A bit of nostalgia – my favorite video game soccer moments from over the years

Inspired by my discovery of the incredibly funny Bleep Bloop segment on College Humor, I wanted to go over some of my favorite soccer video game moments.

Some background first, I’ve played the FIFA Series pretty much non-stop since the first game, FIFA International Soccer, back in roughly 1994. In college, I also got hooked on SI Games’ Championship Manager series. Like many, I stopped playing CM after I realized that my odds of future procreation dropped measurably after each “season” I played.

Anyway, on with the fun…

Running away from the ref about to book you in FIFA International Soccer. Few things were funnier to fifth-grade me and my second-grade brother than the fluky little error in the first FIFA game that allowed you to, after a nasty foul, to run around the field for three minutes chased by the referee trying desperately to book you. Eventually the referee would give up, stop running, and issue a red card. It was so worth it.

The infamous dive button on FIFA RTWC 98. Easily, the most realistic feature ever to be included in a soccer game, pressing a two-button combo allowed your player to yelp and fall to the ground, occasionally drawing the referee into fouls and even penalties. I am not sure that any feature has caused my brother, my long-time FIFA nemesis, to go as apoplectic as when I’d run into the penalty area, run out of ideas, and just fall to turf as soon as one of his defenders got near me to draw a penalty.

Blocking punts in FIFA 97. First of all, this was about the only redeemable factor in what was an otherwise really bad year for the series. It was inexplicably really easy to to just stand in front of the punting goalkeeper and block the punt behind him, leading to an easy goal. This was another sure way to end up fighting with your opponent.

Real players in FIFA 1996. At the time, I am not entirely sure I noticed that the immortal fake players (remember Brian Plank and Bruce McMillian?) of the past two FIFAs were replaced with real players, but if I remember correctly, Matt Le Tessier and Marco Van Basten were unstoppable on this game.

The FIFA RTWC 98 intro. Still good to this day.
[ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uCJ4RuBROcU"]YouTube – FIFA’98 (RTWC) Intro[/ame]

Introducing Andy Gray to an American audience
. See, folks like Jack Bell thought that Americans first heard the dulcet tones of the bald Scotsman during Euro 2008, in fact, many younger folks had already been introduced to him through his constant cliche repetition on FIFA. Who amongst us doesn’t twitch when we hear, “this throw-in’s as good as a corner?” His pre-match flirting with John Motson was legendary, I remember them discussing a pre-match Sangria as the before everytime you played at the Nou Camp. I don’t think I even knew what Sangria was at the time.

The music. Over the years, the FIFA series has featured some legitimately good music including Blur, Fatboy Slim, Timo Maas and Moby. The less said about the Robbie Williams song, the better though.

You can’t stop Alexander Farnerud, you can only hope to contain him.

The players on CM who are great in the game but aren’t nearly as good in real life
. Every CM player can think of them. Here are a few that immediately come to mind, Alexander Farnerud, Jhonnier Montano, Jonas Lunden, the great Anatoli Todorov… I even remember some of the guys that the game made up who starred for me on my great double Champions League-winning run with Celtic. No one could stop my young Italian strike pairing of Claudio Del Nevo and Marco Di Napoli.

The A-League and its players inclusion in FIFA 96. Raise your hand if you ever thought that Peter Hattrup or Shawn Medved would find themselves in a video game? Well, believe it or not, he did.

Explaining CM to outsiders. “See it’s like a normal game, but you don’t get to see the players actually do anything. You just read what they’re doing in text form. But, believe me, you have no idea how cool this is.” And then of course later on you had to explain how, “yes they’re dots, but they’re tactical dots.”

So, those are just some of my favorite moments, especially from the earlier days of soccer gaming. What are yours?

Postscript: I do not want the comments to turn into another raging battle between FIFA people and Pro Evo “truthers.” I Feel free to talk about your Pro Evo moments if you want, but we’re not going to have a FIFA/Pro Evo debate here.

