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Jeff Larentowicz Versus the World

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We all dream of a team full of Larrys.

MLS: Houston Dynamo at Atlanta United FC Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

A few hours before Atlanta United took on Miami in the U.S. Open Cup, I had an epiphany.

It made sense at the time. Put the best team out there to win the game. No one listened. Atlanta played a team with players other than Jeff Larentowicz. They lost 3-2.

The loss emboldened me to double-down. I fully believed that if Atlanta played my desired lineup they would handily win the league. However, a colleague pointed out that something called “science” is keeping this all-Larentowicz team from becoming reality.

I’m not sure I believe in this “science.” If it keeps me from being happy, why would the universe choose to have such a thing?

While the real world isn’t ready (yet) for an army of Larentowicz clones. I realized there was one way I could keep my dream from being just a dream. In the virtual confines of EA Sports’ FIFA franchise, there is no such thing as “science” to rudely cap the number of Jeff Larentowiczes in existence. I could finally test my theory that at team of Larentowiczes might be not only the best team in MLS, but in the world.

Using FIFA, I decided to simulate an entire season with a Larentowicz team and wait for the trophies to pour in.

Unfortunately, due to being poor, this experiment played out on the outdated FIFA 14 title for XBOX360 rather than the up to date and ultra-realistic FIFA 17 for Space Shuttle I assume the high school kids in East Cobb are playing on today. I’m also going to assume that the lack of an updated model caused the gross inaccuracies in the record of Larentowicz FC that you’ll see later.

I didn’t have the latest technology in place to test my theory of Larentowicz supremacy, but due to the magic of video games, I was able to update Jeff (looking super weird in a Chicago Fire kit) to his current FIFA rating of 70 overall according to Futhead.com.

Broken down, his ratings look like this:

The 70-overall rating is perfect. Not too flashy. Not overbearing. Enough to get the job done. A real Larentowicz Man™ rating.

The only egregious error I needed to correct was Larentowicz’s mediocre stamina rating. A 77 rating might be a reasonable assessment of Larentowicz’s real life physical ability, but it doesn’t account for the GRIT and TENACITY and WILL TO WIN that Larentowicz shows on a day-to-day basis. Do you really think Jeff Larentowicz is going to just give up in the 85th minute and stop making last-ditch slide tackles on his weaker minded opponents because he’s “tired?” I bumped his stamina up to 95.

After updating the original Jeff, I had to undertake the task of creating an entire team of Larentowiczes. It took forever.

Eventually, I got into a rhythm of churning out Larentowicz after Larentowicz like Model T’s on an assembly line. But creating 18 separate Jeff Larentowiczes on FIFA’s create a player function takes time and patience and a real commitment to authenticity. By the time I had finished, I had memorized most his ratings, as well as his birthday (August 5th, 1983). Getting the birthday right became important to me, as if having each clone be the correct age would somehow increase their veteran soccer IQ and leadership wiles. Nevertheless, after an amount of time I don’t feel like sharing, the team of Larentowiczes was fully operational.

Obviously, there’s no Atlanta United in FIFA 14, so I needed a proxy team to fill in for the Five Stripes. The now defunct Chivas USA fit perfectly. I moved the original Jeff, along with 18 clones, to Los Angeles and booted as many non-Larentowicz players as possible.

The team felt the Larentowicz Difference™ immediately. The team’s overall rating increased and turned a three-star team into a three-and-a-half-star team.

Now they just needed someone to lead them. While a team of Jeffs could probably self-manage, it’s not a bad idea to have a central figure there to delegate exactly who’s going to sacrifice what for the team today. There’s only one person I could think of with the capability to do this.

With a manager in place, it was officially time to test my theory. Would an all-Larentowicz team steamroll the league like I expected? First, the team needed to make tactical adjustments. The team sets up in a 3-5-2 thanks to a suggestion from Twitter.com.

The formation was established, and the question became one of personnel. While the Larentowiczes could fit in anywhere in the outfield, a Larentowicz still had to take over as goalkeeper.

