By TATE STEINLAGE
LOS ANGELES — In a small, shoulder-to-shoulder cubicle connected to EA Sports’ other major franchises at this year’s E3, fans and media alike had the opportunity to get their first glimpse of FIFA 15. It was there that producer Sebastian Enrique spoke about the rise of Major League Soccer and its transformation in their award-winning video game franchise.
Enrique is certainly no stranger to the league. He moved to America a little more than a decade ago before moving to Canada to help work on the the FIFA series at EA Vancouver. He’s seen MLS at its worst — when teams were more concerned about staying afloat financially than winning a title. Now, like us all, he’s witnessing a sort of “soccer renaissance” in this country where the name “MLS” carries much more weight than it once did. That may very well be one reason why EA is talking MLS more than ever before.
EA’s reluctancy to focus on the league in previous years has been well documented. Licensed American stadiums have been non-existent. Players, second-rate models of their European counterparts. And who could forget blunders like “Sporting Kansas”? Enrique wouldn’t say it directly, but the league’s popularity has made it easy to overlook in past installments.
“We have a really good partnership with MLS,” Enrique told SBI. “MLS is always looking forward to doing things with us, and we’re always looking forward to doing things with them. The reality is that we have 16,000 players in the game and we have more than 500 teams, so it’s impossible to go and capture every single player.
“But for the World Cup games the entire World Cup squad for the U.S. was captured — that was a step forward. Even though I cannot tell you what is the new licensed content, in terms of faces and all of that, for (FIFA) 15, we’re going to be talking about that in August.
“It’s not that we are limited (though). MLS is extremely important to us, it’s certainly our league. It’s just tough to produce all the content in a year.”
It’s getting tougher for EA to ignore MLS, however. More youth are playing the sport than ever before. More than half of the league’s teams improved upon its 2012 attendance last season. Then 10 MLS players made the 2014 U.S. World Cup roster in May — up from four in 2010. It’s a culmination of interest that Enrique says his team has taken notice of.
“I think there are a lot of people in the U.S. that are not super fond of the sport, but they pick it up because it’s a good game to play, and they get into soccer because of that. They use that as an entertainment thing that is safe and good fun, especially with kids, and they get into the sport because of it.
“For me, it’s fantastic to see, especially coming from somebody who’s not originally from North America. (I’m) a South American guy whose lived football all his life. I moved to the U.S. 12 years ago, then I moved to Canada to work on FIFA. I’ve seen the growth in these past 10-12 years of soccer within North American and it’s amazing to me.
“There’s two teams coming in March, so the growth of MLS is amazing. The followers of MLS are amazing. It’s something that we’re not leaving behind by no shape or form.”
Enrique wouldn’t budge when asked about the specific MLS content coming this year, but he was adamant that there’s a clear focus on bringing a more authentic feel across the board for MLS in FIFA 15.
A boy outside the EA Sports booth was asked what he’d do if EA deliver on that promise. “I’d lose my mind,” he said with a smile on his face.