Caught in a Troubling Webb

So, referee Howard Webb came out on radio and admitted that he now feels the penalty he awarded to Manchester United in their 5-2 win over Tottenham on Saturday was a mistake.

The article, posted at Soccernet, details Webb’s appearance on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire. Read it here. Here’s a highlight:

There, see that? Was that really all that difficult? Webb can’t change history. He can’t go back in time and undo the call. And he can’t help Tottenham grow a pair and not fold faster than paper at an origami class.

But Webb can admit his mistake and move on. And I applaud him for it, and you keep an eye out to make sure he doesn’t make a similar mistake again. The fact that he will put in work to see where he went wrong is very encouraging and professional.

Now, would it have been that difficult to hear the same thing from Jair Maruffo after his colossal foul ups in the DC-LA game during Major League Soccer’s opening week – one on a handball and one for not stopping play with two players suffering head injuries? There never was an explanation that I saw, there never was a statement, nothing. When I covered MLS for the newspaper I worked for several years ago, and such a controversial situation occurred, a pool reporter was selected from the press box and was allowed to ask the referee three questions, and all the writers could then use the information. I don’t know if this policy is still in place, and if it’s not, it’s an abomination in this situation.

Course, now we read here, there, and everywhere that Maruffo may have received a gift in the form of a jersey from the Fire’s Cuauhtemoc Blanco following Chicago’s 2-2 draw with Columbus over the weekend. The Crew led, 2-0, before Crew defender Gino Padula was sent off for a foul on Blanco. The Fire scored twice, everyone gets a point, and Blanco was allegedly seen tossing his jersey into the official’s room.

It is natural – but not correct – to now be convinced that something sinister was at work not only Saturday, but in the aforementioned DC-LA game, too. If we had ever gotten an explanation from Marrufo for his actions that day, the perception battle wouldn’t be so hard to win. If, say three days after the game, Marrufo released a statement through US Soccer and/or MLS, noting his errors, apologizing for them, and explaining what he thought he saw in the heat of the moment – some fans would still have been all over him, I’m sure, but the openness of communication and the ability for the public to understand his thought process would have made things a lot better.

Having never done that, and now having his name associated with another issue – one that potentially (and that’s a big word there) has far greater consequences than a bad penalty call and a worse game management decision, there will probably be fans that will go back and wonder if what they saw was above board both back in March and this past weekend.

I’m 99.995% sure that it was.

It’s the 0.005% reamining that creates the problem right now.

The sooner the right folks get to the bottom of everything, the better. And the more openness with which they do it … well, that wouldn’t hurt either.

Personally, I hope the 99.995% part of me is right.

Is Jair Marrufo about to get in big trouble?

It’s certainly possible if this report is to be believed.

On the face of it, it sounds pretty damning. That said, we’re dealing with Blanco here. Is it possible that he just chucked his shirt into the locker room in plain sight just to attempt to get Marrufo in trouble? A simple way to find that out is to find out whether Marrufo kept the jersey. If he just tossed it right back out or gave it to Fire or Crew officials, than he’s clearly off the hook. But if Marrufo still has possession of that shirt, I think a long suspension should be in order.

Of course, hurting Marrufo’s case even more here (and damaging my dastardly-Blanco theory, as well) is the penalty call that went in favor of the fire.

Steven Goff gets catty, has a point

Goff unleashes the claws here in a Tuesday blog post.

It’s going to be very interesting to see who now goes over there and if some folks affiliated with ESPN suddenly are asked to decline that trip to South Africa.

Goff is dead-on correct here, of course. I don’t have a huge problem with individual bloggers going if they’re up front with the readers about how they were able to go, but for ESPN’s bloggers from an ostensibly journalistic institution to take a freebie like this is absolutely over the line.

Early comment thread scuttlebutt on the GoffBlog lists Canales and Galarcep as possible targets.

