As a recent graduate from Florida State, I wasn’t sure I’d ever have to write another essay in my life. But when @TotalMLS reached out to me on Twitter to write something for them, I couldn’t say no. A few weeks ago, my dad and I were on the first day of our summer road trip. After driving all night, we reached Cincinnati to watch the Reds play the Padres. Naturally, I’m on Twitter trying to kill time before the end of the game (Padres won 14-3, by the way.) I see an absurd amount of screenshots for starting XI’s on my feed, all from the same account. Investigating, @TotalMLS had posted a line up for an independent Texas National Team, if the state had seceded. A #texit, if you will. Soon, the rosters kept coming in. California surely would challenge Texas. New Jersey would be strong too. Could Pulisic actually play all 11 starting positions for Pennsylvania? It was all talk, but it was a fun exercise that a lot of people forgot about. I wanted to see how far this could go.
Flashback to 2013. I had to have a small surgery during the summer when I was back home. This happened to be the same week as the Steam Summer Sale. I figured hey, why not treat myself while I’m bedridden and can’t really go anywhere for at least a week. This was my downfall. I bought Civilization V and Football Manager 2013. Football Manager(FM) is probably the most addicting game I’ve ever played, and I’m sure you’d agree if you have played it too. Checking my Steam, FM2012 has 160 hours played. Football Manager 2014 was gifted to me the next summer, and I played that game a hell of a lot too. On record, I have 422 hours played. That ranges from getting the Canadian national team into the World Cup, promoting Boston United to the Football Championship, and a mod someone did of a concept series I did years ago where I made a 72 team US Pyramid with pro/rel, taking the Rowdies to the top of the top of US Soccer. Now, Football Manager 2016 is when I started editing the game myself. Every FM game you buy comes with a free “powerful editing tool” to change around the database to your liking. Put Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi in the MLS? Sure, if you wanted to.
I get back from the Reds game and at our hotel I pulled out my computer and loaded the Editor. This was just an initial test to see if I could possibly make a state based league. I figured out some logistical facts, that couldn’t make a team like Athletic Bilbao who could only sign players from that region. My answer to that was hundred year transfer bans, meaning players could move away, but not to any teams in the league. I made a few teams that night, using the 30 best players sorted by state, ranked by the “Current Ability” rating. This is essentially a overall rating on a scale from 1-200, which pairs with “Potential Ability”. These stats are hidden in game, unless you have the DLC of In-Game Editor. The reason I chose 30 players was because surely that was enough to fill a roster’s depth chart, and provide some players in the reserve teams.
When I got home from vacation, I started working on the full league. I ended up with 18 teams, all based on states or regions with 30 good players. I deleted all the loans and transfers, and injuries to make an even playing field. The stadiums are MLS or National Team stadiums from the area. The coaches were from MLS teams if they had it, and other MLS teams if they didn’t. It’s really a simple mod to wrap your head around.
I did a few test sessions to make sure everything worked. One of them I took screenshots of, and lead to me writing this article! After a few game crashes, and a new computer, I was finally ready to get an official save of the mod. So sit tight.
I would just be a spectator in this. No outside influence by me, and would be unemployed during the year. The teams all were fresh and ready to go. I put a tab of home town for each of the teams, just to make sure no one was cheating. There were a few players that were born elsewhere, but grew up in the States and are making their marks for club and country. These players probably all would have been US Nationals had Klinsmann replaced Bruce Arena after the 2006 World Cup.
(Get ready, there’s a lot of screenshots)
Here is the rules of the league so we’re on the same page. Every team plays each other twice, top four teams make the playoffs. Real simple.
The team’s odds going into the season were a lot like what you’d imagine. California, Texas, Florida, and New Jersey were clear favorites if you asked me. Then a handful of teams could absolutely sneak into the playoffs and upset some of the big boys.
Preseason came and went, which still featured actual teams that were stripped down from the new US State Cup. The first round of the Open Cup happened, and now it was time for regular season games. I stopped by a few early on to get screenshots, which didn’t last too long because I couldn’t get a good line up picture due to USMNT call ups, and the games I watched all ending in draws. The highlight of the early season was seeing New York and New Jersey play at a sold out Yankee Stadium. The game was a 2-2 tie with the help of Edson Buddle and Michael Bradley. The atmosphere just LOOKED great for what would be a legitimate rivalry.
Reaching half way, we had our first casualty. The Ohio team would fire their head coach Gregg Berhalter. Darlington Nagbe was the superstar, but the rest of the roster just didn’t step up early on. Neither did some of the favorites. Texas was 7-9-0 at half way, and clearly had a hard time in close games. Florida was 14th, and Illinois wasn’t too far ahead. Clint Dempsey lead the scoring race, to no one’s surprise. Here is what I was looking at halfway through the season.
Adrian Heath was axed from Florida, Paunovic was axed from Illinois, and Heaps was axed from New England. This season had a pretty short leash, especially when most of those teams had heavy injury problems. Zusi and McCarthy went down for Florida, and couldn't put the ball in the net. California and Texas were top of the league, and I wanted to see the two teams go head to head in the middle of the season.
This was a thumping by the west coasters. Where had all the heroes gone for Texas? Well they were on the medical table. Dempsey broke his wrist in the game before this, and would miss 2 weeks. To add to the misery, apparently Tyler Deric was the only keeper on the team. Building the team, the position wasn’t on the list where I built a team. But when Football Manager needs a player, they create a bare bones ghost player to sub in. This all lead to a bad couple weeks and the firing of Owen Coyle.
What was surprising was how not bad of position Texas was in! They were 2 points behind the Caleb Porter lead Carolina team, which was 3rd place in the league. Even so, their 4 points in 5 games wasn’t good enough apparently.
Down the stretch, the playoff race was tight. At one point, 2 games separated 2nd to 9th, with California being the class of the league, and Texas floundering under, ironically, Oscar Pareja after he left The South. Going down to the last day, Cascadia was 5th, and the only team left that could sneak into the playoffs. However, the results didn’t go their way and the final standings were set.
The Caleb Porter lead Carolina team was the surprise of the year, and they had a chance to win two trophies. See, the team had a match up with New Jersey in the US Open Cup final before the playoff game against New Jersey. The 100-1 odd title team to start the season was a well oiled machine, who would take down New Jersey 2-0 in the Open Cup, and would be the first team to raise a trophy in our little experiment.
So I’m simming forward to the first playoff games, which are just 1 leg, and the first email in my inbox was a stunner. Supporters Shield winning California fired Bruce Arena. Turns out they lost 3-1 to New York, and where uninspiring at that. Alejandro Bedoya scored the game winner in the opposite game at the stroke of halftime, leading to a 2-1 victory for New Jersey over the Carolina team. This meant a final between New York and New Jersey for the championship. Here's how they lined up:
I wonder if they’re going to play at Red Bull Arena, with Jersey being the home team! Or maybe the Meadowlands as a good middle stadium between the two. Could you imagine a sold out stadium with 82 thousand fans of teams who are natural rivals! How awesome woul-
They’re playing where? Randall’s Island?
The title of the State Cup was played in the rain at a 750 seat stadium that didn’t even look filled. New Jersey also kicked some ass. Giuseppe Rossi dove in the box, earning a PK, and it was downhill from there. Matt Kassel and Rossi added goals, and routed New York along the way to a 3-0 win.
So that’s it! You could say that California was the best team. You could argue that New Jersey won the good ol’ American way. Each result I simmed ended differently, so it’s hard to tell. I had a great time watching it. I haven’t played past one season, so I don’t know how this league would evolve. I’d imagine the youth system growing, and replacing the stars we know. I just know that I probably wouldn’t do a spin off Canadian Province Cup. But it’s not all bad, Canadians.