Nemanja Nikolic - CHI - vs. Mohammed Abu - CLB - 4-8-17
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The Upgrade: Veteran international imports improve their stock in FIFA '17

Welcome to The Upgrade, a series tracking MLS players in EA SPORTS FIFA 17. (Check out the previous installment!)

We talk a lot about Major League Soccer’s brightest young lights, but as you may have gleaned from watching literally any match, those young’uns aren’t the only ones making waves in real life or in FIFA 17.

This season in particular, off-season imports are pulling their weight and making a difference. Whether they’re the headline-grabbers like Chicago Fire ace Nemanja Nikolic or string-pullers like SKC's Ilie, it’s important to keep up with who’s getting the job done around the league--even if it’s not only teenage sensations.

Nemanja Nikolic

Can you believe this guy? He’s been a total stud, and added to his league-leading tally of goals (now 11) Thursday night against an extremely tough Dallas squad.

This Chicago Fire barely resembles last season’s iteration, and with the sheer volume of player turnover in Bridgeview this winter, positive results were never a sure thing – no matter the individual talent.

But when that includes Bastian Schweinsteiger and Dax McCarty coming to save the day in midfield, to say nothing of Juninho, expectations for a brand-new striker with a UEFA Champions League pedigree are sky high.

Despite that pressure, Nikolic has become the first MLS player to reach double-digit goals this season … while helping propel Chicago to second place in the Eastern Conference. The Fire fanbase has endured some rough times, and that Nikolic is the face of their rebirth represents a huge credit to his talent.

Of course, the scoring leaderboard isn’t the only place numbers are going his way. This week, he got a nice little boost to his finishing (81), sprint speed (76), and agility (69) attributes, bumping his OVR up to 76. He’s on pace to score more than 27 goals this season, which would put him atop the MLS single-season record book. Imagine if he pulls that off? His ratings would skyrocket, folks.

Bastian Schweinsteiger

I’ll admit it: I thought Schweini – who has a World Cup, UEFA Champions League, and roughly 47 Bundesliga titles to his name – would be a bust in Chicago. I didn’t want to set myself up for disappointment, what, with this being the Chicago Fire and all.

But I was wrong. And I’m super happy about being wrong!

Bastian isn’t the only new name in Chicago’s midfield, but he’s definitely the biggest. With that gravitas comes a lot of responsibility, and the man has delivered. He pops up all over the place, slows down the game, and does a ton of work directing the spacing and movement of his teammates. He’s quickly become the Fire’s field general, and even though I refuse to spell out his last name for the remainder of this column, you’re going to hear plenty of it come playoff time, and maybe even during the All-Star game.

You bet your butt you’re gonna hear it in FIFA 17, too. This week, Bastian got a nice little fist-bump from EA SPORTS in the form of boosts in crossing (76), short passing (82), and vision (84), nudging his OVR up to 82.

Victor Vazquez

Victor Vazquez got three goals and eight assists in 13 games and he’s added something to Toronto FC’s midfield they didn’t have before this season. Given that the Reds have just about every option a squad could possibly want, that’s saying something.

The former Barcelona man has settled right into his new surroundings and wasted no time ripping apart opposing defenses. But this being MLS, a midfielder has to be the whole package. It’s a fast-paced, physical, crazy game, and if you’re just a pretty face, so to speak, you’re not going to stick around. This is especially true when it comes to a squad with as much talent as Toronto, and Vasquez seems to have gotten the memo.

This week, EA SPORTS recognized Vazquez’s continued contributions on both sides of the ball with pretty substantial bumps to his aggression, marking, tackling, and positioning ratings on defense, and crossing, short passing and long passing ratings on the attacking end. If Friday's action was any indication, shot-making is next on the list.

Ilie

Also boasting Barcelona pedigree, Ilie has found his way into the hearts of Sporting Kansas City fans. He’s given this squad an extra dose of technical prowess and stability in defensive midfield, yanking the starting spot from Soni Mustivar.

Sporting have been remarkably sound defensively, and that owes largely to how Sanchez has protected their backline. Like… it’s taken Minnesota United’s literal superhero platoon to pierce their armor. Pretty respectable, if you ask me. For his efforts, EA SPORTS has bestowed upon Ilie upgrades to his reactions, vision, and composure attributes, bumping his OVR up to 70 and his POT up to 73.

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