Finding even more to like about this AFC Wimbledon clip

[ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zJ0B6ycGPM"]YouTube – AFC Wimbledon vs St Albans City 25/04/2009 Extended[/ame]

There are about a million reasons to like AFC Wimbledon, the club setup by fans after Wimbledon FC was moved off to Milton Keynes. Last weekend they wrapped up promotion to the Blue Square Premier League, one level away from the Football League. The video above includes the highlights and trophy presentation, but I want you to pay particular attention to St. Albans City’s goalkeeper, who behaves throughout the entire match like a complete lunatic, charging out, screaming and yelling at his defenders whenever something goes wrong.

Nuanced analysis from NYRB fans after their loss to United

[ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvKvuulGTrI"]YouTube – Red Bulls vs DC United post game reaction 4/26/2009[/ame]

My personal favorite is the guy who sounds a little bit like Andrew Dice Clay yelling about what a “disgrace it is.” If you wait until the end, you get to hear Giants Stadium described as a “temple of football” too.

Am I piling on the Red Bulls fans? Of course. But with Carver making the best decision that TFC will make all year, I felt an urge to shake-up my targets a bit.

Hello? Chicago and Houston? The FMF is on the line.

With the continuing outbreak in Mexico, I would hope that US Soccer has thought about pushing FIFA to move our August qualifier to a different venue.

I was very excited about going down to Azteca for my second USA-Mexico away match, but now, unless things get very cleaned up, very quickly, it’s looking pretty unlikely that I’ll travel down there. I suspect that US Soccer is thinking the same thing.

Anyone else think the best solution here is to move the match to a pro-Mexico but Swine Flu-free venue like Chicago or Houston?

Anatomy of a Breakdown … Or, Three of Them

This weekend offered us three vibrant examples of what happens when teams fall apart. One of the games had well more at stake than the other two, but while the trio were three of the more talked about games on the weekend, I think it’s interesting to look at what happened in a larger sense.

The three games, of course, are Saturday’s Manchester United-Tottenham match, which had Premier League title implications; as well as the Real Salt Lake-New England match that night; and then the DC United-New York match on Sunday afternoon.

All three games offered glimpses of what happens to teams when adversity becomes too much to deal with – be it adversity heaped on them from their own failings, or those of an outside source.

Let’s start with the penalty heard ’round the world (OK, maybe that’s a little much), which started Manchester United’s rally from 2-0 down in the second half to a 5-2 victory over Tottenham. There already has been all sorts of debate about whether or not Howard Webb has gotten the call right or not. I don’t think there’s any question that Spurs keeper Gomes got the ball first as United midfielder Michael Carrick raced in, then fell over the sprawled keeper. But what I’ve heard from many commentators and such is that when they first saw it live, they thought it was a clear penalty. On review, their minds changed. Webb, of course, had no such review. It’s hard to argue that on first glance, it’s a 100% sure penalty – which it should be for Webb to call it – but if that’s what he thought, he had to it. He doesn’t get the many reviews that we do.

But regardless, and even with Ronaldo putting home the penalty (right up the middle, but he got away with it), it’s still 2-1. Everyone has blamed Webb for everything from Spurs’ eventual loss to the spread of swine flu, but this is too simplistic. Spurs still held a 2-1 lead with 33 minutes to go. If Spurs are soft in the heart category, and lacked the competitiveness to respond after feeling wronged by the penalty in such a fashion that they then gave up four goals in a 12-minute span … then it can be argued they were going to lose anyway. It’s a clear view as to why Spurs are where they are, and why they never break through. Even if wronged by the penalty, there’s no excuse for Spurs not to at least come up with a point. Instead, they folded faster than the Detroit Lions on a Sunday and were well beaten. I’m sure fans of other teams will wonder why Webb doesn’t get a medal if United win the league, but Tottenham has to look at its own failings in the end. There’s simply no reason to capitulate in that fashion.

