American Football – Part V; Specific Positions and Player Instructions

Before I get into the roster and PI, I want to point out that you will not find any AMR/L or WBR/L players/roles in my system. Nothing against either, but those players were harder to find in the lower leagues and I found them less customizable than the MR/L and FB roles. I also wanted to make it clear to the players and the match engine that those players are expected to have responsibilities in the build-up and defense. Plus, I’ll be honest, the AMR/L roles/players were (and still are) difficult for me to understand and conceptualize because I don’t have much soccer background.

For the most part, players in certain positions are expected to play more or less the same way no matter what the formation is. For example, my AMC is always a Shadow Striker with the instructions to roam, mark tighter, tackle harder, and close down more. So despite having 9 different formations, each position will only have 1 or 2 role/PI setups and they are universal across all tactics. I’m not going to post screenshots of all the setups, but I will bold and underline specific PI settings that are set other than the defaults.

Also, with my wide players you will notice a “support w/gets further forward” and “attack” duty. Unless otherwise indicated, they are set up exactly the same and are used to control how aggressive the player is attacking gaps vs sitting in zones in front of LOS, balance out their defensive responsibilities, and get them to play nicely with the team TI.

Additionally, you will notice that I avoid ball-magnet roles. This is to allow my team the freedom to play where the defense is giving them space, rather than force it into a predefined space that may or may not be there.

The base of the system is that every player has a role and responsibility to fulfill. If they succeed in their individual jobs, then the team as a whole succeeds. For this reason, the Player Instructions are the most important part of the entire system. At the end of the day, players make this system work rather than plays. The rest of the tactics in later sections are about helping the players accomplish these goals through favorable matchups.

Central Defenders – CD(d)

These guys come in one flavor across all my tactics. They are designed to focus on AB Gaps and 0,1,2 Zones behind LOS. I have them set to close down less to help them stick to their focus, keep their shape, and not step up into the zones in front of the LOS. I’m looking for the normal CD attributes, jump, strength, anticipation, etc.

Fullbacks – FB(a) or WB(s) w/get FF

They are set to FB(a) by default and are a two-way player. Defensively, they are expected to focus on winning their 1v1 on the outside to protect the C Gap. They are set to close down more and mark tighter to help ensure they stick their man. Their primary purpose defensively is to discourage the opposing team from even playing the ball out wide, or if they do, to intercept the ball or force the opposing player to pass it back. Offensively, they are responsible for the C Gap (stay wider and run wide with ball) and 3,4,5 zones. They are not a primary offensive option and are expected to get rid of the ball quickly when they do get it. To further encourage a quick release, they are instructed to dribble less and make more risky passes. When they are in their WB(s) they are also instructed to cross more often and make more direct passes.

As for the players I want, I am 100% focusing on defensive attributes – a central defender plus speed. Offensively, they should get plenty of space to operate in and should get rid of the ball before they feel pressure, so offensive attributes, while nice, are entirely secondary. Also note, that because defensive attributes include anticipation and decisions, they tend to make good passes, even though they may lack the skill needed to pull off some of the more aggressive passes/crosses they attempt. I’ll take a good idea, performed poorly over a poor idea performed well.

Defensive Midfielder – DMC(s) and DLP(d)

This position is one of the few with 2 different role/instruction set ups, though both do the same thing. In either case, they are tasked with protecting the 0,1,2 zones in front of the LOS in defense as their primary duty. Any offensive roles they fill are entirely secondary. They are key to controlling the midfield and are tasked with a lot of the defensive responsibilities to make the system work. They are tasked with stopping the run and intercepting passes through the middle. They are always instructed to mark tighter to help ensure they have a good position to intercept a pass or pressure a player should they get the ball. This also helps create the bracketed double-team I want on opposing strikers. If they don’t have a threat in their zones, they will step back and cover underneath on a striker to get on a man, while the CD will cover over the top. Then when a player comes into their zone, they release off the striker and step up to challenge the new player.

