Season 14 Preview Lads – We begin our 14th season at TFS standing on the precipice of a whole new world. We have in our sweaty and calloused fingers a new game, a new console and a new lease on FIFA life. FIFA 15 is shaping up to be a polished version of what FIFA 14 promised to be, with more control, more inertia, and more difficulty than in any iteration of the game I can recall. Tackles are harder to pull off (and more rewarding when properly executed), keepers are both better and worse, and the game on the new console is, in a word, stunning. There will, of course, be a learning curve with so many variables in the mix. Add to that a division with 10 virtual unknowns, and predictions become impossible. So instead on focusing on you, the managers, I will do a preview of your teams, of their strengths and weaknesses. As I always do, I'll give an honest account of the tools each manager has at his disposal. How he uses them? Well, that's up to him and will dictate who begins the ascent toward the Promised Land, and who will continue the slog through the lower ranks, dreaming of the glory that awaits him as he tries again for promotion - next season. abolishthefed So let us begin with a quasi veteran, a fellow member who is not new to the game, and not new to Tradition Sports Futbol, but has experience only in the Tradition Futbol League on that other console. abolishthefed joins the Tradition Futbol League for the first time, having been a longtime member of the XBOX league, and immediately jumps to the helm of the dangerous and shifty Welsh side in Swansea City. The Swans default formation, a 4-2-3-1, allows the team to utilize its best attacking options while covering itself at the back. Opposing managers will undoubtedly quickly tire of hearing the name Dyer over and over, as the speedy winger blows by defenders again and again, with his 90 pace and 92 acceleration, coupled with his 84 stamina and 81 dribbling. Dyer is a fast workhorse that will wear out defenses over and over. His opposite, Wayne Routledge, is no plodding mule, but he can’t match his fellow Englishman for pure speed. At the top, we have Wilfried Bony, who is a slightly smaller, much more physical version of Didier Drogba – 94 strength, 89 shot power, 84 jumping, 80 finishing. The man was made for finishing with power, because he has no flare and comparably little speed. Gilfi Sigurdsson sits beneath Bony in the CAM role, and has no standout strengths, but no obvious deficiencies, either. And that sums up Swansea in a nutshell: a solid team that doesn’t look terribly intimidating, but neither does it have any glaring flaws. There are enough strengths in the team, and enough of the right puzzle pieces that, in the hands of the right manager, the Swans can slice and dice through opposition. Combinations of strength and power, strong defense led by Ashley Williams, a defensive midfield captained by Jonjo Shelvey, give little room for criticism of how this team has been assembled. With Jefferson Montero on the bench alongside Bafetimbi Gomis and Leon Britton, this is a team that, managed right, should be in the promotion fight all season long. CTfromDC CTfromDC is the only member of Serie C who has played here before. A brief stint in season 10 went less well than expected, as he led Wigan to a winless 0-3-11 record and a -26 goal differential. But that was then, this is now. Different game, different console and much, much different team. Now at the helm of PSV Eindhoven, a (nearly) perennial favorite among at least two TFS members, CTfromDC will look to dramatically improve on his past performance, and will rely heavily on the Dutch offense to do it. PSV have made an appearance in the league in 10 of the past 13 seasons, five times under the tutelage of RedAL925 and five under redwings8831 PSV is built from the front, with its glaring weakness lying in the comparably low across-the-board ratings of the back four. PSV comes out in a basic 4-3-3 and has good speed at the LB and RB to offset pacey attacking wingers, but the 72-73-73-72 backline should give pause, at least on paper. Going forward, however, things look up dramatically. PSV has Luuk de Jong at the top (solid, but unimpressive in most categories), accompanied by the awesomely named Memphis Depay (of crazy speed , dribbling  and shooting ), and Luciano Narsingh (of even crazier speed … but that’s all in his bag of tricks). The real attack comes through the central midfield of Adam Maher and Georginio Wijnaldum, who each possess dribbling, ball control, agility and balance in abundance. These two will dance through defensive midfields and dish the ball to any of the front three, who can finish on their own or allow de Jong’s poaching skills to come into play. If CTfromDC can either rise above the defensive shortcomings, or just outscore his opponents and win a lot of 3-2 or 4-3 matches, he may find himself in the hunt come December. If not, he’ll wonder what could have been with a team that possesses as much defensive strength as offensive, as PSV is a pure Eredivisie club, built for going forward at the expense of what happens at the back. BigBeansMcGee Our sentimental favorite of perhaps the entire league (no offense, BESHIKTAS ), newcomer BigBeansMcGee joined the league and announced from Day One that he was going to proudly take control of his hometown team, Coventry City. For those unfamiliar, Coventry City competes in League 1, the third tier of English football. They were an inaugural club in the Premier League in 1992 and had spent 34 consecutive seasons in the top flight before being relegated in 2001. The managed to stay in the second flight for 11 years before being dropped to League 1 in 2012. Leicester City are their top regional rivals in the M69 Derby, but with the Foxes in the top flight, the Sky Blue have to satisfy themselves with a manufactured rivalry against Walsall. History lesson out of the way, let’s look at the squat BigBeansMcGee will try to lead up the ladder. Coventry’s default formation is a 5-3-2, relying on Danny Pugh and Jordan Clarke to play both ways as wing backs. Pugh could be a real concern, as his pace  will be far below the wingers he is likely to face from top flight teams and Seb Hines, the left centerback, could be covering for a lot of Pugh’s shortcomings, leaving gaps in the back line. Clarke is a much better option on the right with his 80 sprint speed, decent interceptions and mid-tier tackling ability. The attack will flow through Canadian Striker Simeon Jackson, who has speed, agility and jumping ability to spare, but lacks serious stamina and could become a liability late in the game. His striking partner, Frank Nouble, also has speed and strength and could be a good hold-up option to Jackson’s speed. The middle is anchored by Scotsman John Fleck, who will undoubtedly have a lot of patrolling to do to ensure counterattacks don’t overwhelm the comparably slower Coventry. I for one can’t wait to see how BigBeansMcGee plays with this team. The could be a fair number of 1-0 wins that he steals from opponents, and then sits on for 60 minutes of defending. Even if he wins only a handful – or none at all – he has already earned respect for choosing heart over head, and allowing sentimentality to guide his choice as manager of the squad that may not be No. 1 on the table, but is no. 1 in his heart. Caleb Clark The second EPL team to be previewed is the better-on-paper-than-they-play-on-the-pitch Sunderland AFC, led by another newcomer Caleb Clark. Sunderland has had a tough go of it of late, particularly American striker Jozy Altidore, who was thrown into a system that did not at all mesh with his skill set. Whether Caleb Clark can do a better job than Gus Poyet (or Paolo Di Canio or Martin O’Neill), remains to be seen. The Black Cats are a team looking for an identity. Depending on what set of personnel are on the pitch, the team can play in any number of different ways – hold-up play, counterattacking, quick-passing, possession. They were not built, seemingly, with any end game in mind, so Caleb Clark has some flexibility with which to work. He just needs to make sure he has the right personnel in the right positions using the right tactics, or it could all go Paolo Di Canio on him. The default 4-1-4-1 is probably not the best formation to get goals out of this squad, however, and a pre-season tour of friendlies may help him discover something more appropriate to the personnel assembled. Sunderland has three attacking options: Connor Wickham, Jozy and Steven Fletcher, and two of the three bring something different to the table. As previously mentioned, Jozy is strong, but not particularly fast, has the balance of a newborn foal, is (let’s be honest) a bloody awful dribbler, and may have the worst first touch in international football. But as a hold-up striker, he’s undoubtedly a great target man. You just don’t want him isolated up top by himself, as Sunderland found out. All. Last. Season. Connor Wickham looks to be a slightly weaker, slightly slower version of Jozy Altidore. Fletcher is more of a true poacher – he has strength, but he relies on finishing, heading and agility to get his goals rather than the brute strength of his counterparts. On the left, Adam Johnson will find the space to pass and shoot to offset his strikers’ shortcomings, and will be a necessary component to any Sunderland victory. In fact the combination play of Adam Johnson on the far left and Seb Larsson as the RCM will probably play more of an important overall role than will the contributions of either Altidore or Wickham. These two can pass, dribble and shoot, and cause a lot of mayhem in the middle of the pitch, pulling defenders out of position and creating space necessary for the lumbering hulks up front to bundle the ball into the net. There is enough talent on the pitch and on the bench (Emanuele Giaccherini, Ricardo Alvarez, Fletcher, Altidore), that a good manager can take this team far. The question is, is Caleb Clark that manager? Calhockey10 The Baggies are led this season by Calhockey10, another in a long line of unknowns facing Serie C this season. What is known is West Brom are always trying to punch slightly above their weight. Captained by Northern Irishman Chris Brunt, whose position on the left of the 4-2-3-1 is solidified by strong numbers in shot power, crossing and a curved shot, West Brom’s attack is all about the counter. Quick passing, followed by a fast finisher will be the Baggies’ bread and butter. With Brunt’s crossing on the left and Graham Dorrans’ vision on the right, Stephane Sessegnon and Saido Berahino can wreak havoc in the middle with speed, agility, dribbling and balance. This is a team that can attack you wide or attack you narrow, so an opponent’s defensive shape will determine how West Brom attacks, and vice versa. Playing Calhockey10 could be a study in patience. The back four are anchored by Joleon Lescott and Jonas Olsson as the center backs, probably one of the best half back pairings in the league. Off the bench, West Brom can boast 76 Youssouf Mulumbu in the CM/CDM role, 78 on-loan winger Varela, or Nigerian striking duo of strongman (72) Victor Anichebe or the speed of (76) Brown Ideye. West Brom, like Calhockey10, is chock full of questions – will he attack from wide, or narrow? With Speed or strength? Via possession or counterattack? The team has the tools for any of these, but it’s up to the manager to put them into place. John O'Connor QPR is another one of those teams that may not be as good as its component parts suggest. While none of the players reach an 80 rating, it can boast of 79 CAM Abdel Taarabt, 79 CDM/CM Sandro, 79 center back Father Time Rio Ferdinand, 77 striker Eduardo Vargas, 76 center midfielder Leroy Fer, and poet/philosopher 75 Joey Barton. There really are few holes in this squad that look to be the Achilles heel that will be their TFS downfall. The default 4-4-2 may not be sexy, and Jocko will likely change it up to create something more dynamic – likely dropping Charlie Austin for a more potent attacking threat – but QPR have the personnel to make this a very, very dangerous side. In Season 11, BESHIKTAS took QPR to one of three promotion spots that got him back to Serie A, and did it by scoring 22 goals along the way. In season 8, he came in 3rd in Serie A with QPR – his highest finish to date – and scored 30 goals that campaign. And Season 7 saw him win Serie B with Queens Park, scoring an incredible 49 goals. So it can be done. Taarabt has appreciable if not head-turning speed, but good agility, ball control and dribbling – everything you want in an attacking mid. By contrast, Fer is all about blasting it from outside the box and being a wonderfully stable presence in the middle. Junior Hoilett and Matt Phillips on the left and right wings, respectively, are two of the lower-rated players on the team at 73 and 71, but opponents will sleep on these two at their peril. Sprint speed of 91 for Hoilett and 88 for Phillips mean all these two have to do is get behind you to cause mischief, and then their ratings go out the window. Having been on the losing end of many, many matches to Queens Park Rangers, I can attest that even without the glory players of Djibril Cisse and Bobby Zamora, this team can burn you. They may be the yo-yo Premier League squad who just stay on the promotion/relegation paternoster , but in the TFS, they are a force to be reckoned with. KnightNoles I’ll admit I was surpised by the pick of Olympiakos by KnightNoles. Olympiakos has made appearances in TFS in seasons 3, 4, 6 and 9. Seasons 3 and 4 were managed by the same long-forgotten individual, who saw the team get promoted from C to B, then B to A. Seasons 6 and 9 were not so fruitful for the Greeks, as they languished mid-table in Serie C. I’m not sure what it is about Olympiakos, but they are a team that is always available, but comparably seldom chosen in the draft – and never by TFS veterans. A closer look may reveal why. Thrylos is book-ended by its best players in a 4-2-3-1, with Spanish goalkeeper Roberto at the back and Greek striker Konstantinos Mitroglou at the front. Mitroglou is a good enough striker to start on almost any XI in the TFS, with 80+ dribbling, ball control, positioning, shot power, strength, and finishing. In the box, this is the man to have. The problem is, it may take him a while to get to the box, with his 66 sprinting. Olympiakos could be a bit like PSV or Kim Karashian – looks great from the front, but you’re second-guessing your decision to ride this bus once you get a look at the rear. Moving back from Mitroglou to the middle you have a hodgepodge of talent ranging from 76 CAM Alejandro Dominguez with his wicked long shots and curve, to the quick-but-nowhere-near-quick-enough left and right midfield of Ibrahim Afellay and Jimmy Durmaz. The defensive midfield is a borderline shambles with Pajtim Kasami (72) and Luka Milivojevic (69) trying to stem the tide. Surely Gianis Maniatis is a better body to clog up the middle? But with 68 French LB Fuka Arthur Masuaku holding down the left flanks, one can’t help but feel it’s only a matter of time before the perennial Greek champions start to leak goals with alarming regularity. If KnightNoles can play Dutch Boy with the Greeks (it’s an EU love fest!), then maybe he can carry this team to promotion for only the second time ever. And if he does, it will be well earned. Lions67 For TFS Veterans, Celtic is synonymous with BigSmooth33 . He took control of the Scottish club in Season 3 and, despite his move to an Eastern European hellhole (that was apparently very lovely) with Internet run by hamster wheels, he kept the club out of administration and won Serie C in Season 4. In Season 6, he abandoned his love for an Italian strumpet from Bologna, but returned to his Glaswegian lass for season 7. And then in Season 8 they reached the promised land together and were promoted to Serie A, and he was never heard from again. But now we have a new manager, dusting off the old Celtic mantle. The forgotten toy has been pulled out of the box, definitely more battered and less shiny than she was a few years ago, but still capable of making other managers scratch their heads – and not just because of their accents. Gone are Gary Hooper, Vincent Wanyama, Georgios Samaras and Fraser Forster. They were the heart of the old