REAL SALT LAKE did what DC United couldn’t do the week before. In New England’s last two league matches, the Revs have surrendered 49 shots, 20 of those on goal. In a 1-1 draw the week prior, United couldn’t make pay a 20-4 shot advantage and a first half full of possession and some decent chances – needing a Ben Olsen header seconds into second-half stoppage time to salvage the draw after Shalrie Joseph had scored for New England. On Saturday, the Revolution again absorbed shot after shot, but once the floodgates opened, there was little the Revs could do.

This is different from the first example in that you could sense at some point New England would be punctured. But six times? When the onslaught was over (and it only ended because you know, the game ended), RSL had six goals in 36 minutes from six different goal scorers. While MLS seems to be a league where any team can beat any other team, you wouldn’t expect one to do it by a 6-0 margin – especially without a multiple-goal performance from a particular player. It’s one thing for a player to have an “in-the-zone” night and bang home five because the other team had no answer for him (Clint Mathis, 8/26/2000, vs. Dallas). But not here. Although Mathis got in on the fun with a goal and assist Saturday, RSL got a goal or an assist from nine different players. That’s the kind of thing you see in the NHL, not MLS.

The good news is, of these three situations, the Revs have the easiest mode of recovery. They can chalk it up to one bad night, a fluke that would never happen again and move on. Though some argue there are deeper problems.

THE NEW YORK RED BULLS, however, have no such excuse. Having fought back from a halftime deficit to take a 2-1 lead on rival DC United in the second half, at home, the Red Bulls gagged all the points away in the final minutes. United got goals from Luciano Emilio (90th minute) and Chris Pontius (91st) to steal a 3-2 win.

Clearly, this is the most catastrophic of the three examples. It wasn’t just that New York gave away the victory. Playing late on a hot day on a fake grass field, accidents happen, so the fact that United at least got level isn’t a total surprise. Second-half substitutes Boyzzz Khumalo and Brandon Barklage brought some needed energy to a United team that were outplayed most of the second half. Also, the Red Bulls had failed to convert some earlier chances for a third goal that probably would have put the game away.

But on both goals, the comedy trio of Alfredo Pacheco, Kevin Goldthwaite, and goalkeeper Jon Conway gifted United their goals with lousy marking and miscommunication in the penalty area.

Again, that this happened once, given the conditions, may not be acceptable – but accidents happen. All teams at some point give away points in a game that they should have won. It probably happens to every team in the league at least once a season.

But the entire makeup of the Red Bulls can be questioned when giving up the winning goal. A club that is more famous for its failures than successes wouldn’t have erased that notion by winning (or even drawing) on Sunday. But they sure as hell reinforced it with a Keystone Cops routine that left the club 1-4-2 through seven games, with just five points. All that was missing from the sketch was Benny Hill music in the background. One can only speculate what was going on between Pacheco and Conway on the winning goal, as Pacheco pulled up, Conway didn’t get to it – and then Pacheco actually turned his back to the play as Khumalo recovered the lose ball, rolled it to the middle and Pontius bashed it home before Goldthwaite (who was late on the tying goal, too) could recover.

New York’s situation is probably the opposite of New England’s here. The Red Bulls can legitimately question themsleves as to whether they know how to finish a game – they blew two points earlier this season in a draw vs. New England. There’s simply no valid excuse for this loss.

On the bright side for New York, there weren’t many people there to see it. I know the official attendance was 10,303, but there weren’t near that many in the house.

It will be an interesting test for Spurs, the Revs, and New York to see how they respond in their next league matches.

Defining expertise down

So Jack Bell got Jovan Kirovski to make some Champions League predictions based on the fact the only American player to win a European Champions League winner’s medal, when he played for Borussia Dortmund in 1997.

Considering how much time he spent on the field throughout his European adventure, he’s qualified to predict Champions League matches like I am qualified to race in NASCAR. I once visited the museum and walked around in turn 1 at Darlington. That makes me roughly as qualified as Jovan.

Jack Roush, I await your call!