After a lengthy players-only meeting between the Jeffs that included no less than 21 passionate, rousing speeches where a Larentowicz stepped up and claimed they would sacrifice their position and takeover as goalkeeper for the betterment of the team, the team finally had their man.

The original Jeff Larentowicz, being the Alpha-Larentowicz of the group, would spend the year playing between the sticks in a position he had never played before. If only the size of his metaphoric heart was tangible. It would have blocked the entire goal.

The season was on the horizon, and it was time for the front office of Chivas USA to deliver their yearly expectations for the team which I was sure would be entirely reasonable for a first-year team made up entirely of one pla— OH COME ON.

Welp.

They want the team to win the league. Up until this point I thought that the only people who had this much belief in Jeff Larentowicz were me and Jeff Larentowicz. It made sense that the front office who had ok’d a team of Larentwicz’s would be Larentowicz Men and Women™ themselves. Full of self-belief due to a lifetime of relentless work. I knew Jeff Larentowicz didn’t care about the high expectations. JEFF LARENTOWICZ SEES YOUR HIGH EXPECTATIONS AND IS ALREADY RUNNING EXTRA SPRINTS AFTER PRACTICE TO MEET THEM.

Before the season started I needed to add two more players as backup for the Jeffs. I found them like I found the perfect formation: Twitter.com

I had no real plans to play them, but it was nice to know Mears and McCann were available in case a few Jeffs needed to take a game or two off to do charity work. McCann was given an 800k a year salary despite no intentions to play him because real life experience tells me that’s how this is supposed to work.

Team set. Formation established. Expectations sky high. The season is set to begin.

The Chivas fans can tell there’s something different about this team. A tenacity is there that no Chivas team had previously possessed. An ability to play with maximum effort and heart for 90 minutes every game. The team takes on a nickname. “Intangibles FC” is born.

What follows is a rough timeline of their first and only season of existence.

▪ Jeff Larentowicz is named team captain.

▪ The press is all over the new manager before the first game. He directs praise towards Jeff Larentowicz.

▪ A Larentowicz is injured.

▪ THE FIRST MATCH IN INTANGIBLES FC HISTORY IS A FIRECRACKER!

The fledgling team gives up a goal in the first minute then immediately responds just a minute later because TENACITY and HEART don’t stop when you give up an early goal.

Columbus scores in the 50th minute to make it 2-1, but LARENTOWICZ RESPONDS AGAIN A MINUTE LATER BECAUSE LOSING IS FOR THOSE WHO DIDN’T TAKE DETAILED NOTES DURING EVERY TEAM MEETING.

The first game in team history ends in a gritty 2-2 draw.

▪ The injured Larentowicz immediately returns to action following the game and makes sure to let the manager know that he’s ready as soon as possible like a Larentowicz Man™ should. There is a full 18 of Larentowicz’s once again.

▪ The second game brings the team’s first loss. Dallas takes it 2-1 despite a late goal and comeback attempt from Larentowicz

▪ The board reassures the manager his job is safe despite the loss and intense scrutiny from fans.

▪ The video game’s press corps refers to manager Jeff Larentowicz as – I kid you not this really happened -- “pragmatic.” Do video games imitate reality or does reality imitate video games?

▪ THUMPED 4-0 by LA Galaxy. Not pretty.

▪ It’s getting worse. 5-0 Chicago. Media pressure is mounting. Intangibles FC has 1 point from 4 games.

▪ Heartbreaker. A 1-0 to Whitecaps who score in the 84th minute. A trend is emerging. Jeff can’t score and the Alpha-Larentowicz is struggling in goal. With frustration mounting, the team picks up its first red card from the Jeff at center back.

▪ This headline happens:

▪ 5-0 to Sounders

▪ Through 6 games, the team has one point and a -16 GD. Is it possible goalkeeping difficulties are keeping Intangibles FC from their true potential?

▪ BREAKTHROUGH! After calling a players only meeting, the Larentowiczs each give 30-minute-long speeches about the value of teamwork and inspire each other to a 2-0 win over Colorado. Jeff Larentowicz tallies a brace.