Celtic. Remaining players of consequence are striker Anthony Stokes (71, with decent agility but not much more), and CAM Kris Commons (75, with good balance and agility, shot power and stamina). And filling in are a cast of characters that Lions67 will have to feel out. The default 4-4-2 has some glaring holes, such as 66 GK Likasz Zaluska, 64 CB Jason Denayer and the combined 65-64 RM-RCM combination is just screaming to be attacked by pace, agility, dribbling or a combination of the three. The bench has deeper options than the starting XI, with Mubarak Wakaso a marked improvement on Callum McGregor on the right, and Scott Brown miles ahead of Nir Bitton in the center midfield. Of all the players in TFS, Lions67 has been one of the more prominent online night in and night out; rare has been the time when he has been absent from the training pitch over the past week. This is a team that needs tinkering, and it seems Lions67 has spent a lot of late nights in the garage. If he gets Celtic humming like the days of old, it will be a fun ride to watch. Lou Now, I’m sure Lou didn’t know the history of this troubled club when he signed the contract in France. But Saint Etienne has a dark and sordid history in TFS (If you're good, boys and girls, Uncle Go Devils may tell you the complete story one day). A club that was once run by an ex-member who Shall Not Be Named (there’s a morality tale here, so pay attention) Saint Etienne was at one point the hottest club in all of virtual football. Scoring goals like it was going out of style, winning games like the world was about to end, Saint Etienne rose from Serie C to Serie A in three short seasons, but was then short-circuited by hubris, animosity within the club and the league, and sheer jackassery. In the end, the manager of the club had to be removed from the league and the club faded into obscurity, its name stained with the taint of ATOC. But now comes forth a hero, to rescue our sullied maiden from her past, to polish her up and get her ready for the ball once more. She isn’t as bright, she isn’t as pretty. Her best years may be behind her (or in Dortmund), but Les Verts still has that je ne sais quois that can lead to a hatful of goals – and titles. With the departure of Pierre Aubameyang to BVB, Saint-Etienne undoubtedly lost its most potent offensive threat, but not its only one. Mevlut Erdinc leads the attack from the front with solid, if unremarkable numbers across the board. Behind him, though, is where Saint-Etienne is dangerous. Max-Alain Gradel scored 10 goals in Season 9 (second to Aubameyang’s 16), and still boasts impressive numbers from the left wing: 91 sprinting and accelerating, 80+ dribbling, agility and balance. In the middle, Benjamin Corgnet provides cover, but little else for his middling striker. His 77 vision is decent, but not outstanding, and the same can be said for shot power (75), passing (77) and ball control (75). Romain Hamouma on the right is more a mirror image of Gradel, with pace (83), dribbling and crossing. Defensively, this may be the best team in the division, starting with 82 GK Stephane Ruffier, and having in front of him L->R, a 75-75-79-77 back line With this lineup and the default formation (4-2-3-1), opponents can largely ignore the middle of the pitch and focus on the attacking threat to the outside. If Lou wants to find real success with this squad, he’ll have to find balance through the middle. If he relies on outside attacks for too long, he’ll be found out and shut down by the better managers in the division, and left to wallow in mid-table obscurity. PhiGuy179 Parma makes its return to TFS under its fourth manager, having seen stints in the league in seasons 3-7 and 11. Parma's attack runs entirely through its 80 center forward Antonio Cassano, who will probably single-handedly determine the team's fate this season. With a default 4-3-3 (False 9), Cassano may be in the perfect role up front to utilize his incredible skills: vision (87), short and long passing (89 and 84), dribbling (86), ball control (91) and reactions (84). An ideal False 9 center forward who can create his own chances or draw the defense out of shape and dish it to his wings. The wings on which he will be relying are Raffaele Palladino on the left and Paolo De Ceglie on the right, two different specimens of the position. Palladino lacks speed, but has dribbling skills and De Ceglie is the opposite. Unlike many teams in TFS, this is not a team that will burn you with speed, but if they start pinging the ball around your 18 yard box, watch out, because you may see something dazzling happen at any moment. The defense can be shored up by replacing Felipe with Gabriel Paletta at CB and Mattia Cassani over Pedro Mendes at RB, but two of the three in the midfield are more worrisome. Any 4-3-3 is going to leave you somewhat exposed to a counterattack because of a reliance on wing play and three committee players going forward. Parma’s midfield will be hampered by the LCM Jose Mauri, whose 58 rating may be the lowest of any starter in TFS. His 85 balance won’t help much when he’s getting blown off the ball (31 strength), or dusted through the middle (55 sprinting). Francesco Lodi, as the defensive midfielder, will be the fulcrum for this team’s attack, and his 87 long passing, 79 vision, had better offset his defensive lapses, or the Parma of Season 14 will look like the Parma of every season it has made an appearance in the league: mediocre.