The night of Thurs., Mar. 2, eight of the most talented EA SPORTS FIFA 17 players in North America made their way to the adidas Brand Center in midtown Manhattan to battle it out in the MLS March to Soccer Challenge. The goal? To lock up their place FIFA Ultimate Team Championship Series Regional Final in Vancouver.
With the whole event live-streamed on EA’s Twitch channel, the evening served up crazy skills, epic thrills, and a whole lotta goals. From the very first kick, intensity was high and the pressure was on.
Each gamer repped a different MLS team. So to kick things off, the Portland Timbers’ Nick Mars took on New England’s Marc Shauffer, winning 3-2 in a match that came right down to the 90th minute. In the opening minutes, Mars’ high-pressing style and quick counter-attacking play suffocated Shauffer and led to the Timbers’ opening goal, courtesy of, in the game, none other than Ruud Gullit. It wasn’t until after half-time that Shauffer finally found his footing, courtesy of a tidy Luis Suarez goal on end of some brilliant build-up play.
However, it wouldn’t be long until Mars and his souped-up Timbers jumped out to a 3-1 lead, forcing Shauffer to push forward late in the second half. He almost pulled off the comeback, after Cristiano Ronaldo found Luis Suarez for the finish once again. But in the end, it was too little, too late for the Revs, and Nick Mars was bound for the semi-finals. After the win, Mars broke down his game plan and gave me some insight into his tactics.
“I think I defended him well. I read what he was going to do — he wanted to use a lot of skill moves and I saw that,” Mars said. “So I backed off just a little bit just to give him that space, and whenever he was going to shoot or make that final pass, I could step in on it.
“When I scored that second goal to take the lead, I knew from there that, if I just play conservatively, he’s going to push and I’m going to be able to score another one.”
That match set the tone for the most hotly anticipated battle of the evening.
The next game was between undisputed FUT Youtube king Castro1021 and MrESTRINO, who solidified his position as the most experienced competitor in this group by winning the eCOPA Coca-Cola Tournament back in November. After some sparring, it was Castro who found himself on top in the ninth minute after Luka Modric slotted home a threaded Cristiano Ronaldo through ball.
But not even technical difficulties could knock the experienced MrESTRINO off his game. After a brief delay, his Colorado Rapids came out firing, equalizing the score by way of a textbook Cristiano Ronaldo finish in the bottom corner. Soon after, though, it was Castro’s Ronaldo who would break the deadlock with an equally deft bottom-corner strike, ending MrESTRINO’s tournament hopes on a serendipitous note.
Even through the disappointment, MrESTRINO (who goes by Bernardo Polvo-Romero in real life) handled his defeat with the grace of a true pro. “It’s amazing just knowing that MLS is supporting the competitive FIFA scene. It’s unreal,” he said. “We’ve always wanted this to happen eventually, and it’s actually happening. Just knowing that you get to be here, and the public comes, it’s pretty amazing.”
Those two results set up the marquee match-up of the semi-final round, in which Nick Mars and Castro would face off for a spot in the finals.
Stalemate conditions prevailed for most of the first half, with Castro’s best chance saved by Tim Howard in the early goings. Things opened up big time in the 40th minute when, in a sequence that would foreshadow the rest of the match, Portland took control of a Howard goal kick at midfield and moved the ball swiftly into the attacking third. That led to to an unstoppable bar-down laser by Cristiano Ronaldo from just outside the 18-yard box. Mars capitalized on a Castro turnover and struck again just before half-time, forcing his way into the driver’s seat at the break.
It proved to be out of reach for Castro, whose Chicago Fire were snuffed out time and time again by Mars’ relentless press and battered by his insane front three of Suarez, Ronaldo, and Messi. Not even the great Kasper Schmeichel could stop Castro from falling by a score of 4-2.
“He’s a great player,” Castro said of Mars after the match. “His possession is very important to him winning these games, I think. I couldn’t keep the ball away from him. He was very good with that high pressure.”
Castro also said he’s happy that MLS is getting involved with events like this one. “I think it’s good for the real-life football as well,” he said. “There are so many people that play FIFA all over the world, but I want it a little more in North America, so hopefully it gets bigger in the future.”
Mars would prevail in the final by a scoreline of 3-1 and punch his ticket to Vancouver after hammering San Jose Earthquakes gamer Shadi Daher with his viciously effective press-and-counter style.
“It’s incredible. To go to your first event and win it, it’s a dream come true. [Shadi] had me most of that game, I just made the most of my chances,” Mars said. “I knew I would be able to keep possession on him, I just needed to make sure I finished my chances when they came to me.”
And finish those chances he did. But how about this for a crazy twist of fate? Mars is from Seattle. That’s right, folks: a player from Seattle won a tournament while repping the Timbers and is now headed to compete in Vancouver. They might as well just cancel the Cascadia Cup.