Every year, my gaming hype meter goes up to 11 as the release date for Football Manager gets closer and closer. What will be fixed? What will be new? Will MLS get a respectable treatment? What lower-league club can I take to unimaginable heights? The hype for the 2015 edition was no exception, especially after my long-running VWFC-focused series from the previous edition, Football Manager 2014, got me super-energized to try and replicate my feat of multiple trophies in multiple competitions.
So, inspired in part by Jon Szekeres' examination of the 'Caps in FIFA 15, I decided to find out how the Vancouver Whitecaps of Football Manager 2015 (or FM15 for short) turned out. Will the Canadian treble of Voyageurs Cup, MLS Cup and CONCACAF Champions League still be an attainable goal or just a fevered pipe dream?
Well, we're off to a flying start here, aren't we? 17th place?! What kind of bull[expletive] is this?! Apparently, the AI (as informed by the "learned" scouts of Sports Interactive's North American division) has the 'Caps on par with Chivas USA and the New England Revolution as 40:1 longshots to win the Supporters' Shield. The only team worse is the 50:1 Chicago Fire, which, fine, is not that far off. More importantly, how is Toronto FC - they of the "T'rawna Gonna T'rawna" - predicted to finish in 4th with 8:1 odds of winning the Shield? A bit too heavy on the Jermain Defoe hype, don't you think, FM15?
Ugh. This is depressing; let's move on to see how the players themselves are rated, according to the AI representation of Martyn Pert (who boasts a questionably low "Judging Player Ability" score of 8).
Not bad. No shockers here, as David Ousted is a 3.5-star goalkeeper worthy of not just starting but taking up a precious international spot. (I have a long-standing rule in FM that international goalkeepers are a waste. Milan Borjan proved me right in FM14.) Incidentally, I ran a test file and immediately waived Paolo Tornaghi. This allowed me to sign Simon Thomas (remember him?) as a reserve goalkeeper, promote Marco Carducci to the game-day eighteen and save some salary cap space in one fell swoop. Again, not bad.
All the AI staff recommend running the 4-2-3-1 much as the 'Caps do in real life, so let's go down the rest of the roster by each line in the formation.
Yee-ikes. Ethen Sampson, avert your eyes. Oh, and no, that's not a coding error - because of Russell Teibert's incredible versatility, he shows up as a legitimate fullback option according to FM15. That said, his star rating reflects his play as an attacking winger, so take his 3-star current ability with a few grains of salt. Sam Adekugbe's not a bad prospect at all (assuming he hits his 3.5-to-4.5-star potential) nor is Bryce Alderson, who eventually became my captain and a CanMNT staple in FM14. Methinks I'll be signing him back to the 'Caps in FM15 after the winter transfer patch goes through. Finally, I was initially up in arms over Kendall Waston rating only 3 stars in both current and potential ability but his individual ratings for heading, jumping and fitness are all at a near-godly 16, so, that seems pretty legit.
Strangely, Teibert doesn't show up here as a DM despite his listed ability to play there and his real-life time spent next to Matias Laba. Not that it matters - Laba is rightly considered a phenomenal ankle-breaking anchor man and Gershon Koffie is his wingman as a solid ball-winning midfielder. Depth is an issue since Alderson is clearly not at his full potential and Leveron will likely be on the backline, so a signing or two from the academy or waiver draft will be needed to make this team deep enough across all competitions.
It's tough to be upset about the attacking fulcrum of the team being listed as 4 stars. I'm still going to be because come on - have you seen what Pedro Morales can do?! That has to be 4.5-star, if not 5-star quality since the stars are relative to the league the player is in, not a reflection of the player in a vacuum. Still, relative to his teammates, Morales is head-and-shoulders above everyone else, which is correct. Sebastien Fernandez is rated surprisingly high considering what he actually accomplished in 2014 and I have to assume the 2-star current ability, 3.5-to-4.5-star potential ability rating for Andre Lewis is a "best guess" situation since nobody's seen the guy play a single minute in Major League Soccer. Fun fact: upon creating this file, NYCFC immediately started sniffing around both Erik Hurtado and Omar Salgado because... uh, well, I'm not exactly sure why. Hey, if they pay me enough allocation money so I can make a legitimate offer for Simeon Jackson, I'm not complaining.
FM15 still likes Darren Mattocks. Like, likes likes Darren Mattocks. I was amazed when I sold Mattocks for a seven-figure sum in FM14 at the peak of his value when it became clear he wasn't going to take a reasonable contract to stay within the cap. I'm even more amazed the AI believes Mattocks still has this much ability - and specialty as a defensive forward, to which I say, "Guwhaaa?!" - despite the lack of production to the Jamaican's name. Elsewhere, I don't disagree with the Caleb Clarke rating; heck, I'd take the AI up on that 3-to-4-star potential and play Clarke until his legs fall off just to see if I can groom a homegrown finisher. Goodness knows it's a more promising option than converting Manneh from winger to forward. Maybe this is why the 'Caps are listed as 17th; in their entire attacking corps, the AI has concluded the best attacking options are not out-and-out strikers. A defensive forward, a false nine and an inside forward? Seriously? You expect me to score goals and win games with that?
Thank goodness the Football Manager series has a tradition of releasing a wholesale roster patch once the European winter transfer window closes. With any luck, the MLS rosters will get more than a cursory look as the names are shuffled into their correct places and the fifth-in-the-west Whitecaps will get some ratings that better reflect what actually happened this past season. Then again, Sports Interactive still hasn't patched out the Supplemental Draft, so, maybe I shouldn't hold my breath for that one.