As for players, I am again focusing entirely on defensive attributes and it is especially important that they have anticipation, aggression, and I strongly prefer strength and jumping. Typically, I tend to opt for converted central defenders that are either too slow to play CD for me or have a little bit more on-the-ball skills than a normal CD. Like with the FB, I rely on their anticipation and decisions to make good passes and despite regularly having lack luster passing, technique, and vision, they almost always lead the team in most passing statistics.

When using a single defensive midfielder, they are given the DLP(d) role and left to focus 100% on the defensive duties. In this role, they will always have other midfielders (typically as part of a 4 man diamond) to assist them, so it is especially important that they stay back and not get out of position. I originally used an anchor role here, trying to avoid the ball-magnet role, but I needed that tiny bit of midfield support that the anchor doesn’t offer. I also read in a guide somewhere that the DLP(d) role doesn’t follow the normal defensive role mentality ladder and instead goes up the support role mentality ladder in advanced positions, which is exactly what I wanted. I made the switch and it has been noticeably more effective.

The DMC(s) role is used for my double defensive midfielder formations. In these tactics, the only other midfielder is the AMC, and so the defensive midfielders are required to make an offensive contribution by getting into zones 0,1,2 and supporting the more advanced players. They form a double pivot behind the central attackers and work with the AMC to distribute the ball and recycle possession as needed. However, they are still defenders first and foremost and give instructions to hold position and shoot less often to keep them from getting too involved with the offense. Also, given that there are two of them screening the defense they are given a bit more freedom to be aggressive in the midfield (close down more). As a final word, I really like the way these two players work together and with the rest of the team; they are extremely effective at both ends of the pitch due to excellent positioning/space and they way they can cover one another’s movements.

Central Midfielder – BBM(s)

I build a system built on versatility and here with the most versatile position in the game, I only play it one way. Figures. But even so, this is a very versatile player and is expected to do a little bit of everything with no real emphasis on anything. Normally working in pairs with a DMC and AMC to form a 4 man midfield, they are expected to find and get to wherever they are needed at the time to support the efforts of the other players. They must get into the 0,1,2 zones to support the attack and, if possible, attack the AB Gaps (gets further forward and get into channels). They are also the primary midfield harasser and instructed to close down more and tackle harder to create pressure and loose balls. Last they come back to assist in defending the 0,1,2 zones.

Player attributes vary, but I typically want a balanced player with a combo of attributes that can create a potential mismatch and give them an extra dimension over a player that lacks such a combo. For example, a player with a few extra points above average in dribbling, agility, and pace could suddenly open up a defense with a well-timed dribble, or a player with vision, flair, and technique/passing might make that back-heel pass to set up the shot. Even a simple, pace, work rate, determination, and stamina combo could just make for a whistle to whistle workhorse. I often play my DMC with better ball skills or my AMC with defensive attributes in these positions, which naturally creates these sorts of mismatch opportunities at the expense of some balance. A player with an exceptional mismatch opportunity will get his own personal instructions in these roles to encourage its use.

Wide Midfielders – WM(a) or WM(s) w/get FF and W(s)

First, I will discuss the far more used WM(a). These are scorer/creator players who are only defensive responsibilities are putting pressure on ball carriers near them (close down more) to force a bad pass or use their speed to intercept an errant pass or loose ball. Their job is to attack the B Gap and the 1,2 zones behind the LOS on their respective side (sit narrower and cuts inside with ball). They also have some responsibilities in the build up and are expected to find space to make themselves available for a pass in the 1,2,3 zones in front of the LOS (roam from position). Additionally, they are encouraged to use their speed to beat their man and exploit potential mismatches, as well as carry the ball up the field in transition and through the B Gap if given the opportunity (dribble more).

In setups which lack a FB, the W(s) is tasked with picking up the duties of both attacking the C Gap (get further forward) and defending the opposing wide player 1v1, which he is almost always assigned to man mark. In defense, he is expected to stick to his man (mark tighter) and should he get the ball, challenge him immediately (close down much more). He is still expected to make himself available for passes and find space to exploit (roam from position) and take an opportunity for a through ball from out wide if it presents itself (more risky passes).

