Gooooooaaaalll!

FIFA 2005 introduces Mexicans to save its luster

Much like employers in border states, soccer boosters in the United States are now looking south, toward the cheap labor pool that is Mexico's millions, for their fiscal salvation. Witness Major League Soccer's newest side: Club Deportivo Chivas USA, the Los Angeles outpost of Mexico's most beloved fútbolteam, the Chivas (Goats) of Guadalajara. And consider the newest installation of video-game juggernaut Electronic Arts' soccer franchise, FIFA2005.

EA has been the unquestioned leader of sports video games for more than a decade now because of its exclusive licenses and simple game play, but its FIFA series is the best: less complex than JohnMaddenFootball,more interactive than MajorLeagueBaseball,and relevant—unlike, say, Rugby.FIFA2005continues the strong legacy of the series, offering pleasures for the novice and the hooligan. The graphics are lifelike, the game play simple enough for even the lesser hand-eye-coordinated of us. There's a ripping soundtrack, with contributions from various Brazilian hip-hop artists, a couple of songs from alt.-heroes the Streets and the Sounds, and a great oi! contribution from Flogging Molly (though it is a bit bizarre to see the replay of a breathtaking goal while Morrissey croons through "Irish Heart, English Blood." Orisit?).You can joystick through friendlies with more than 50 international squads or enter league play from one of 18 national divisions, where the promise of controlling an entire franchise down to the allocation of funds and the firing of coaches will keep you up many nights. Name the famous franchise—Real Madrid, Manchester United, even Argentina's Boca Juniors—and you can guide them through the brutal reality of league soccer, playing in their home stadiums with authentic jerseys and players.

But the most notable addition in FIFA2005from previous incarnations is the Mexican Soccer League. All the teams you see on your gardeners' hats and T-shirts make an appearance—the aforementioned Chivas, squads from Sinaloa and Chiapas, and Mexico City's powerful triumvirate: Las Águilas de América (the American Eagles), Los Pumas de UNAM (Mexican Autonomous University Pumas) and los Cementerios del Cruz Azul (the Blue Cross Cement Mixers). Latino soccer fans have clamored for the inclusion of Mexican professional soccer teams for years—so why now?

EA has never answered the question, but a plausible explanation is profits. On March 23, the Redwood City-based company announced it would cut its 2005 profit-and-sales forecast; Wall Street subsequently marked down its stock price by 17 percent, EA's largest drop-off in more than five years. And the superior game play in the other major soccer video game, Konami's WinningEleven,recently forced EA to drop the price of its FIFA games from the $50 range to a more appealing, less profitable $20 (for computers) and $30 (for consoles). With the addition of the Mexican Soccer League, betcha Mexicans will buy FIFA2005along with the PlayStations, Xboxes and computers to play it like never before and help bail out EA—much in the way they'll one day save Social Security.

FIFA 2005, PRODUCED BY EA SPORTS, IS AVAILABLE FOR PC ($20), PLAYSTATION OR XBOX ($30).

 
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