The win pulls Intangibles out of the cellar and one spot ahead of Portland in the Western Conference table.

▪ Trouble in the dressing room as Jeff Larentowicz complains about his playing time. The manager would remedy the situation but has literally no idea which one is complaining.

▪ With the team’s second win under their belt, has the tide begun to turn for Intangibles FC?

No. They lose 1-0 to RSL

▪ The board encourages the manager to tweak the dynamics of the team after the loss. Jeff Larentowicz loses his spot on the first team to Jeff Larentowicz.

▪ A 1-1 draw at San Jose

▪ A 5-0 loss to Sporting KC.

▪ There’s more pressure from the board. The Jeffs redouble their efforts. Practices go from five hours to six, with voluntary wind sprints after. All of the Jeffs take part in the extra sprints of course.

▪ A 4-0 loss to second to last place Portland. It’s getting ugly.

▪ The Jeffs are booted from the US Open Cup after a 3-0 loss to Philadelphia

▪ After picking up just five points in 11 games and accruing a -24 goal differential, an intervention is held

Jeff Larentowicz decides that he needs to relinquish his goalkeeping spot to an actual keeper

He’s replaced by someone named Melia who doesn’t have near the intangibles or style but does have actual experience between the sticks.

Will things change on the field for Intangibles FC? Haven’t they sold out what they’re about by allowing an outsider in the first team?? What’s the cost of victory??? WHAT’S THE COST????

▪ With a new keeper IFC squeak out a draw with Whitecaps 1-1

A Larentowicz picks up a red card for the third time this year and another Jeff tears his MCL. He’s out two months. Is it just poor timing or karma for playing a non-Jeff?

▪ Games happen.

▪ The board mentions how satisfied they are with quality of football they’re seeing. Chivas has 6 points from 14 games and a -32 GD

▪ More games.

▪ Intangibles FC is halfway through the season. They have eight points. They have won one game and have a goal differential of -33. They’ve allowed 43 goals. My theory is imploding before my very eyes.

▪ More games. No wins. The team is grinding out draw after draw. The heart and desire is there but it’s possible the youth and talent is missing.

▪ Finally! The second win in IFC history! Who needs youth and abundance of skill??

A 2-1 win over hapless Philadelphia pushes the team up to 7 with 12 points. The playoff line is just 11 points away with 14 games left. If any team could pull together and rally for a late season comeback it’s IFC.

▪ They lose twice in a row and pick up multiple red cards in frustration.

Bodies are piling up. It’s the sixth time a Jeff has received a red card this season, and 3 Jeffs are out for extended periods with injuries.

There are enough Jeffs to field a starting lineup, but the bench is becoming littered with non-Jeffs

▪ Some losing happens.

▪ The team has 13 points from 25 games. Their playoff hopes are long gone. Intangibles FC is mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. It’s the middle of August.

▪ I’m now simulating like crazy. Despite 10-hour, two-a-day practices, IFC continues its losing ways. On Oct. 5 the board had seen enough.

The final record for Intangibles FC is 2 wins, 11 draws and 19 losses. Their goal differential is -50 on 76 goals allowed.

So, what did we learn? I don’t really know and it’s late and I’m tired.

Perhaps we learned that a team only needs five or six Jeff Larentowiczes at most. It’s hard to inspire a team with determination when everyone is working just as hard as you. A good balance of Larentowiczes could be the key to success.

Or, much more likely, we learned that FIFA’s simulation skills aren’t quite up to par with reality yet. Despite a multitude of evidence otherwise, I still believe that a team of Larentowiczes would dominate MLS. The game didn’t account for everything that makes Larentowicz great. I remember changing a whole bunch of ratings when making IFC, but I DON’T REMEMBER A FIFA RATING FOR WORK ETHIC.

I guess the real world and the virtual world just isn’t ready for something like a team of Larentowiczes. For now, we’ll just have to appreciate the one we’ve got and appreciate the Larentowicz Difference™ he makes for the Five Stripes each day.