This is a very demanding position in my system, but it is also super adaptable because its give so much freedom. First thing I look for on a wide midfielder is speed (acceleration and pace), but faster is not everything. It is more: Does he have it? Yes or No. They need to be fast enough to do what I want, once they are I look at the other stats and additional speed is weighted against everything else. If they aren’t fast enough, they aren’t even considered. I need guys who can jump on through balls, beat their man to the far post to score off the cross, win a race to a loose ball/errant pass, and carry the ball quickly up a flank in transition. For all that, they don’t need to be the fastest, but they definitely need to be noticeably faster than average. A bit of stamina and some work rate and we have enough to get by. After that, the role is whatever the player can make of it. Like the central midfield position, I am looking for things that can combo well, preferably with the speed, to make them even more dangerous. First touch/finishing/composure, dribbling/agility, pass/flair/technique, and crossing/tech are all great options to give him a little extra something.

Attacking Midfielder – SS(a)

The SS(a) is a lot like a WM(a) but has to do it all better and more often because his positioning always puts him in the middle of everything. Like the WM(a) his defensive duties are largely harassment (close down more), but he is also expected to go in hard to try to create loose ball opportunities and turnovers (tackle harder). Additionally, he is expected to try to intercept back-passes and prevent the opponent from recycling possession to defenders or the holding midfielder (mark tighter). Offensively, he is expected to come back for the pass (roam from position) and be a ball-carrier in transition (dribble more). Then in the attacking third, he attacks the A Gap and the 0,1,2 zones on both sides of the LOS to both make passes to potential scorers and also receive the pass and make the goal.

All told it’s a Herculean task, but again like the WM(a) it is surprisingly adaptable. Speed is a good place to start, but it is less critical than the WM(a) as it is used more to get the player in position to make a play and less to actually make the play itself. Good first touch, passing, vision, decisions, anticipation, and finishing may seem mission critical, but I have had very successful players in this position who were below average in all of them. When I’m looking for a Shadow Striker it is less about picking a player that is good at certain things and more about picking a player that isn’t bad at anything. It is less about finding strengths and more about avoiding weaknesses. If I can do that. I’m good. If I can do that and get a player that has that extra wrinkle in his game, I have a star in the making.

Center Forwards – DLF(s) and AF(a)

I have two CF roles and what I want out of each is different enough to almost warrant their own discussion. But defensively they are the same. Be annoying and apply pressure (close down much more); if you can knock out a loose ball, all the better (tackle harder). Aside from those two PI, they both play with just the defaults. The DLF(s) is the primary striker role and the AF(a) only shows up in the 2 striker formations (with the DLF(s)).

For a DLF(s) I am not looking for a creator or a scorer (though he will do both often enough). I’m looking for a bully. I need him to add as much physicality as possible to match up with opposing defenders and nullify their potential advantages over the SS(a) and WM(a)s. Hopefully, he can hold up the ball and maybe make a few passes or take a shot, but if not, oh well. All he needs to do is sit in the A Gap or in front of a CD and make it difficult for the opposing CD to cover the movement of the SS(a) or WM(a) without leaving a free shooter right in front of goal. It should also always give him inside leverage against those CD to make or receive a pass. In terms of attributes, I’m focused on the physicals, with emphasis on balance, strength, and jump. Like with the WM(a) with speed once I tick the boxes for the physicals, then I will look for some offensive tools in his game.

The AF(a) is the combination of the SS(a) and the DLF(s) roles. It is a physical freak who can bully the defense and has no significant weaknesses in his game. But where the DLF(s) is pretty static, the AF(a) is another proactive role. He has a single minded mission to beat his man and find a way to score the ball or pass it to somebody who can. Typically this is my best and most complete offensive player and, more often than not, my first choice SS(a) or DLF(s) will play this role. But occasionally I will keep a player on the roster for just this role.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: