Projecting The NASL Fall Season With Football Manager 2016

The NASL 2016 Spring Season was every bit as exciting and unpredictable as you would expect from a short, 10 game format.  We used the popular Football Manager ‘16 simulation game to project the outcome of the Spring Season in March, before it kicked off.  Despite the small sample size, Football Manager was within 4 points of most teams’ results, even if the standings looked quite a bit different.  The game’s biggest misses were being too optimistic on Jacksonville, which it projected to a 19 point, second place finish and too bullish on Miami FC, whose talented roster came together better in the computer simulation than it did in reality. FM16 was also too pessimistic on the Carolina Railhawks.  The game didn’t project Indy Eleven’s magical first place finish, but it was actually pretty close on their points total – they had 15 in the projection and 18 in reality.

Despite the mixed results with the small Spring sample, we’ve decided to give Football Manager another shot with longer Fall Season to see what it foresees.  We have updated the rosters to reflect the new signings, and most significantly added Puerto Rico FC into the mix.

Football Manager calls out what most of us expect to be true off the bat with its preseason predictions:  Puerto Rico FC does not seem to have the talent to compete in NASL. While 2000-1 odds might be a bit harsh, Adrian Whitbread certainly has his work cut out for him in Bayamon.  The game loves Miami FC even more with Ryan, Poku, Lahoud and Farfan in its ranks, listing them with their in-market rivals the Strikers as well as the Cosmos as Fall Season co-favorites.

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A check-in at the halfway mark shows Puerto Rico getting some results despite a goal differential that is more in line with their projected bottom dwelling finish.  Miami FC holds a two point lead over the Cosmos after 11 games, with Ottawa, Edmonton, Tampa Bay and Minnesota hot on their heels.

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In terms of player performances, Juan Arango is bossing the league at this juncture with a 7.98 average match rating. Al Keita of Jacksonville, Tomi Ameobi of Edmonton and Danny Mwanga of Tampa Bay lead the chase for the Fall golden boot with 7 goals each. Jimmy Maurer keeps pace with his Spring Season to lead NASL with 4 clean sheets so far.  Underperforming Rayo OKC has parted ways with manager Alen Marcina, hopefully not at an airport baggage claim.

Perhaps the most shocking result of the first half of the Fall Season was a 3-1 victory by Puerto Rico FC over the Cosmos at Shuart Stadium in which the islanders won the battle for possession:

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Despite a few surprising results throughout the year, the final table of Fall Season sees Puerto Rico FC drift down to their expected last place finish, while Miami FC holds on to the top spot despite a late surge from Tampa Bay that included a 4-1 victory in the final match of the season over the Cosmos. The Cosmos rested Jimmy Maurer for the match, and Tampa Bay took advantage going up 3-0 by the 21st minute thanks to a Georgi Hristov brace.

Beyond the Cosmos malaise, other teams struggled somewhat surprisingly.  The addition of Gerardo Torrado didn’t prevent a Fall Season slump for the Indy Eleven, and Minnesota United slid in the table as they struggled to score goals, with Christian Ramirez shockingly falling to notch a single goal in the Fall in part due to injuries.

 

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Like Tampa Bay, Carolina surged ahead of the Cosmos in the Fall Standings with a 3-1 victory over league leaders Miami FC on the final day of the season, but it wasn’t enough to pass New York for the second spot in the combined table and the final spot in the Championship playoffs.  The resurgence of 10-goal Matt Fondy after his move to the Railhawks helped Carolina make their move. Taken with the real results of the Spring, the combined table would look like:

  1. Tampa Bay Rowdies – 57 points
  2. New York Cosmos – 53 points
  3. Carolina Railhawks – 51 points
  4. Miami FC – 50 points
  5. Fort Lauderdale Strikers – 48 points
  6. FC Edmonton – 43 points
  7. Rayo OKC – 42 points
  8. Minnesota United – 41 points
  9. Jacksonville Armada – 39 points (-2 goal diff)
  10. Indy Eleven – 39 points (-3 goal diff)
  11. Ottawa Fury – 38 points
  12. Puerto Rico FC – 15 points

These results would mean Indy Eleven (as Spring Season winners) and Miami FC (as Fall Season winners) host Tampa Bay (third seed) and the Cosmos (fourth seed) respectively in the playoffs.   I didn’t simulate the Championship and the Soccer Bowl, but the Rowdies seemed to have all the momentum headed into the playoffs. 

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Al Keita and Dario Cvitanich continued their Fall Season golden boot duel into the second half of matches, ending in a draw.  Cvitanich’s two goals in the real Spring Season mean he would be the golden boot winner. The Argentine striker also ended up with the highest average rating for the Fall, as Juan Arango’s performances dropped off during the Cosmos slump.

What can we expect in reality?  

While I agree that Miami FC should be much better in the Fall, after making some key signings that are familiar with the league and should need little time to acclimate, I think the game continues to be a bit overly optimistic on them.  I also agree that without a few signings, especially a key one in central defense, the Cosmos are vulnerable to a slump if injuries strike.  Roversio is already down with a hamstring injury suffered in the New England Open Cup match.  Carlos Mendes also got hurt for a few weeks during the sim, and if both players were out, New York would be in trouble.

I think the game is too pessimistic on Indy Eleven, partially because it rates Eamon Zayed too low and because I think Torrado will make a bigger impact.  Zayed proved himself to be a huge threat in the league, which was not reflected in the game.  Similarly, I can’t see Minnesota being that bad in the Fall or Ramirez going goalless.  The resulting playoff projections of Indy, Miami, Tampa Bay and the Cosmos are realistic, but I could just as easily see Minnesota, Carolina or Fort Lauderdale replacing Miami.  Ultimately NASL is a very competitive league, and outside of Puerto Rico FC, I think any team could go on a surprising run into the playoffs.