The Football Manager Diaries is a season-long playthrough series which sees NYCFC Digital Director Mark Booth taking on the role of New York City FC Head Coach on the Sports Interactive video game, Football Manager 2020.
It’s been six Earth weeks since I last checked in with the opening installment of this Football Manager 2020 playthrough series and in that time, we’ve seen the real Boys in Blue pick up some real form and ascend up the Eastern Conference standings.
But that’s quite enough reality for one article, how’ve my Boys in Blue been performing in that time?
Previously on the FM20 x NYCFC Diaries, we got as far as the Home Opener where NYCFC put Vancouver Whitecaps to the sword with a 2-0 win that helped to answer some of the critics of my appointment.
ON THE ROAD
Following up that morale-boosting win, three consecutive road trips promise to be a real test of our early season credentials as we visit Colorado, Houston and Philadelphia.
First up, the “Jonathan Lewis derby” at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park – a nervy, bad-tempered match which ends with 10 players on each side, with Keaton Parks shown the red for an uncharacteristic kick out at Kellyn Acosta (!).
Despite that, the lads do clinch the three points in thrilling style as Alex Ring blasts in his second goal of the season in the 88th minute, giving us a 100% record through the first two games.
With that, it’s onto Houston and a cross-Conference showdown with the Dynamo which is light work for an in-form City side who are inspired by a dream debut from Gudi Thórarinsson, who nets a first half brace from central midfield to set up the 4-0 win.
Alex Callens and a Darwin Ceren own goal are also scored in the first half, meaning we can play out the second 45’ with a few youngsters on the pitch, with Tayvon Gray, Justin Haak and Joe Scally joining James Sands on the field for a full complement of homegrowns.
Why not, eh?
They say tension is the heart of drama, so I confess I’m a little concerned for this series at this stage – I can’t imagine reporting on 34 wins is going to make for the most compelling prose, but the Philadelphia Union capitalize on my complacency to pump the brakes on this thought, holding us to a 1-1 draw before the first international break of the season.
In truth, we’re lucky to escape the Talen Energy Stadium with anything and I let the squad know it at full-time in an address which lands well with the locker room leaders like Maxime Chanot, Sean Johnson and Maxi Moralez. Think I’m getting on their high performance wavelength finally.
Fortunately for my in-game avatar, but unfortunately for the dramatic integrity of this series, we come back from the international break in scintillating form with a wholly dominant 3-0 win over New England with Man of the Match Alex Ring on the scoresheet yet again, as well as Héber with his first of the season.
We take four points from matches vs. D.C. United (0-0) and Atlanta United (1-0), giving us a three point lead at the top of the Eastern Conference standings going into the first Hudson River Derby of the season.
In real life, I spend plenty of time on the club’s Twitter mentions column and know how high expectations are when it comes to NYCFC, so I know very well that our unbeaten start to the season through seven games will count for very little if I don’t continue that form vs. our rivals over the river.
Red Bulls' boss Chris Armas is determined to get a rise out of me in the buildup with a personal dig at my lack of experience (that one again), despite the fact his side is languishing at the bottom of the standings, well under the Playoff line. Hmmf.
I resist the urge to bite back with some withering putdown, opting for a neutral line about concentrating on our own preparations – better to let the standings speak for themselves and not risk any complacency in the ranks - and we’re into matchday where I’ve got a fully fit squad ready to take on our neighbors.
The opening is cagey and we have to soak up a fair amount of pressure in the opening exchanges, with Red Bulls offering up their typical hard-running press and forcing a couple of early chances which bring the best out of our guy Sean Johnson between the sticks.
I deliver touchline instructions to use the width, giving Ronald Matarrita and Anton Tinnerholm more license to bomb on from full-back and it’s from this source that the opening goal arrives in the 20th minute from that man Ring again.
Imitating real life, it’s the Ringleader who leads the goalscoring charts and this time it’s a towering header from a Matarrita delivery from the left, making it 1-0 with Alex’s fifth goal of the season.
The squad doesn’t look back from there, not giving the hosts a sniff of goal through the remaining 70 minutes and notching a deserved second goal through Maxi Moralez to cap the three points.
New York is Blue. Surely this isn’t going to last…
It was all going so well.
Following that victory over the Red Bulls, I decide to let Chris Armas have it for his pre-game comments, taking the bait on an innocuous press conference question and accusing my counterpart of naivety in an extremely condescending fashion.
Not my normal style, admittedly, but high on my convincing win, I can’t resist and that’s what makes the headlines in the wake of the match.
Is it that slip which sews the seeds for our first defeat of the season to (you guessed it) Toronto FC next time out? There’s nothing in the game that says so, but deep down I think I know I’ve angered the Football Manager gods with my outburst and our defeat to TFC at Yankee Stadium is made even worse by a serious-sounding injury to Alexandru Mitriță who will apparently miss the next couple of months with an ankle ligament injury. Ouch.
Sadly, this defeat and the injury set the tone for a tough spell in the season for the Boys in Blue and a spell of indifferent form as the belief which coursed through the veins of our squad is stymied and it seems my reactive tinkering with the formation and the lineup is not helping.
Another injury to my goalscoring ace Alex Ring, as well as a red card for Maxi Moralez at FC Cincinnati hardly help matters. We can’t string together two positive results together through the months of May or June, with defeats to Montreal, LA Galaxy, LAFC and Seattle seeing us slip from top spot to second place, sliding back into a pack of teams from 1st to 5th, separated by just four points.
I guess I said I wanted drama…
Through 20 league matches, NYCFC lie in second place in the East (6th in the Supporters Shield race), four points behind Atlanta United but with two games in hand, meaning that our Conference title hopes are still well within our own hands.
All is not lost! I’ll be back with part three which will take us through to the end of the regular season, very soon.