially since quality of national teams vary so much).

I really like these suggestions! I’ve decided to take what Pete and Tigers said into serious consideration and come up with three different tactics with enough consistent themes that our players should be able to switch among them depending on the opposition.

Here’s our control possession tactic:

Our counter-attacking tactic:

And our gegenpressing tactic:

I anticipate the control possession tactic being our “base” system for most matches, especially in CONCACAF. We’ll be slightly better than a lot of the teams we face, which means our opponents will likely be sitting back but trying to counter-attack. But the gegenpress tactic will come in handy against teams that are physically overmatched, and hopefully the counter tactic will help us steal results against top teams.

Arriola vs. Morris

From SB Nation soccer team site manager Jeremiah Oshan: I’d love to know how Jordan Morris got left off the squad. He’s a little on the older side, I suppose, but at 25 still has a couple World Cups in him and is coming off a season in which he was arguably the best attacking player (aside from Pulisic) in the USMNT pool.

I think that Paul Arriola is slightly overrated in the game, and Jordan Morris is slightly underrated. Here’s the direct comparison.

Pulisic and Tim Weah are our starting wingers, and Jonathan Amon is a big talent with game-changing speed who I want on the bench. The last winger spot is for a defensive substitution, and Arriola does that job much better than Morris.

Advanced ‘crootin

From SB Nation commenter aanvil: Target Brazilians (and Argentinians). Use your DP slots to sign 18-year-old studs with no caps, then do whatever it takes to hold onto them for five years until they gain eligibility for the U.S.A.

I like this idea, and I think it’s something that will come up naturally if I play this save for a decade-plus. Some of the best players I find to sign for FC Dallas will just naturally be youngsters who aren’t good enough to play for Brazil or Argentina, and I assume other MLS teams will sign players from countries with excellent national teams who will pick up American citizenship in an attempt to play for me.

I’m not going to enact ‘crootin like this as a policy just because I want to see what we can do with players from MLS academies and the draft, but I’ll definitely take opportunities to add naturalized players to the USMNT as they come up.

Next week, we’ll get into the MLS season and talk about the development of some of FC Dallas’ prospects whose futures are very much up in the air. We’ll also play our first match with the USMNT, against Colombia.

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