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 MLS Playoffs season IRL, but away from the real world, the season is heating up too as I enter the final straight of the regular season as part of the NYCFC x FM20 Diaries here on NYCFC.com
For the uninitiated, our adventure left off with the Boys in Blue hitting a rocky patch in the regular season following my spat with then-Red Bulls boss Chris Armas, leading to a fairly disastrous tailspin from top spot, with a couple of costly injuries also not helping matters.
Picking things up after 20 of 34 games, NYCFC lies in second place in the east behind Atlanta United, trailing by four points following defeats to LAFC, Seattle and RSL in short order.
A trip to Portland is where things really need to pick up or else I can see us sliding down the standings, with a few unhappy players in camp starting to affect the morale and leading to more tough questions in the increasingly fraught press conferences.
I hold a team meeting to try and get the squad onside, giving it the “things have been alright but I know we’re capable of better” line, which seems to have the desired effect, as we go to Providence Park and fell the Timbers by a 3-1 scoreline.
Gary Mackay-Steven is the hero climbing off the bench to complete an assist and score the go ahead goal to send us on our way to a victory which closes the gap on Atlanta to just a point.
The only sour note is another injury to Alexandru Mitriță, meaning that I’ll be without the Romanian for the next few months as we battle for Playoff positioning and perhaps even the top seed from the conference.
IN GMS WE TRUST
With that latest injury blow, I go with Mackay-Steven on the right wing through an uptick in form through the late summer months of the season.
Victories over Philadelphia, Orlando City and Columbus have us back on top of the standings as rivals Atlanta slip to a couple of surprise defeats to FC Cincinnati and Montreal Impact, giving me a slender goal differential advantage at the conference summit heading into September.
Our final engagement of August is the second Hudson River Derby of the season – this time at Yankee Stadium – a match which is over by halftime as GMS comes to the fore with a Man of the Match winning display.
Following a more tightly-run encounter in the road game, it’s a mauling for our rivals this time around with Gaz scoring on either side of the halftime break to give us a 4-0 victory.
Needless to say, my manner is far more magnanimous in the post-match presser, with special praise heaped on our opponents and their Head Coach, much to the satisfaction of my squad, who, as I’ve learned, care not for any grandstanding or petty barbs in this arena.
That win really sets the tone for the back straight of the season as we finish on a high going 10 unbeaten (5W-5D) right up until the final day of the season when FC Cincinnati inflict a disappointing-but-ultimately-meaningless 3-0 defeat on a much-changed NYCFC side.
That result isn’t enough for the FCC, the surprise package of the season, to overturn NYCFC at the top of the East as we clinch that top seed, second place in the Supporters Shield race behind LA Galaxy, and round the corner for Playoffs in top form.
With a two-week international break before the commencement of the Playoffs, I’m admittedly a little concerned that we face Atlanta United who’ve had to come through a play-in game, enabling them to work out any rustiness, especially with the one-legged nature of this upcoming tie.
A training field injury to Mackay-Steven, one of the stars of the second half of the season, delivers another pre-match blow, though we at least do host the game at Yankee Stadium, in a blissfully COVID-free environment were our beloved pixelated NYCFC Fam will be on the bleachers.
I bring back Mitriță in place of GMS – otherwise it’s a familiar-looking NYCFC team with Matarrita and Tinnerholm either side of Callens and Chanot, with Medina, Parks, Ring and Moralez in midfield behind Héber.
It’s a nervy semifinal with chances few and far between in the first half – in fact, it’s Sean Johnson who keeps us in the tie with a top drawer save from Josef Martinez.
This expert handling really pays off in the 50th minute when Héber lashes home a goal which for the next 40 minutes looks as if it’s sending us into the Conference finals… I have the boys running down the clock and looking comfortable as the minutes tick by.
70, 80, 90… until deep, deep in stoppage-time. Four minutes into five minutes added on. That’s when disaster strikes as Martinez finds his way through, rounds Johnson and sends us into extratime, putting the City boys on their knees in the process.
Last minute equalizers in knockout games have a funny way of turning the tides of momentum in the real world and unfortunately for my hopes of silverware, this realism is of course reflected on Football Manager.
There’s no late heartbreak in extratime at least… the goal from Ezequiel Barco arrives early, just two minutes into the additional 30’, and there’s no way back from there.
Despite switching to an all out attack, going direct and playing quicker, there’s nothing my squad can do to level up the match, meaning it’s Atlanta who go on to the Conference final and it’s the end of my Football Manager odyssey and back to the day job for me.
Well, at least until that FM21 drop… here's hoping Ronny and the boys can go a little further in the real thing before then.
Start your NYCFC Football Manager journey on Football Manager 21, released November 24. Visit https://store.footballmanager.com/ to pre-purchase.