Falling at the Final Hurdle

Ten minutes into the second leg of the Liga Postbon final and we hold a 2-0 lead only to see it evaporate before halftime. In the 45th minute, our opponents Millonarios scored their third to put us 3-2 down and heading towards defeat. We were unable to turn it around and despite our efforts, we would not win the title at this attempt. I am not, however, here to tell you in great detail the final or the games leading up to it. Instead, I am writing this over a week after the final whistle, the first time I have loaded the game since.

To lose from a winning position was tough to take, to come within one game of taking the title and miss out left an empty feeling inside. But am I right to feel this way? Looking back over my aims set out in our squad introduction piece I set out two goals for the season ahead, and then one more personal one. Essentially the first task at hand being a newly promoted side was to avoid relegation. Starting the season at the bottom of the average points league with Jaguares and Tigres (called Expreso Rojo due to name fix). These two sides are still at the bottom of the table and we have now pulled out a 14 point gap at the halfway stage.

Average points table at the halfway stage sees América clear of danger for now

The second and more long-term aim was to win the Copa Libertadores. We would have qualified for next seasons competition had we won the final, but now we must wait and either win the second (Finalizacion) phase or be one of the top two sides in the league which have not already qualified. Although qualification is not yet confirmed, we do have a strong possibility, being that we currently sit 3rd in the rankings. From this first phase of the season, I personally wanted us to finish in the top eight and qualify for the knockout rounds. We achieved that with a game to spare, although following a defeat to rivals Deportivo in the last league game we finished only in 8th.

Phase one final table with the top eight heading into the knockout rounds

There were no major surprises in the final league games since my last post, the 2-0 win over Deportivo Cali. Our only two defeats came in the return game against Cali where we relaxed a little after qualification, and the 2-1 loss at surprise high finishers Aguilas Pereira. The other notable result was the 0-0 home game against Millonairos. They had been the runaway leaders all season and I, although our 4-1-4-1 neutralised them, we were uninspired in attack.

League results for América at the end of the standard league phase

I thought we would have as good a chance of any side in the knockout phase as we had not been vastly outclassed all season. The quarter-final draw was one I knew we could progress from but it was perhaps a little more tricky than I first thought. From the pre-match analysis I set my side up to face Deportes in a standard 4-4-2 formation, however, for their home leg, they really went for it coming out of the dressing room in a narrow 4-3-3.

Results from the knockout stage see América fall at the final hurdle

Looking back on this portion of the season, I should be pleased. Although not all aims are achieved yet we are well on track, so why did it take so long to come to this understanding. Immediately after the final game I wrote down my reaction and used words such as ‘crushing defeat’ and ‘low motivation’. Even the players’ virtual motivation was reduced. After the game, I told them they had done well and could be proud but not a single reaction was noted.

So how do we, and I mean that not just as a team, but as FM player in general, pick ourselves up after defeat. I sought advice from people who had been in a similar situation in recent weeks.

FMSamo went through a similar thing in his recent post and missed out on promotion in the playoff final. Although his first season in the league he very nearly went straight up again, falling at the last hurdle.

Losing in such a big match, such as the playoff final to go up to the top tier, was tough to take. My side was predicted and expected to finish mid-table, so I was delighted by our magnificent run of form to take us into the playoffs in the first place. This was the first thing I thought about in the aftermath of the final defeat. The second thing was our incredible comeback in the second leg from 2-0 down in the first leg of the playoff semi final. I classed it as purely lucky that we were there in the first place. We were overachieving, but performing brilliantly. We just fell short in the final and didn’t embarrass ourselves by any stretch. Getting beaten is of course disappointing but when I see positives in our play and performances, I never hammer my team. We have ambitions to reach the top tier, and the opportunity to continue to build and battle to get there is what keeps me going.

Perhaps recognising that promotion in that season would have been a little early, Samo now looks forward to building a better challenge the following season. Although he overachieved, it is nice to see his disappointment at losing in the final.

Dan Gear came within one point of winning the Turkish league in his second season with unfancied Kasimpasa. Although leading for some of the season he let the lead slip and finished second.

Part of me wasn’t concerned about missing out because I’m ahead of my targets, I set myself 5 seasons, I’d rather focus on the step forward that we did rather than what we didn’t. I’d of taken 2nd all season if offered to me

Good to see that Dan can reflect on his positive achievement and remember his aims from the beginning of the save. From following along (which I recommend you do) he is aiming to be realistic and admits himself that a title win at this stage would perhaps be too early. Dan’s Slack channel is #welcometokasimpasa where most of his updates are.

Small shout out to JMPenetra who I was going to trouble for a quote if he finished second in his save but he only went and won the title! I definitely recommend catching up with his save on Slack (#ballwinningpenetra)

The thing which the above situations have in common is that they overachieved initially, only to fail at the final hurdle. My América side had this same path, we were not expected to be competing for the title at such an early stage on our journey, but found ourselves with the taste of victory close by. This was then taken away by worthy winners, and finding the motivation to carry on can be difficult.

We performed very well, overachieving from what the game predicted we would do and well on the path to our aims. So why am I so deflated? Partly it is because we had the lead and then lost but also it is the feeling that we never really performed that well. Ahead of the coming season, I am not certain that we will get another shot at the title in the near future if we continue the same way. I am almost in limbo, not sure where to improve. On one hand, the league season could have been better, yet we almost won it. Finding that small improvement to make will be difficult.

América will be keen to avoid a similar final result in the second phase

Earlier in the season we really laboured against sides lower down the table. Some of these games ended in frustrating draws. From these games, I dropped 10 – 12 points over the course of the season. Now, the way the league works is that the sides I played at home during the first phase, I will play away this time. This should serve me well against these defensive sides as they should open up a little more. Similarly, some of the more difficult games we faced away will now be at home. The stand out difficult game will be Millonarios away, anything from this game will be a bonus. All this is not so important as once again only a place in the top eight is required to reach the knockout rounds. Points will only matter should we once again fail to win the next knockout stage and at that point, we need to be high in the table to qualify for the Copa Libertadores.

So how do I plan to move on? The transfer window has just opened so it is not yet clear if any player will be leaving us. I do not see an obvious area of weakness where we can improve in personnel. Apart from a few players we had on loan, no senior player has left the side yet. I will be using the second phase of the season to decide who will be cut from our squad for 2018 and begin to find replacements.

I also believe that we are in need of another tactic. The 4-4-2 has worked well in part but we have faced a number of different formations this season and I will check the games which we have struggled to see if there is any common theme holding us back. In many games, I had the feeling that we could have done with a more attacking formation to help when either going behind or to take advantage of a two-legged game.

I am now, more than a week later, eager to pick the save up again and crack on with the next preseason. I admit that I avoided the game for a while and did not have the motivation to carry on. I never would have stopped completely, however, it was nice to have a break. Now with the festive period approaching, I will try to get some time in but will probably be too busy playing with Thomas the Tank or Paw Patrol toys with the kids. January Costa Coffee FM sounds like it is much needed. Until then, enjoy this time and I’ll talk to you on Slack and Twitter.

Feliz Navidad from all at América

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3 thoughts on “Falling at the Final Hurdle

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